THE MARTYRS OF HEBRONRabbi LEO GOTTESMAN
May 28, 2006
THE MARTYRS OF HEBRON
Personal Reminiscences of Some of the Men and Women Who Offered up their Lives During the Massacre of August 24, 1929, at Hebron, Palestine and of Some Who Were Spared.
BY LEO GOTTESMAN
Rabbi West Side Congregation
New York 1930
Those Who Were Killed:
Eliezer Dan Slonim
Simcha Issac Broide
Alter (Ashpooler Sher
Reb Moishe (Warshawer) Grodzinsky
Aaron David Epstein
Shmuel (Wolkowisker) Rosenholz
Israel Mordchay (Wolkomirer Kaplan
Yancov Welwel Weiss (Reisman)
THAT the renaissance of Jewish national life centering about the work of rehabilitating Palestine should be followed by a like renaissance in the ancient land of Israel of the Jewish Torah-life was a foregone conclusion. Perhaps it is impossible to draw a true distinction between the two. Jewish nationalism is unlike any other nationalism; it does not revolve and nourish merely around a circumscribed territorial attachment; its vitality springs eternally fresh from that fountain of national culture which we call by the inclusive name of Torah.
We have seen how the ideal Jewish nationalism has survived undimmed by two millennia of exile. History has no other example of a band of exiles retaining a passionate love of their land through twenty centuries of dispersion. To fail to see that this has been made possible by the distinctively ideal national culture which the Jewish people have carried in all their wonderings as a badge of nobility; to deny that the national character of the Jewish devotion to Torah is chiefly responsible for this surpassing miracle; that would be to ignore or to flout indisputable historical facts.
It would have been unnatural, therefore, if our practical efforts to reclaim Palestine as a national homeland had not included an earnest endeavor by the contemporary leaders of Jewish Torah-culture to rehabilitate the land in its deeper sense as Eretz Israel. Happily the course of events has marched along natural lines, and the foundations have been laid for what are undoubtedly destined to be some of the greatest institutions of learning in the world.
One of the noteworthy undertakings of this character has been the transfer of part of the Yeshivah of Slabodka to Hebron. Long famous as a seat of the highest Torah-culture, this Yeshivah had been a center to which many of the most promising young scholars of Eastern 3iurope flocked to imbibe Torah at the feet of revered teachers. One perceives, however, the importance of Palestine to modern Jewry from the fact that no sooner did the Slabodka Yeshivah become the Hebron Yeshivah than it took on a broad national character and began to attract young men even from America—devoted students of Torah even from the land which, it had once seemed, could produce only pessimists and skeptics on the subject of traditional Judaism.
But in the midst of splendid progress— impeded only by the usual chronic economical distress—the Hebron Yeshivah was engulfed in the gory tragedy that overtook Palestinian Jewry last August. During that bloody orgy, the hardest blow, perhaps, fell upon the Jewish community of Hebron; more than three score souls were immortalized there by the fanatical sword.
Neither in Palestine nor in any part of the world will Jews be discouraged by those dire events. Though hearts ache, though we do not ignore the significance of what happened, though we take vigorous measures to prevent a repetition, we go forward with no slackening of our determination but rather with heightened aspiration and quickened intensity of purpose. For after all this is a tremendous pioneering undertaking in which we are engaged, and such a dramatic movement cannot but have its moments of tragedy mingled with the grandeur of achievement.
The world will wonder one day about these times, and about the people who lived and struggled and gave their lives in achieving the victory of transforming a desolate Palestine into a nourishing Eretz Israel. Is it not we who must give the record to the world? Shall not they who sacrificed themselves be so inscribed that future generations may render to their memory such reverence as we are humbly proud to render today?
We would be derelict in our duty, both to those who are gone from Earth and those who are yet to come, if we failed to write the story of the martyrs while their remembrance is fresh in our hearts. To the performance of this duty, at least in some measure, this modest offering is dedicated. I had intended, when I returned from the Yeshivah of Hebron not only with a wondrous new understanding of the study of Torah but with unforgettable impressions of the Land of Israel in the making and of the Children of Israel who are making it, to write a different sort of book. But the August events have made this work the more important.
It is to be regretted that all the martyrs of the massacre last August cannot be included in the present account. I have sketched only those whom I knew personally and well. Doubtless others will take up this work and complete it. But the reader will find here a number of cameo-studies of truly splendid personalities; and from the whole account there should emerge a definite picture of the ideal types of men and women who are facing the problem of Eretz Israel on all its fronts, and of the charmed atmosphere in which they live and labor and learn and struggle and sacrifices and succeed.
L.G. New York, February, 1930
Eliezer Dan Slonim
TWENTY-TWO died in the home of Eliezer Dan Slonim and he the first of them, on the morning of August 34th. His heroic martyrdom in death was characteristic of the man. With him died his wife, Hannah, their little son Aaron, and a younger child.
Eliezer Dan was the son of Jacob Joseph Slonim, Rabbi of Hebron; his wife, the daughter of Rabbi Orlansky of Zichron Jacob. I was introduced to them on the second day after my arrival in Hebron, by Zevi Chaim Epstein, nephew of the Dean of the Hebron Yeshivah, and now Rabbi in Atlanta, Georgia. The introduction to Eliezer Dan took place in the Hebron branch of the Anglo-Palestine Bank, of which he was the manager.
I had found a good deal of difficulty in locating permanent quarters in Hebron that would suit my tastes and standards. Many of the young men who came to study in the Yeshivah were easily accommodated in the not very comfortable homes of some of the Hebron Baale Batim. Where they came from they had not been accustomed to better living conditions. In my case, as with a number of other American boys, I was not easily suited; and most of those who owned modern homes were disinclined to take in roomers. When Eliezer Dan Slonim heard of my difficulties, he mentioned that there was a spare room in his home which would probably be suitable. But he had not contemplated letting it, and could not do so without consulting his wife. He invited me, however, to accompany him home to meet Mrs. Slonim.
Hannah Slonim, a small, slight woman, was a remarkable example of the strange way fate has of mating people of opposite physical characteristics. For her husband was more than six feet tall, splendidly built, his face burnt dark by the Palestinian sun, his eyes oriental black and lustrous. His glance, his stride, marked him for a native and a master in the land. But if they differed greatly in their appearance, they were alike in character and in outlook upon life.
Rarely has such fine friendship developed in a short time as did between the Slonim family and myself. It would hardly be possible except with such fine people. Although Hannah Slonim could not cook for me, she consented to let me have their spare room, and I arranged to eat at the house of the shochet of Hebron;—of him, more later. But one could hardly find a more congenial home, more hearty hospitality, than in the Slonim home. Never was I permitted to leave the house in the morning until I had had coffee, or at other times until I had joined in the eating of the best delicacies—particularly kugel on the Sabbath. cannot better give a picture of Eliezer Dan SIonim than by describing what he did for the Hebron Yeshivah. His interest in it knew no bounds, and his services were invaluable. During most of my stay at Hebron, Rabbi Mosheh Mordecai Epstein, the Dean, was in America, and the burdens of the Yeshivah management fell upon his son-in-law, Rabbi Jechezkel Same, affectionately called Reb Chatzkel. The latter, who shared the two-family house in which I lived with Eliezer Dan SIonim, was constantly appealing to my host for assistance and all manner of favors which the Yeshivah needed.
The rent of the Yeshivah was long overdue, and no funds on hand. Mr. SIonim, as manager of the local bank, had a good deal of influence with the landlord. Of course Eliezer Dan made sure that the landlord would grant another extension. Or one of the boys in the Yeshivah would get into trouble of a serious nature with the Arabs—and for a most innocent cause. A man may not enter an Arab house without first knocking audibly and announcing loudly his coming; this is for the purpose of warning any women who may be inside to veil or retire. But sometimes a newcomer to the Yeshivah, unfamiliar with the streets, might mistake an Arab house for his own lodgings and enter unexpectedly. If he escaped physically from the wrath of the Arab males within, he would probably be jailed.
Reb Chatzkel would invariably make haste to report the matter to Eliezer Dan—who, by cajolery and the exercise of his influential position would succeed in getting the prisoner released. Or it would be necessary to cash a check for the payment of bills—only Eliezer Dan SIonim could perform this favor for the Yeshivah. And so on and on.
Most characteristic of him, Eliezer Dan did all these things without show and without ostentation. No one knew how many times he stepped in to save the Yeshivah or one of its people in time of trouble. I learned about them only because I lived in one house with both Reb Chatzkel and Eliezer Don. The latter often confided in me, during our discussions of the Yeshivah, of Hebron, and Palestine. His love of Palestine as a whole and Hebron in particular was infinite.
He was offered a position in Tel Aviv that woud pay him a larger salary than he was getting. He declined. He did not wish to leave Hebron. At another time he was offered a very good business opportunity which would require his going to America. He turned it down, preferring to work for £20 monthly in Eretz Israel than $500 elsewhere. He did not want to lose his soul. Outside of Palestine, it was his custom to say, one cannot know that he has a soul. Such was the depth of this young Jew's love for the land of his forefathers—he was only thirty or thirty-one years at the time of his death.
His interests were wide, embracing all of modem life and centering particularly upon Jewish affairs. He was a protagonist of the Zionist movement, and an ardent supporter of the Mizrachi. To the latter organization he was devoted with heart and soul. A man of culture, both worldly and Jewish, an accomplished linguist, he found time among other things to be the correspondent of the Hebrew Palestinian daily newspaper Haaretz, in Jerusalem. He used the pen-name Haduny.
It is noteworthy that in his column Chadu-shot M'Hebron he gave a good deal of space to the Arab community, describing their doings and their progress in very friendly and constructive terms. He knew the Arabs well and was on terms of best friendship with them. On cold nights during the rainy season, when the best Arab homes are none too comfortable, the local Sheiks were accustomed to gather in Eliezer Dan's house, to talk, and play chess, and drink black Arabian coffee. He got along so well with them that even now it seems unbelievable that he was killed by Arabs. And indeed, he could have saved himself on the basis of this friendship. How he chose rather to die with his brethren I shall tell later.
Friendly, good-natured Eliezer Dan Slonim did much for the Arabs in general and for their leaders and politicians in particular. Many and many were the favors he did for them, the loans he obtained for them. He had very much faith in the Arabs—far more than later events justified. He was one of nature's noblemen, a dreamy-eyed thinker who trusted in the Mussulman as in a brother.
I recall how once, when he had to transfer £5,000 in gold from the bank in Hebron to Jaffa he took along just one Arab as a guard. It was not a great distance—negotiated both ways, with a few hours of rest, between evening and morning. Eliezer Dan invited me to accompany him that evening to enjoy the beautiful motor ride. The three of us—Eliezer Dan, the Arab guard, and I—set out early in the evening. In the morning I was back at the Yeshivah as usual. I wonder if, had Eliezer Dan escaped in the debacle of last August, he would still think it safe to take .£5,000 in gold by night over lonely roads with only an armed Arab for guard and an unarmed friend for companion.
Eliezer Dan's character was at its best in all his dealings with his fellowmen. Never a day passed but he visited the house of his father, the rabbi of Hebron. He was the oldest son. A younger brother, a rabbi, had left five years ago for South Africa. His mother missed the youth greatly, and Eliezer Dan, although there were five children yet at his paternal was Palestinian born. Eliezer Dan's father too had been born in Eretz Israel. His grandfather, a leader among the Hassidei Habad, had come to Palestine 55 or 60 years ago and settled there permanently. Hannah's parents were immigrants, but their daughter was Palestinian both by birth and character.
She was as fine a young Jewish woman as one might find in combing the whole wide world. She spoke to her husband always in Hebrew. She was sincerely observant religiously; had a thorough modern and Jewish education. She had been brought up in Rishon L'Zion a 100% Jewish colony.
Hannah Slonim's benevolence, her charity, her social welfare work, were known and praised by all the inhabitants of Hebron, Jewish and Arab. Her overbrimming kindness, her spiritual capacity, her personal greatness was a thing to marvel over. We used to get our water from ft well in front of the house—the Well of Jacob. (There is a tradition that this well dates back to the Patriarch Jacob, hence its name.) I remember her numerous kindnesses to the dirty, tattered, Arab lad who used to fetch this water. It was not more, however, than what she did for all the needy of Hebron.
Often she used to tell me of her hopes for her own little boy. It was her great desire that Aaron should grow up to be a noble and famous Jew and participate in the upbuilding of Eretz Israel. She was a devout lover of Zion.
The little boy—he was only about six years old when he died with his parents and grandparents in the massacre of the fatal Sabbath— was his father's type, a splendid, promising, physical specimen. Often he used to come into my room to play. He was a very, very clever child, and exhibited signs of unusual shrewdness for one of his years. They had another child, an infant of whom I have no memories, who was also killed in the massacre. [NOTE-This is an error. Their second son, Shlomo, then a year and a half, survived.]
On the Saturday of the massacre a large number of people were gathered in the house of Eliezer Dan Slonim, including his wife, his two children, and his wife's parents, Rabbi and Mrs. Orlansky of Zichron Jacob. The latter pair I had met one Chol Hamoed of Passover at their home. Their daughter and son-in-law had gone to visit them in Zichron Jacob over the holiday. I joined them, at their invitation, and had an opportunity to see the home and feel the atmosphere in which Hannah had been bred. And I did not wonder that such a wonderful Jewish daughter had grown up there.
During this vacation, Eliezer Dan and I visited many other colonies; I was thus enabled, under his guidance, to learn much at first hand of the progress of the reclaimers of the Holy Land. Shortly before the fatal day, Hannah's parents came to Hebron to visit. It was thus that they were present when the unbelievable atrocity was perpetrated. It is no wonder that so many people came to Eliezer Dan's home for shelter when it became evident that the Arabs were on the rampage. He had been a very good friend to them. Could it be that they would forget his friendship—his wife's kindness?
As a matter of fact they did not forget. A number of Arabs came knocking at his door. Give out the strangers you are harboring there, they cried, and we will spare you, and your kinsfolk. His answer, a culminating step in his martyrdom, was characteristic of the man: "I have no strangers here,—only my brethren!"
Eliezer Dan had a revolver, which he was licensed to carry because of his position in the bank. When they shattered the door. the Arabs found themselves facing Eliezer Don, revolver in hand; behind him, the huddled crowd of men and women and children. Eliezer Dan pulled the trigger. The revolver had never been used. It jammed. They sprang upon him, and so he was first to die.
Hannah was not killed by the Arabs. She died there because her heart burst when she saw her husband murdered.
Little Aaron they killed, and the younger child.
Hannah's parents they killed.
Twenty-two, in all, died in Eliezer Dan's house. Twenty-two martyrs.
Their souls rest in peace.
There were no arms in the house—except Eliezer Dan's revolver that failed. The people were defenseless.
Two were saved in that house as by a miracle. A girl of fifteen, Hannah's sister, was pushed into a closet by Lezer Yanishker—one of the students in the Yeshivah. Yanishker, twenty-four years old, powerfully built, was known as the giant of the Yeshivah. He held the girl confined in the closet during the massacre. When she saw her parents killed— she was watching through a crack in the door of the closet—she would have screamed. Yanishker held her mouth—held it so tightly that her lips were swollen and distorted for weeks after.
When the Arabs had done slaughtering they turned to plunder. They tried to open the unlocked door of the closet. Yanishker held its handle inside—held it so fast that they gave up trying to pry the door open. He saved his own and the girl's life thereby— much more than he could have done, despite his physical prowess, had he tried to face the armed killers.
The Arabs had not forgotten the friendship of Eliezer Dan Slonim. They killed him, and his little children, and his wife, and her parents, and their friends, in spite of it. He died, as he had lived, a son of his people, a nobleman of nature.
SIMCHA Isaac Broide (Wolkowisker)
MELANCHOLY young man of some two and twenty years, Simcha Isaac Broide attracted me very soon after my arrival in the Yeshivah. No one could help noticing him. He was different from the other students of the Yeshivah in many respects, and, besides, had an impressive appearance all his own.
The students in Hebron, as a general rule, looked like modern young men, especially as they dressed in British or American clothing. Outside of the Yeshivah building you could not tell that they were Yeshivah Bachurim. Simcha Isaac Broide was exceptional. Even from afar you could point to him as a Yeshivah Bachur.
His face was intensely white in complexion, and he wore a little black beard that had never known the razor, and which suited him marvelously. In this setting glowed two small but deep, dark eyes, partially hidden by a pair of pince-nez spectacles. This set him off from the other students of the Yeshivah externally. He was different, however, in even more significant ways. His external appearance was only an indication of a deeper internal differentiation between himself and the other students of the Yeshivah.
Simcha Isaac was a young man whose interest extended solely to the profundities of the Talmud. There were many students in the Yeshivah deeply in love with learning. But they had other interests in life also. The melancholy Simcha Isaac had no such other interests. I have only one thing to do—he was wont to say—1 must learn. And to him the word "learn" meant only delving into the inexhaustible mines of the Talmud.
Needless to say he was one of the greatest masmidim—devoted students—in the Yeshivah. But even the word masmid does not quite describe his devotion. When Simcha Isaac was occupied in the Study Hall he permitted nothing to disturb or distract him. Even when visitors came in—and who would not glance up to see what new arrivals were in Hebron?—Simcha Isaac never removed his eyes from the Talmudic volume. Not that he was surly—but he was so engrossed in his study, he was deriving so much satisfaction from the Talmudic wisdom, that there was left no curiosity in him concerning such comparatively petty matters as the arrival of visitors! He loved study with such unfailing constancy that it was everything to him. If study was work to others, it was his work also; but more—it was his relaxation too. When other students rested from the labors of studying, Simcha Isaac—studied.
Before coming to the Hebron Yeshivah, Simcha Isaac had studied at the Yeshivah of TeLs. His love of Eretz Israel had induced him to change to the Hebron Yeshivah. Quite a number of his former fellow-students in Telz were here with him. I learned from them that in Europe, as in Palestine his Yeshivah associates had loved and respected him exceedingly. You could not help feeling that way towards him—so fine, so noble, so gentle, was his character.
There was a friendly rivalry going on continually among the students in Hebron based on the Yeshivos from which they came. This rivalry was particularly strong between the former students of Slabodka and Telz. It is even so in American and British colleges. The students from various prep-schools keep together and strive to maintain their superiority over the groups from rival prep-schools. But there is yet a difference: In the colleges each group tries to excel its rivals in sports. In the Yeshivah each group tries to excel the others in scholarship. In the colleges each prep-school group boasts of the number of its fellows who made the football team. In the Yeshivah each group boasts of the number of superior scholars it gave the Yeshivah. Yes— a difference.
In the rivalry between the Telz and Slabodka groups in the Hebron Yeshivah, the Telzer, when hard pressed, always fell back upon Simcha Isaac Broide. And he was a hard argument to overcome. He was a scholar hard to excel. Simcha Isaac himself was not averse to joining in these friendly debates; and because of the subtlety of his mind, and the profundity of his arguments, he did much to uphold the honor of the scholarship of the Telzer Yeshivah against the superior numbers of the Slabodka group.
Simcha Isaac had a relative in Jerusalem— Abraham Broide—a fine man who loved learn- ing and on that account was very hospitable to the students of the Hebron Yeshivah whenever they came to Jerusalem. Naturally he was very proud of Simcha Isaac and loved him exceedingly. He was continually inviting the young student to spend Sabbaths with him; and Simcha Isaac was continually declining— because it would interfere with his studies.
During the week before the massacres, Abraham Broide again asked Simcha Isaac to spend the Sabbath with him. But again the young man declined. His excuse was the same as usual: "I must do one thing—learn." His relative's exhortations, his appeals that a person so young ought to rest more and enjoy life more, all were in vain. Simcha Isaac would do nothing but "learn."
And that Sabbath, Simcha Isaac was one of the martyrs who fell under murderous hands. He is at peace now. Now there is nothing to interfere with his eternal studies.
Alter (Ashpooler) Sher
ALTER SHER—called Ashpooler according to the name of the town from which he came, a common custom in Hebron—was a student of the Yeshivah, some twenty-one years old at the time I knew him.
One glance at him was enough to convince any observant person that here was indeed a thinker, a person whose life was lived chiefly in the realms of the mind. You could not look into his deep, reflective eyes, somewhat hidden by spectacles that made up for strength exhausted by constant study, without perceiving that he was thinking, thinking profoundly, earnestly, all the time.
If you spoke to him, he listened attentively, imbibing all your words. When he answered it was invariably in a word or two. But his brief reply was sure to be so sharp, so deep. so thoroughly to the point, that it was final. What he said covered the subject of your discussion completely, revealed that he understood all you had said. Even as you had spoken, his mind had carefully convened all the facts, put each in proper place, and made ready his laconic opinion.
During my stay in Hebron, the Yeshivah passed through one of its most serious crises, due to lack of funds. There was no money in the Yeshivah treasury, and many of the poorer students were penniless, unable to pay their rent and board. They had to draw heavily on the Gemilat Hesed—the funds of the free loan society. But these funds were soon exhausted as a result of the unusual demand.
In the emergency, Alter Sher organized a second Gemilat Hesed—Bederech Kavod—of which he became the chairman. This organization went even further than the regular society in extending financial assistance to embarrassed students. The usual formalities, such as obtaining co-signers for the loan to guarantee the principal (of course there is no interest for a Gemilat Hesed) were abolished;
many of the most needy students were in fact in no position to obtain such signatures.
But Alter Sher did not stop with this alone. He (lid not wait, in many instances, until application for a loan was made. When informed that some certain student was out of funds and unable to get any, he brought him an envelope—the contents of which. Alter Sher explained, were to be returned at convenience—in which were a few pounds to tide the needy student over the crisis.
The special Gemilat Hesed was effective in helping many students over the bad times. It had only £30 to begin with, but it grew under the management of Alter Sher. He obtained funds for its treasury from sources not available to any one else. He even went out of town to obtain loans for the Gemilat Hesed fund. He helped a number of sick students, especially those who had to leave Hebron temporarily for a change of climate during the very cold season. They could not obtain funds for this purpose elsewhere, but Alter Sher found money for them.
A young man of wondrous perceptive qualities, profound grasp of ideas, and marvelous memory, his death is a great loss. He was killed, together with many fellow-students, on the fatal Saturday. He was an only son.
Reb Moishe (Warsawer) Grodzinsky
SIX years ago, already nearly sixty years old, Reb Moishe Grodzinsky came to Palestine; he settled in Hebron on account of the Yeshivah and maintained a boarding house for the students. I had my meals at his establishment a few weeks; during this time, and afterwards, I learned to know him well, to admire and respect him highly.
A pupil of Rehbe Isroel Myer Hakohen— the Chofetz Chaim—and brother of the Mashgiach (Supervisor) of the SIabodka Yeshivah, he was a learned and pious man. He lived the life of a holy man. The wise maxims of the Talmud were to him no merely admirable phrases to quote for the sake of commanding respect. To him they were living thoughts to be applied practically, in every-day life. To be friendly, to hasten to greet everyone, was to him no mere matter of surface polish. To him this was a distinctive Jewish trait. Hence it is safe to say that, in emulation of a great Talmudic teacher, no one ever preceded him in offering greetings. Whether he chanced to meet a venerable rabbi, a young student, an Arab Sheikh or ail Arab waterboy, he was quick to sing out his pleasant greeting. He walked always in meditation, with his eyes upon the ground—lifting them only when some person crossed his path.
I can give no picture of the man that will satisfy me that I have done him justice. But I can give, as an illustration of his noble character, a hint of his conduct with the Yeshivah students who boarded at his establishment. Aside from the excellent care he took of them —giving more than was reasonably enough— giving them attention which comes not from a desire to profit financially but from a feeling of affection towards Jewish youths engaged in the study of the Torah—a feeling which only true lovers of Torah can enjoy—he never dunned any of the boys.
It was not just a matter of someone falling behind in his fees. Under the conditions prevailing among many of the poorer students in Hebron, backwardness in paying bills was a very common thing. Promptness in this respect would have been the wonder. R-eb Moishe never came to any of his boarders to ask payment of a bill much overdue. He took it for granted that if a student failed to pay him it must be for great want of funds; and that he would be paid as soon as conditions bettered. "Even when he was paid he never insisted on a complete settlement. He took whatever the students gave him—unlike others who insisted on taking all they could. Even in the ennobling atmosphere of Hebron, such fine souls are rare gems.
Three weeks before the tragedy, I received an invitation to attend the wedding of his son Pinchas. It was only a formal kindness—for
they knew I could not be in Palestine to take part in the celebration. But I was overjoyed to receive news of the happiness of Reb Moishe and of his son—as fine a young Palestinian Jew as one may find. The wedding took place a week before the fateful event.
To the other victims was added noble Reb Moishe. His family, fortunately, including his wife, were spared. In their mourning all who knew Reb Moishe join with a profound reverence for his memory.
Aharon David Epstein (nephew of dean)
ONE of the youngest students in the Hebron Yeshivah was Aaron David, the son of Rabbi Ephraim Epstein of Chicago and the nephew of Rabbi Moshe Mordecai Epstein, the Dean of the Yeshivah.
In a way I was instrumental in his going to study in Hebron. I had known his older brother well as a fellow-student in Hebron. When I returned from Palestine, about three years ago, I had occasion to visit Chicago on a matter of business. I did not remain there long, but I visited the Epstein family, on Douglas Boulevard, bringing them some messages from Eretz Israel. It was there that I first met the young Epstein boy, the brother of my friend Zevi Chaim. My friend had told me that he hoped Aaron David would one day also study in Hebron, and fit himself for the rabbinate, and devote his life to Torah.
I found the boy already well advanced in the Talmud. More, I found him to be a youth of fine perception, a very promising scholar, one in whom his uncle, the Dean of the Hebron Yeshivah, would not be disappointed. And I took the liberty, at that time, of suggesting that he was fit to study in Hebron.
Later, in New York, I read that he had indeed gone to Hebron, and that he was progressing wonderfully there. It was a matter of pleasure to me to hear this- But nothing in the world could equal the happiness of the boy's father when he received good reports concerning his son in Eretz Israel from his brother, the Dean. Many years ago Rabbi Epstein (of Chicago) had lost a son in a great nre. For that frightful tragedy the father had never found consolation. Now at last he did feel consoled in the progress that his boy made in the study of Torah under his great uncle.
On the Monday following the outbreaks in Palestine, Rabbi Epstein was in New York. At this time we did not yet have the details of what had happened. We knew already that there had been a massacre in Hebron. We knew that the Yeshivah had suffered. But the reports were slow to come in, and those that arrived were confusing and contradictory. One can imagine the sufferings of this father—wondering whether his boy had fallen among the martyrs or escaped.
The following morning, Tuesday, I met Rabbi Epstein at 104. Fifth Avenue— the New York office of the Hebron Yeshivah. The names of the victims were beginning to come in. At this time, due to the intense excitement that prevailed in the Jewish world, the New York Jewish daily newspapers were issuing extra editions as fresh news came in from Palestine. When Rabbi Epstein came into the office I was just reading the second edition of "Day"—on the front page of which was news of the death of the Rabbi's son. In the Rabbi's hand was also a copy of tlie "Day." But I saw at a glance that it was the first edition— which did not contain that shocking item. And I knew that Rabbi Epstein was not yet aware of his son's ill fate.
On the impulse of the moment I hid my paper behind a desk. I could not tell him. I could not be the one to deliver the blow.
Later in the day he, of course, heard. "Blessed be the True Judge," he said.
I have known many examples of heroism and courage, but none to equal that of this most unfortunate of fathers. Though stricken unspeakably by this fresh and unequaled grief, he set a wonderful example of fortitude that very day to all Jewry. He showed how the Jewish people, individually and as a whole, must bear up under the hard blows of its fate, and come up even stronger and bolder out of the greatest misfortunates.
There was a meeting that Tuesday night in the Hotel Monterey. The leading rabbis of New York were gathered to discuss the increasingly shocking news that the wires were bringing in from Eretz Israel, and to plan what must be done immediately for the relief of the victims. Rabbi Epstein, with that deep, unhealable wound in his heart, came to the meeting and rose to speak. There was a deep silence to hear what he would say. Everyone present knew that only a few hours before he had received the news that his beloved son, the hope of his waning years, had been murdered in the massacre of Hebron.
The rabbi did not weep. There was no despair in his voice. He delivered no eulogy over the dead. He spoke of the living. He spoke hopefully, prophetically. Though we cannot help mourning for the dead, he said, it is of living Jewry we must think. We have not suffered a defeat. This is only another repercussion in the explosive history of our people. We must go on and on. It is the law and the nature of our people. And he called upon the rabbis assembled there, and upon all Jewry, not to he discouraged, not to be downhearted, but to plan for a greater future, whatever sacrifices may be necessary.
He did it—who had so recently suffered an incomparable loss. And his words made a profound impression upon all who heard him. One can never forget a thing like that. One cannot help living by such an example. must bear up under the hard blows of its fate, and come up even stronger and bolder out of the greatest misfortunates.
MY acquaintanceship with William Berman was one of long standing. I knew him during seven or eight years that he studied in the Yeshivas Reb Isaac Elchanan. William was American born and American in character. A jolly fellow, he participated in all the Yeshivah movements and was a natural leader in all the student activities. Early in his High-school days he distinguished himself in scholarship and particularly as a speaker. He was a born orator, a gifted debater, an eloquent, persuasive, charming public speaker. He was an extraordinarily rapid and clear thinker. He had unquestionably a very brilliant mind. He was admired by everyone who knew him at all, and was immensely liked by those who knew him well. With his character so splendidly developed, he graduated from the Yeshivas Reb Isaac Elchanan. He had no difficulty in obtaining a rabbinic position—what with his thorough training, his fine wit, and talented oratory. Thus well situated and launched upon a fine career, he might have been contented. Yet when I met him one day, he announced to me that he was going to Eretz Israel—to study in the Yeshivah at Hebron.
Why was he giving up his splendid position? He explained to me that he desired to perfect himself. He was not content with that learning he had already acquired. He wished to devote a few years, while he was still young, to learning Torah for the sake of learning— to study Torah Lishmoh. And particularly he desired to study in "the cradle where Jacob was raised." That was why he had elected to go to Hebron.
And go he did. His congregation was sorry to part with its brilliant young rabbi. But they consoled themselves with the expectation that he would return a greater roan.
Very soon after his arrival in Hebron he had won the friendship and esteem of all his associates. He was liked and admired because uf his character and because he was a masmid. He was devoted heart and soul to his studies.
His was a very generous nature. It is rather customary, among students in a Yeshivah, for the natural rivalry among them to express itself in over-fine criticism. If one has said something, his associates are too ready to declare that it doesn't amount to anything. Berman was never that way. He sought rather to exalt his fellow-students and to find the praiseworthy points in their achievements. There was no one, however, who would minimize Berman's own achievements. No one could dispute the fact that he excelled everyone as a public speaker; no one could deny the splendor of his mind or the brilliance of his scholarship.
He was so well liked that he won the friendship in Hebron of the European young men. This was no easy thing for an American. The student from Europe and the student from America were unequal elements; they were as wide apart in most things as might he people from different planets. Yet William Berman overcame this terrific distance, so hard for other to span, and associated with the European students as one of them, as a pal.
In many ways his friendly and generous nature expressed itself. He was always first to come to the aid of any newcomer at the Yeshivah, to help him to adjust himself to the changed life and to find his proper place. He was always at the service of anyone who needed help—whether an idea was wanted, or assistance in mastering difficult lessons. Berman could be counted on to extend a friendly helping hand to anyone who was in trouble. And if one's heart was heavy, it was good to speak with William—he who was so jolly, and whose good-nature was so infectious.
When William had settled himself comfortably in Hebron and found that he liked it vastly, he wrote to his parents in Philadelphia. The result was that his younger brother was sent to Hebron to join him. And while William fell a victim to the unloosed passions of the Arab mob on the stormy Sabbath of the 24th August, his parents may console themselves that the younger brother escaped when the murderers took him for dead.
Shmuel (Wolkowisker) Rosenholtz
BRIEF but pleasant are the memories of Samuel Rosenholtz. A young man of twenty-four years, he had come to the Hebron Yeshivah from the Yeshivah of Nawaredok. In a circle of exceptionally clever students from many of the most noted institutions of high Jewish learning in Europe, Shmuel shone as a brilliant diamond. He was especially distinguished for his originality of mind and perception.
Essentially a quiet and retiring person, Shmuel spoke little. He was given to much study and was reputed a masmid—a devoted student. He was truly Jewish in his attitude, inasmuch as he expected nothing for what he learned or accomplished. He studied Torah Liskmoh for its own sake.
Shmuel was one of the best-liked students in the Yeshivah. I, like everyone else, enjoyed his company and his discussion. In his Talmudic delvings he was always trying to find something new, to make an original discovery. His fresh ideas were pleasing at all times to hear. He was at the same time an explorer and an artistic creator.
Once I discussed this trait of his with him. He assured me, in his quiet way, that his searching and inventiveness were to him only a means: his real ambition was not to make something new but to imbibe the old.
He would have been a great teacher in Israel. His death at the hands of pitiless murderers on the Sabbath of the twenty-fourth was no less tragic, no less of a loss, than any that the Jewish people suffered that unforgettable day.
ZALMON WILANSKY was secretary of the Yeshivah in Hebron. A young man of some thirty years, his appearance was so distinguished that one might take him for a picture out of an old book. His fine skin, of the purity and color of milk; his luminous eyes, from which streamed a flood of personality; his little beard; his composed bearing, all indicated the man of gentle breeding, of noble ideals, of lofty self-respect.
Formerly he had been a brilliant student of the Slabodka Yeshivah. Married now—to the daughter of a Rosh Yeshivah of Jerusalem— and living in Hebron, he devoted himself heart and soul to the interests of the Yeshivah in Hebron.
To the requirements of his responsible position he brought not only a thorough under-standing of the problems of a Yeshivah— gathered partly during the years of his own study; not only a thorough modern education in Hebrew, English and German; but a hearty devotion—more, a soulful love. The progress and well-being of the Yeshivah were his chief-est concerns. To these he gave himself and his admirable personality so completely that one looks in vain for a comparison of such devotion.
Months and months sometimes passed, when the Yeshivah was low in funds, without his being paid. He stuck to his post without a murmur, worked all the harder, gave way to others whose claims were not so long due as his own-He wrote us a letter on Friday, August 23, the day before he was gruesomely murdered. We had written him from the New York Office of the Yeshivah for certain reports we wanted on the current state of affairs at Hebron. In that last letter he explained that he had been unable hitherto to comply with our request because he was in the midst of drawing up reports for Rabbi Mosheh Mordecai Epstein—the Dean—who was planning to take them with him to America on his intended trip. He added that these reports were finished now and after Shabbos he hoped to begin work on the reports we wanted. He was not destined to fulfill this hope. On Shabbos he died—martyr with so many others on the blackest day of Hebron.
He was killed—but his wife escaped death in a peculiar way. The Arabs had broken into the house. Zalmon and his wife were clinging in terror to one another. Seeing the murderous intentions of the intruders, they implored the mob to spare them both or kill them both together. When the attackers approached the devoted pair, Zalmon pushed his wife behind him, his body serving as a shield for her. Several Arabs rushed upon them—wielded murderous daggers in a mad frenzy. Zalmon fell —his wife with him. The blood from his wounds gushed forth upon the dress of the swooning woman. The assassins thought she too had been stabbed—mistook the blood for her own. They left them both for dead. But she was not even wounded. With his life's blood, Zalmon Wilansky saved his wife from death. Not by their desire—by a Higher Will.
I KNEW Bennie Horowitz during five or six years that he studied in the Yeshivas Reb Isaac Eichanan, when the Yeshivah was yet down town on East Broadway. He was a quiet, clever, studious, well-liked boy—a favorite with both teachers and fellow-students.
In Palestine I met Bennie's uncle, Reb Shimon Horowitz, the oldest shochet in Petach Tikvah. One of my closest pals in Palestine was Herschele Puchowitz (Pietrakover), who married Bennie's cousin, Reb Shimon Horo-witz's daughter. I thus had an excellent opportunity to associate with the Petach Tikvah Horowitz's. We were very friendly. I often used to stay at their home in Petach Tikvah. I spent some of my vacations there. And, while there, we frequently spoke about their Horowitz relatives in New York.
When I returned to America it was natural that I should bring regards from the Palestinian Horowitzes to chose in New York. Mr. Horowitz, Bennie's father, is a silk dyer in Greenpoint, hut the family residence is in Far Rockaway. I was invited to spend a Shabbos with them at the sea shore.
One of the fine memories I carry about with me is that delightful Sabbath I spent with the Horowitz family. I found Mr. Horowitz not as Americanized—in the false sense of that word as meaning departure from traditional Judaism—as I had expected. For a man more than a quarter of a century departed from the old home, who had long and successfully engaged in business in New York, he had kept marvelously fresh the fine traditions and customs of Jewish observance. What was more, he had succeeded in attaching his family to the love of those traditions.
Bennie was an only son, and he had two sisters. I was surprised to hear the two girls speak Hebrew well. I was delighted to note their happy participation in the joyful ceremonies of the Friday night seuddh. I remember well the kiddush, and the charming, gay conversation, and the singing of zmiros by the whole family. It is all unforgettable.
Most of the conversation centered around Palestine. Everyone was filled with a desire to hear about it, to hear how they lived there, what it was like. And if ever the talk wandered awhile from that subject, Bennie was sure to bring us back to it before long. I saw then that he was fascinated by the thought of Eretz Israel.
We spoke a great deal about the Hebron Yeshivah. Bennie told me in his confident way that he hoped sometime he would have an opportunity to go there to study. He was planning to be a rabbi. His father told me that he hoped Bennie would not only be a good American Rabbi but that he would also be able to understand between the lines. Mr. Horowitz, himself a Talmid-chochom, a former student of the Yeshivah of Volozhin, might well entertain this worthy ambition for his only son.
It was a few months later that I met Bennie again. This was in New York, and on East Broadway. We spoke awhile, and when I asked him if there was any news, he surprised me with some real news. He told me that he was preparing definitely to leave for Palestine. His ambition was to be fulfilled. He was to study at the Hebron Yeshivah. His mother and two sisters were going with him. They would stay in Petach Tikvah, where the girls would be able to master the Hebrew language and acquire a general Jewish education. And because they would be so near, and he could see them quite often, he wouldn't be so lonesome in Hebron. I wished to test him. I told him—Bennie, if you really want to go to study in the Yeshivah in Hebron you must be ready to forget your father's comfortable cottage by the seaside. You must forget the American living conditions, forget the steam-heated rooms, the constant flow of hot water, the tennis-court in back of your home,—in fact, forget all the comforts and conveniences to which you have been used.
He replied with all the sincere enthusiasm of the boy scarcely out of his teens. He said that he earnestly desired to be a Jewish scholar —a lamdan, and he was willing to struggle just as much as might be necessary to achieve his aim. I admired that spirit, and offered him my best wishes.
While Bennie was in Palestine I heard several times concerning his excellent progress. I was corresponding regularly with my friend who had married Bennie's cousin, and with other people. They wrote me that Bennie was studying avidly—with hasmadah, I was glad on his account and glad at thought of the satisfaction his father must derive oq receiving similar reports.
When the troubles in Palestine began, when the first news came, I hastened in the early hours of the morning to the office of the "Jewish Morning Journal." It is impossible to describe how frightfully shocked I was to see a Jewish Telegraphic Agency report stating that Benjamin Horowitz was among the first to be killed.
If it was unbelievable to me, how much more unbelievable must it have been to Bennie's father? He could not reconcile himself to the thought. His only son. How could it be possible? The reports are confused. There must be a mistake. He did not believe it true until the second day. "My Benjamin killed?" he cried. Then—"I think I'll have to rend my clothes . . ." And be did, and he recited the benediction accepting the divine judgment.
Often I wonder whether it is not my fault that he went there. I had spoken so enthusiastically about the Yeshivah in Hebron, and Bennie had been so profoundly impressed. ... Yet others were there who escaped—my own brother among them. This is not a matter that can be explained by simple causes. Why some went and others not; why some died and others survived—these are matters not easily to be explained.
I can add only that Bennie Horowitz and the other American boys who were with him in the Yeshivah at Hebron during the outbreaks behaved courageously. They had confidence that things would turn out right. They did not die easily. They withstood their attackers with chairs and other such weapons as came to hand. Of course they were ineffective with such poor defenses against superior numbers armed with weapons of sharpened steel.
They were a noble group of promising youths. One cannot help feeling that American Jewry will miss them in its ranks, each one of them separately, and all of them together.
Yankov Velvel Weiss (Reisman)
ONE of the finest, best-loved characters — in Hebron was Jacob Wolf Weiss (Reisman)—familiarly called Reb Yankov Velvel, the shochet of the Ashkenazic Jews and also a teacher in the local Mizraehi school.
NE of the finest, best-loved characters — in Hebron was Jacob Wolf Weiss (Reisman)—familiarly called Reb Yankov Velvel, the shochet of the Ashkenazic Jews and also a teacher in the local Mizraehi school.
Long ago his parents had come to Palestine from Warsaw. In Eretz Israel, some thirty-six years ago, Yankov Velvel was born. During most of my stay in the Hebron Yeshivah I saw him nearly every day—for I had my meals in his home regularly, an arrangement entered into because Hannah Slonim could not undertake to cook for me.
When I knew Yankov Velvel, he was a splendid, impressive, handsome man, his great blue eyes forming a charming contrast with his sun-burnt complexion. He had always lived in an intensely Hassidic atmosphere, and dressed in the somberly-picturesque Hassidic style.
He was in many respects a remarkable man. Not only was he impressive in his external appearance, but his inner self, his personality, his true character, was something unforgettable, once you grew acquainted with him. He was as lively a person as one may ever meet. No one could ever say that he saw Yankov Velvet without a smile on his face! He loved song, happy song, and in this respect, as in many other ways, he was the typically joyous Hassid.
Another of his outstanding characteristics was his eagerness to be helpful to others- It was a part of his life's philosophy. He was always glad to do any favor for the inhabitants of Hebron- For this reason, no less than for his congenial good nature, he was loved by all who knew him. He was on the best of terms with the students of the Yeshivah.
I remember how painstakingly he helped me when I was studying Trefuth. In this particular branch of the Jewish law a certain amount of actual experience is vital to a thorough understanding of the subject. Yankov Velvet took me with him daily, for fully two months, to the slaughtering houses, and carefully showed me the anatomy of the cow and demonstrated how each part is affected by Jewish law. Through his patience and kindness I was enabled to learn more about this subject than the average student.
Yankov Velvel had three children—the oldest a boy of twelve, the others two lovely little girls named Shulamith and Peninah. He had a brother, a youth of nineteen, who had acquired an enviable reputation in Jerusalem for his scholarship. During the last year of his life this youth had come to study at the Hebron Yeshivah. He was murdered on the black Sabbath. Three other brothers of Yankov Velvel are in America. Two are teachers in Connecticut; the third and oldest of them, Mordecai Reisman, is rabbi in Lakewood, New Jersey.
An idealist in every way, Yankov Velvel refused to go to Tel Aviv, where a more lucrative position than he had in Hebron was offered him, because he preferred to stay where he could give his children a good, quiet education.
To a stranger who saw him walking with his ever-present smile upon his lips, Yankov Velvel, dressed as he was, might indeed have appeared old-fashioned. As a matter of fact, his devotion to many traditional and Hassidic ideals did not lead him to exclude valuable modem ideas. He was a broadminded man. Particularly he believed in modern education. He held the study of languages to be especially desirable—perhaps he had in mind that the members of the Sanhedrin were required to know seventy languages. Consistently with this enlightened viewpoint, his children received a thorough modern as well as Jewish education.
It is noteworthy in this respect that after the horrible events of August 34, when the Hebron massacre was being investigated, Yankov Velvel's young son of twelve was called as a witness. He identified a certain Arab as one of his father's murderers. That Arab and the boy were questioned at the same time, and when their versions were complete each was asked to sign the protocol of the examination. The Arab—characteristically— could do no more than press his finger upon a blot of ink for signature. Yankov Velvel's boy, when requested to sign in turn, inquired in what language he should do so. He was asked what language he could write. "Any of the official languages," he replied—"Hebrew, Arabic, or English."
On the Friday before the massacres, when rumors were flying about that the Arabs were planning trouble, and the hostile demeanor of the Arabs gave warning that these rumors might be taken seriously, Yankov Velvel said to the Yeshivah students that if they were afraid, they should come to his house, because he was on excellent terms with the Arabs. He had never had any trouble with them.
Despite his confidence, his house was attacked the following morning. The Arabs broke in and, as everywhere else, killed whom they could, wrought all the havoc they could, and left with any valuables that could be removed. Yankov Velvet's mother-in-law and his young brother had been killed. The other members of the family fled in terror. Finally he too left his house in the hands of the Arabs. But plunder alone did not satisfy them- Blood they wished to see. They pursued him, caught him in the middle of the street, killed him, and left him there. His body lay in the mud of Hebron, his blood mingling with its earth, over thirty-six hours.
His memory lives.
Israel Mordecai (Wolkomirer) Kaplan
ONE of the pleasantest persons in the student body of the Hebron Yeshivah was Israel Mordecai Kaplan. A finely built, healthy-looking young man of some twenty-five years, he looked more like a student in some Western university than in a traditional Jewish Yeshivah. His dressing was highly fashionable and in the best of taste. His neatness was proverbial.
His dark brown eyes, however, marked him for a person out of the ordinary—something more than an occidental college man—which he was.
Very fine are the memories of Israel Mordecai. He was a most likable young man, popular and yet modest. Everyone who knew him enjoyed doing something for him when the opportunity offered.
He died as did his loved fellows—innocent martyr, sacrificed in the bloom of life.
Those Who Escaped
WHAT shall we derive from all this?
Shall we allow the hopes and dreams and prayers of over eighteen centuries to be washed out by the blood of the martyrs of last August? Shall we throw up our hands in discouragement and call ourselves defeated.
No! That is unthinkable!
Reading over what I have written before; reading the account of the wonderful, the pure, the noble souls whose earthly careers were snuffed out in the twinkling of a gory, degraded passion for which the Arabs will never be able to forgive themselves when they have grown more enlightened, it might seem indeed that we are in a helpless situation. It might seem that in addition to our own helplessness we are faced with an absence of divine sanction; that God, Who permitted that unspeakable atrocity, has not cared to look with favor upon our efforts to reestablish ourselves spiritually and materially in the land of our forefathers. But to think so woud be to fall into an enormous error.
It woud be wrong to hold in mind only the few score martyrs who fell beneath the weapons of the mad mob—who fell thus and thereby rose so high that it is given to few to hold rank with them in their greatness. It would be wrong not to give thought to those who were saved. And by this I mean not the vast multitude, the whole Jewish population of
, more than 150,000 souls, whose survival may be ascribed to the purely natural cause that the danger did not come very close to them. I mean rather the hundreds who, though engulfed by the flames, were nevertheless drawn out of the fire; and were saved by such means that it is hard not to say— Miracle, hard not to perceive the hand of Providence in it, hard not to realize that their being saved means that God has not averted
His face from us but stands by yet to spare His children and speed us on the road to victory.
Yes, a few died; but many more were saved. Let us not make the mistake of looking only upon the little heap of sacred ashes. Let us gaze with understanding eyes upon the survivors, the living evidence of our ultimate victory. Because I have said so much in detail about those that died, let me say something about those that were saved; and I will leave it to many others to build up the remainder of the encouraging picture. I will content myself by concluding this brief record with a few accounts of how some of our fellows escaped the fate that threatened alt.
I have already written of some that survived, the manner of it being nothing short of miraculous. There were Lezer Yanishker and the young sister of Hannah Slonim, who were hidden iii a closet. Whence came so much strength to the arm of a single youth, holding a door shut against the efforts of a mob——?
And there was the wife of Zaimon Welan-sky who, clinging to her husband, fell beside him in a swoon as he was stabbed by many knives, and was covered with his blood—so that the Arabs though they had stabbed her too. By this her life was saved. How much less than a miracle is it?
And there was William Berman's younger brother. Who can say by what miracle he was permitted to live even where his brother and his friends were murdered. What stopped the Arabs, who thought him dead, from making sure of it?
Not all the Arabs in
participated in the massacre. Some remained aloof, and some helped the intended victims to escape. Many hid in pits, in trees, in bushes—anywhere to be out of sight when the torrent broke loose. And many were concealed by friendly Arabs. One Arab gave shelter to thirty people, including the old Rabbi Slonim.
Two young boys were caught alone in a house when a mob began to break in the door. They ran up to the roof. The mob entered and plundered what they could. Then they began to look for persons—and were soon bound for the roof. The trembling boys sought a way of escape. They looked down into the yard, and there was an Arab—beckoning to them to jump down. They declined at first, being afraid of him. But seeing the mob about to come up, they were forced to take the leap—the height not being great. The Arab below took them by the hand and led them to a safe place and guarded over them until the worst was over.
Among those whose escape borders very close upon the miraculous is Rabbi Mosheh Mordecai Epstein, the venerable Dean of the Yeshivah. He was in his own house when the attack began, and there were twenty-five people with him. The doors were fastened. They were not molested at first. But late in the day, when the Arabs were finished with their horrible work elsewhere, they turned to the Rabbi's house.
As they were actually breaking in the door, some trucks transporting soldiers from Beer Sheba to Jerusalem passed through Hebron and though the street where the Rabbi's beleaguered house stood. These soldiers had not been sent for by anyone in
. They had no business there and had no knowledge that anything was wrong in the city of the patriarchs. They were merely passing through on their way to
. But they arrived in the nick of time. Five minutes later would have been too late to save many lives.
The soldiers, not knowing what was going on, but seeing a violently behaving mob, fired a few shots in the air—and the cowardly pack dispersed. They were in no mood for anything but the murder of the defenseless men and women and children. Thus, at the last moment, at the very moment of resignation, the Dean, and over a score of people with him, were saved.
Too numerous are the escapes, natural and, in a sense, miraculous, for me to write of all that I have heard about, though many of them are so extraordinary that it is hard to resist putting them on record. But I will content myself with giving just one more here—that of my own brother—whose escape was hardly less noteworthy or miraculous than any.
My brother was studying in
. Having received a check from home, he was in
on Friday, August 23, purchasing a suit. Late in the afternoon he took the auto that runs between Jerusalem and Hehron, intending to return in time to be in
for the Sabbath.
The locality was in a hum of excitement. Many rumors were afloat—among them a rumor that trouble was brewing for the Jews in
. My brother's friends tried to dissuade him from returning to
. They begged him to stay over in Jerusalem for the Sabbath and if things remained quiet in
he could return to the Yeshivah on Sunday. But my brother, like the other American boys, was not afraid. He was confident that no harm would befall them. He insisted on returning for Shabbos to Hebron and, against the wise counsel of his friends, took the auto for
and was soon on his way.
It happened that he was the only Jew on the auto. All the other passengers were Arabs. As soon as they were on the road, he began to feel most uncomfortable. The Arabs were whispering among themselves, and casting peculiar glances at him, and pointing to him when they thought he was not looking, and smiling in an unpleasant way. He began to feel that his friends in
had been right.
What if indeed some horror was afoot? The Jews in
were not ignorant of the danger. There was nothing his presence could contribute if trouble really came. And were not these snickering Arabs pointing to him as "another customer" riding carelessly into the jaws of death? He began to wish he had not started out. He wished he could go back. If only there were some way of withdrawing from this unfriendly company! Might they not attack him on some lonely part of the road? But what excuse could he offer for having the car stopped? And if he began to run, woud they not chase after him?
Suddenly a great gust of wind arose and carried his hat off a good way back on the road. He began to shout to the driver to stop—he must recover his valuable hat. The driver was in no hurry to hear him. He took his time at it, and slowly, very slowly, brought the car to a stop. In the meantime the car had gone on a considerable distance and the hat was far, far back. My brother alighted and loudly requested the driver to wait there with the bus until he got his hat. Was there not a malignant grin upon the driver's face as he promised that he would certainly wait for him?
My brother hastened along after his hat. What with the distance the car had gone, and the velocity of the wind, the hat had been left very far behind. When my brother got it, he was practically out of sight of the auto. Not stopping to dust it, he fixed the hat firmly upon his head and began to walk at a very rapid pace—back towards
—and let the automobile wait there for him.
And so it happened that the next morning, Saturday, August 24, the day of the massacre at Hebron, my brother was not there, but safe in
. Had it not been for that blessed gust of wind that carried his hat off, my brother would have been in
together with Bennie Horowitz and William Berman, and the others—and who knows what might have been?
One of my friends, to whom I told of this miraculous escape, remarked that that was no ill wind which blew Friday afternoon on the road between Hebron and
. Indeed it was not an ill wind but a wind of Providence, of that same Providence Who has watched over the Jewish people and preserved it throughout the long night of the exile, Who watches over it still in the dawn, and will continue to do so through the bright new day that is speedily coming.
Send to a friend