April 09, 2006
THE RETURN TO HEBRON - PASSOVER, 1968
Wanted: Families or singles
to resettle ancient city of Hebron
For details contact Rabbi M. Levinger
This unassuming newspaper advertisement captured the attention of many Israelis in 1968. The euphoria of the Six Day War had subsided, Judea and Samaria were in Jewish hands, and yet, no Jews had made their homes this area. Rabbi Moshe Levinger and a group of like-minded individuals determined that the time had come to return home to the newly liberated heartland of Eretz Yisrael.
As their first goal, the group decided to renew the Jewish presence in the the Jewish People’s most ancient city, Hebron. Word of the decision spread quickly and soon a nucleus of families was formed. Their objective: to spend Pessach in Hebron's Park Hotel. Hebron's Arab hotel owners had fallen on hard times. For years they had served the Jordanian aristocracy who would visit regularly to enjoy Hebron's cool dry air. The Six Day War forced the vacationers to change their travel plans. As a result, the Park Hotel's Arab owners were delighted to accept the cash-filled envelope which Rabbi Levinger placed on the front desk. In exchange, they agreed to rent the hotel to an unlimited amount of people for an unspecified period of time.
The morning of Erev Pesach, April, 1968 saw the Levinger family along with families from Israel's north, south and center packed their belongings for Hebron. They quickly cleaned and kashered the half of the hotel's kitchen allotted to them and began to settle in. Women and children slept three to a bed in the hotel rooms, while the men found sleeping space on the lobby floor. At least Ya'akov Avinu had a rock to place under his head, remembered one of the men in dismay.
Eighty-eight people celebrated Pesach Seder that night in the heart of Hebron. “We sensed that we had made an historical breakthrough", recalls Miriam Levinger, and we all felt deeply moved and excited".
Two days later, Rabbi Levinger announced to the media that the group intended to remain in Hebron. Dignitaries, Knesset members and Israelis from far and near streamed to the Park Hotel to encourage the pioneers.
Defense Minister Moshe Dayan was anxious to remove the pioneers from the hotel. He suggested that they move to the military compound overlooking Hebron. A heated debate ensued. There were those who felt that moving to the compound would in effect, strangle the project. Others saw in Dayan's suggestion official recognition, albeit de facto, of their goal.
Six weeks later, the pioneers moved to the military compound. Rabbi Levinger insisted on accommodations for 120 people even though they numbered less than half at that time. Rabbi Levinger was accused of being an unrealistic dreamer. Within a few short weeks however, he was proven correct. The 120 places in the military compound could not accommodate the hundreds of people who wanted to be part of the renewed of Jewish life in Hebron, city of the Patriarchs.
"We received Eretz Yisrael on a silver platter in 1967", explained Miriam Levinger. "It was an honor and a privilege to be among the first people to make the dream of return a reality."