Shabbat Chayei Sarah: V'Shavu Banim L'Gvulam
October 31, 2013
Cheshvan 26, 5774, 10/30/2013
Friday afternoon, a few hours before Shabbat, Shabbat Hebron, what we call Chayei Sarah, I wandered into the Avraham Avinu neighborhood. It was difficult to drive into the parking area, which was a huge maze of cars. I left mine near the street and walking around, bumped into what would be called in another place, a 'homeless' zone. Tents all over the place. Tables were set up with hot-water urns and food-heating platters.
I bumped into a few kids, turned on the video and asked where they're from. "Migdal.'
Migdal is all the way up north.
Why? "Shabbat Chayei Sarah."
A man, probably about forty, saw me talking to them and walked my way. The camera turned towards him. How long did it take you to get here? "About four and half hours."
Where will you sleep tonight? "In a tent, on the pavement, on the ground."
Do you usually sleep in a tent on Shabbat? "No, I have a big house, but we came here to strengthen Hebron."
Where will you pray? "At Ma'arat HaMachpela." And when you say 'the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,' there, what do you think? "I get goose-bumps, just thinking about it. The holiness of the place."
Blessing him, that next year he should be able to sleep in a hotel in Hebron, he said, "no, I'll come to live here. V'Shavu banim l'gvulam – And the sons have returned home."
This was one, of somewhere in the vicinity of 20,000 people, who filled all the neighborhoods of Kiryat Arba and Hebron, just to be exactly where Abraham purchased the Caves of Machpela, as we read about this event in the Torah, on Shabbat.
Tents were everywhere. Next to Machpela, on the streets, inside buildings, everywhere. People used their cars as temporary dwellings, sleeping on the seats and eating at picnic tables they'd brought with them.
Two huge tents, feeding literally thousands of people, were located near the old Arab market at the entrance to Avraham Avinu, and in the park across from Machpela. A special station was set up for real 'homeless,' people arriving without any food or a place to eat. There they received enough of a Shabbat meal to keep them from being hungry, Friday night and Saturday afternoon. And Yeshivat Shavie Hevron, at Beit Romano, was filled to capacity.
The amount of people arriving for worship at Machpela can only be described as massive. Inside, outside, on the lawn, in the courtyard. At night, and again the next morning. Finding a chair was luxury. There simply weren't enough to go around. I stood thru early Shabbat morning services.
Hebron's streets were filled with people. It seemed like a city with no night. And people's apartments were, as a rule, full up.
I guess my apartment was fairly standard for Chayei Sarah. We had six guys sleeping on my living room floor and another on the couch. Most of them were American Yeshiva students, as well as a friend from Tel Aviv and his girlfriend.
One room with three women: an Israeli from Tzfat, a young American woman studying in Israel for the year, and another Amercan who'd come over to visit family and 'had to be in Hebron for Chayei Sarah.' The last time she'd been here was about 12 years ago, during the 'intifada' – the Oslo war, while Arab bullets bounced off our sandbagged windows as we enjoyed our Shabbat meal.
What never ceases to amaze me is the number of people who fly in from outside of Israel, just for this Shabbat. Some organizations, like our friends at AFSI, set up annual trips to Israel in order to be here for this unique occasion.
So too with the Hebron Fund, our American organization. The Hebron Fund, assisting in supporting Hebron projects in the community, has sponsored this event for many years. Executive Director, Rabbi Dan Rosenstein, put together a wonderful program for friends and supporters, whose sole reason in Israel was Hebron for Shabbat. Some arrived a few days earlier in order to attend the 'Night to Honor Hebron' at the Knesset. Others landed Thursday night and left Saturday night or Sunday morning.
Some of our guests slept at the Avraham Avinu guest house; others at the Ulpana in Kiryat Arba. They dined in the Gutnick Center, outside Ma'arat HaMachpela, and participated in various tours and events at night and during the day.
For many of these people, this wasn't there first Chayei Shabbat mission. And we always know when our guests enjoy themselves, when they 'come back for more.'
Another special event was part of this Shabbat. Teaneck teenager Jonathan Rosen celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in Hebron, at Ma'arat HaMachpela, on this very exceptional day. This is truly a unique happening: reading your Bar Mitzvah portion about Ma'arat HaMachpela, at the very sitewhere it occurred. Not too many kids have such a unique opportunity. Jonathan's father, Michael, is a Hebron Fund board member, and a number of the family's friends from Teaneck, NJ, also participated in the celebrations, which included, of course, festive meals and a tour of Hebron.
I had the honor to speak with our guests shortly before the end of Shabbat, and stressed to them how important their visit here is to us, Hebron's Jewish community. When we see literally tens of thousands coming into Hebron, all at once, including people who make such a long, and expensive journey from outside Israel, for all of one day, it shows us how important Hebron is to Jews from Israel and around the world. Such dedication, such love, such determination! We then know that we are not a small group of 90 families and 850 people, rather we are a community of multitudes. And I have no doubt that we aren't the only ones to take notice. The Israeli government, the US, the EU and also our neighbors across the street; they all see the enthusiasm and commitment of our fellow Jews. The scene of tens of thousands says more than words could ever express.
That's what Hebron is: the word itself means 'to bond' and is derived from the word 'friend.' Hebron bonds us, links us, and transforms us all as friends, whether from Migdal in northern Israel, or from New York, Texas or California.
And of course, all of this originates from our Grandfather Abraham and Grandmother Sarah, whose merits still stand for us today. Despite the fact that during this Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, we read of Sarah's death, the words "Chayei Sarah" speak of her life. For though Sarah's body was interred at the Cave of Machpela, her spirit lives with us through the present, and can be tangibly sensed on this extraordinary Shabbat day.
V'Shavu Banim L'Gvulam. The Children Have Returned Home.
From Hebron we thank all those who participated, and made this day what is was.
Motivation: Shabbat Hebron
October 25, 2013
A few days ago, speaking to a group of young adults, one of the people asked me what’s my motivation to live in Hebron. My answer contained a few elements.
Usually my first stop on tours is Tel Rumeida, a great place to start. Because this neighborhood is actually ancient Tel Hebron. If Ma’arat HaMachpela is where the Patriarchs and Matriarchs are buried, this is where they lived. Two walls, one 4,500 years old, dated to the era of Noah, and another, 3,700 years old, from the times of Abraham and Sarah, ensconce a stairwell, over 4,000 years old. We are almost 100% sure that our Forefathers walked these stairs.
Today, the stairs reach the only road accessing this neighborhood. Archeologists have explained to us that under that road, at the end of the stone stairs, are probably the Gates to the ancient city of Hebron.
This site is, for me, probably one of the most important places, not only in Hebron, but in all of Israel, and in the world. Why? Tomorrow, together with literally tens of thousands here in Hebron and Kiryat Arba, we will read in the Torah how Abraham, almost 4,000 years ago, purchased the Caves of Machpela for us, his children. TheTorah states twice, specifically, exactly where this transaction occurred, when he paid 400 silver shekels (today valued at $700,000) to Efron the Hittite. That place is, the gates to the city.
Standing with groups, looking at this spot, I tell them that it is very possible, even likely, that this is where Abraham purchased Machpela. And what I always find amazing isn’t so much that Abraham was there then, but that we are still here today. How many people can say, after 4,000 years, this is where they began, and where they continue to live today?
This is our roots, the roots of Judaism, the roots of Monotheism. Any person, any group of people, any religion that professes a belief in one G-d, this is where it all began. Quite literally, this is the beginning of humanity as we know it today, the beginning of the end of human sacrifice, of a belief in the one and only Creator of the Universe, our G-d. It is difficult to get closer to our roots than at this very place.
Later we visit the actual site of those caves, known as Ma’art HaMachpela. Here groups hear the stories, legends, Biblical and Rabbinic accounts of this place’s sanctity. It is difficult perhaps, to comprehend this is the tomb, not only of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah, but also of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman. Abraham, it is written, upon discovering these tombs, was able to inhale and smell the unique fragrances of the Garden of Eden.
Here, so it is written, our souls ascend to the world above, after they depart our physical body.
Not the seventh wonder of the world, rather the first wonder of the world.
But perhaps, the most incredible part of the story, again, isn’t then, but today. For this singular place was inaccessible to Jews and Christians for hundreds of years, seven centuries. For seven hundred years no one, not of Moslem faith, was allowed inside the 2,000 year old Herodian monument built on top of the caves.
Only in 1967, following the six-day war and our return home, home to Hebron, were we once again able to visit, pray, identify with our holy relatives, at this very exceptional site.
How many peoples of the world remember what they lost, centuries ago? How many peoples strive, pray, and even die, to return to their roots, their holy sites, the core of their essence? And how many succeed?
But it doesn’t end there. Not too many years ago, January, 1997, most of Hebron was taken from us, abandoned to our enemy. During negotiations, leading to the signing and implementation of the Hebron accords, the Arabs demanded control of Machpela. They have stated, time and again, that should they retain power here, it will again be off-limits to anyone not of the Islamic faith.
True, we had then, and still do, have many disagreements with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. But when it came to Machpela, he said no. The holy place remained under Israeli control. That is why some 800,000 people of all religions, from around the world, can visit here annually.
Again, such talks are underway. But again, a few days, ago, Netanyahu issued a special ‘blessing,’ leading up to ‘A night to honor Hebron’ in the Knesset and this Shabbat.
“It is no coincidence that the government of Israel included the Cave of Machpela in its list of National Heritage Sites. Hebron, like Jerusalem, has the power to unite Israel…My wish for you is that ‘Shabbat Hebron,’ with its thousands of participants, will deepen our affinity to the City of our Forefathers, to our Land and to our heritage.”
Those Jews, who worship three times a day, recite a special blessing, speaking of the resurrection of the dead. Today’s Jewish community, living at Tel Rumeida-Tel Hebron, Beit Hadassah, Beit Romano, the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, worshiping at Ma’arat HaMachpela, the close to one million people who visit Hebron every year, are all living examples of rebirth, resuscitation of the dead.
Who was here? What was here? Who could have possibly imagined that we would ever really come back, and LIVE here again? Who could have dreamt of a night to honor Hebron, in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset? A dream, a dream come true.
We are here: for all of those who lived here and died here, for all those who dreamed but could only dream, and for our grandchildren’s grandchildren, so that they too will be able to be here.
We are but links in a chain, the beginning of which started 4,000 years ago, and the end of which is eternity. This is what will be going through my head tomorrow, celebrating Shabbat Chayei Sarah in Hebron, with tens of thousands from Israel and around the world.
We are here. To stay. Forever.
If that’s not motivation, I don’t know what is.
The legalities of Ma’arat HaMachpela
October 22, 2013
The Prime Minister’s office door swung open. In strode the Attorney General and Justice Minister, unannounced, uninvited. As they sat down, another six suited men filed into the office, standing behind them.
Surprised, the Prime Minister waited.
Not for very long. The Justice Minister growled at him: “Mr. Prime Minister, this has to stop, and I mean stop, now!” The attorney general nodded his head in agreement.
“What are you speaking about?”
“Look Mr. Prime Minister, these settlers, the extremists in Hebron, they’ve done it again. And we must act fast, this is too much.”
The Prime Minister cleared his throat, looked at his watch, and seemed to squirm uncomfortably in his big, padded chair. “OK, uh, please clarify.”
“It’s that cave, the cave and the field, and the building. All of the area called Machpela, Ma’arat HaMachpela, the Caves of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, it’s all illegal.”
This time, not only did the attorney general nod in agreement. The other six-suited men, still standing, all hummed yes in unison, (almost as if they’d practiced).
She continued: “He, Abraham, he claims that he purchased all that from Ephron. Now we all know that property values, as they are, make that property worth much more that 400 shekels. I mean, come on, who’s he fooling?!
Some days ago a few men came into my office, claiming to be related to Ephron. One is the offspring of a cousin, another, of an uncle, and the third, of an illegitimate son.
Now, they all say that their ancestors too had a stake to all that property. You know, these clans, they share the wealth. They claim, first of all, that Ephron didn’t sell both caves, only part of the outer cave, and not all of that either, just part of it, enough to bury Abraham’s wife.
So the inner cave, and at least half of the outer cave, belong to them. It was divided up into four parts. Ephron sold his half of the outer cave, and the other three parts were divided almost equally between the others. I mean, the illegitimate son claims a little more that the others, but, who knows. We still are checking that out.
Also the nonsense about the field. You really think it all belonged to Ephron? He had a small piece of land, adjacent to the caves, but that’s it. The rest belonged to the others, or, actually, their ancestors.
So, the cave and field must be returned.”
“But that’s not all.”
A huge grin appeared on the Attorney General’s face. The Justice Minister stomped on his foot, giving him a dirty look, and the grin disappeared, replaced with a solemn expression of pain.
We all know that Jews cannot buy anything from Arabs without expressed permission from the government. We’ve checked all the way back. Abraham never even filled in the papers. He didn’t ask for permits and they were never granted. In other words, his possession of the entire site is illegal. He should have been arrested and imprisoned. Look at all the problems he’s caused us.”
“And one more thing. The building. The building on top of the caves, was also built without the proper permits. We all know, no building in Hebron without a full government decision. We checked the protocols. Herod never consulted with anyone. The building is an eyesore and was illegally built.”
The attorney general and the other six-suited men puffed out their chests, and pointed their index fingers at the Prime Minister, as she exclaimed: “This is what we’ve been waiting for; a chance to close down Hebron. Without Machpela it is worthless. Get the Jews out and leave it to the Arabs.”
The Prime Minister sat still for a few moments, looked at them, and queried: What happens when this goes to the Supreme Court. After all, the Jews there will certainly find some witnesses to testify on their behalf. I’m sure, if they look hard enough, they’ll find someone saying he’s related to Abraham and try to prove that everything was done right, all the papers were signed legally, and the ruling powers agreed to the deal. And concerning Herod, truthfully, I once heard that there were a few people who objected to the construction of that building.”
The Attorney General stared at the Prime Minister in disbelief. “That’s a state secret. How do you know?”
The Prime Minister ignored the question and continued, “and those who opposed it, well, they were used as stuffing for some of the hollow stones…”
The Justice Minister, clearing her throat, continued growling: Don’t worry, it’s all taken care of. I’ve already spoken to the President of the Court. He’s familiar with the facts, and won’t allow a few minute ‘details’ change history. It’s a done deal.”
The Prime Minister froze. “But, what about Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebeccah, Jacob and Leah? If we void the deal, then they are all there illegally. We cannot afford to let the founders of our people continue to break international law. If it never really belonged to them , except maybe Sarah, so what do we do with them?”
The Justice Minister snarled: “We’ve checked it all out. You see, the six of them were entirely unfair, leaving Matriarch Rachel all by herself. So we are going to move all of them, including Rachel, so that they’ll be altogether, in an undisputed place, in holy, eternal rest. This will also solve our problems in Bethlehem.”
The Prime Minister sighed, “And where might that be, a place where the Arabs have no claims, and we’ll never have to go thru this again?”
The Attorney General piped up, “Next week is when the Torah portion speaks of Sarah’s burial, this seems like the perfect time, and all those Jews who go to celebrate in Hebron, well, they can all escort them, a really big funeral.”
The Prime Minister, now showing his impatience: “Yeah, but where, where?”
“It was a little expensive, but we negotiated and the Arabs have agreed never to make a claim…”
“We purchased seven plots next to Rebbi Nachman in Uman in the Ukraine…”
B”H, BS & BB
September 24, 2013
B”H – Baruch HaShem, Thank G-d. Yesterday was an overwhelming success. Some 25,000 people visited the city and participated in the Music Festival. Add on 10,000 the day before, and anther few thousand today and tomorrow. That’s almost 40,000 people in Hebron.
Of course, the murder of Gal Kobi HY”D, the Israeli soldier shot and killed is a tragedy that never should have happened. It will be difficult to console the family. Why should a twenty year old man be shot and killed by an Arab sniper? Only because he was Jewish, Israeli, and serving in the IDF, assisting to protect others living in, and visiting Hebron. And also ensuring that terrorists, such as the animal who killed him, aren’t able to travel freely around Israel, murdering Jews in Tel Aviv, or in his home city, Haifa.
But Israelis showed their bravery and heroism, not allowing this horrendous act to prevent their coming to Hebron. As is said, some 25,000 people yesterday, and thousands today and tomorrow, and next week and next month, vote with their feet – they let their feet do the talking, showing one and all: terrorists will not prevent Jews from visiting and living in their land, their cities, and their homes.
The shows yesterday were great. I caught the last few: Yishai Lapidot, Mendy Jerufi, and Ya’akov Shwekey. They were fantastic. Shwekey was all that was expected and more. See photos on our facebook: http://www.facebook.com/UnitedWithHebron
Immediately following the murder, the director of yesterday’s programming spoke to Ya’akov, telling him about the terror attack. Shwekey assured him, on the spot, that he had no intentions to cancel. The show would go on, as planned.
And what a show it was. He dedicated two special songs. One of his most famous, Tatte, meaning Father, changing some of the original words for Hebron, he dedicated to the memory of the murdered soldier. Another was sung for the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces, serving our nation and our people. It was really something else.
What a day it was.
BS: A few hours after the murder, the Prime Minister issued a directive, ordering that all measures necessary to allow Jews back into Beit HaMachpela immediately, be implemented. The one and only measure necessary is that of the signature of the Defense Minister, Moshe ‘Bugi’ Ya’alon on a piece of paper, a permit, granting permission for Jews who purchased the site to move back in.
As might be recalled, last year the purchase was completed and Jews moved in. Two days later they were expelled. A military court ruled a couple of months ago, that the purchase was fully legal. The Jews should be allowed back in.
We’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting.
As of this morning, the story is that the Defense Minister ‘authorized’ the return to the building, but has yet to sign the permits. So my guess is that, because of his deeply religious practices, he doesn’t write on Chol HaMoed, the intermediary days of Succot, due to the sanctity of this week. (LOL)
So, maybe after the holidays, Thursday night?
BB: Well, actually it’s Bibi. Mr Prime Minister, who split Hebron in January, 1998, after promising he would never do such a thing. A few days ago he stated that anyone thinking they can uproot us from Hebron should know that it will never happen. And he promised, again. Back to Beit HaMachpela.
Well, it seems that a Prime Minister’s directive isn’t enough. Why? Maybe (no, it can’t be) he really didn’t mean it. Maybe (no, it can’t be), the message hasn’t yet filtered down to the Defense Minister. Or maybe there are people, in roles under the Prime Minister, who can control what the Prime Minister is actually able to do, or not do, despite his position and directives. (Yes, it can be!)
Pick one of the above: a, b, or c, or pick all of the above. Or none. Maybe its threats from the direction of the WH, where BB is supposed to go speak BS with next week with POSTUS.
But, we have no doubt, there will be much BH – blessings from above, and in the end, all will work out ok. Because the BH has been around longer that BB or BS or even POTUS, and will still be here when they are long gone.
Happy holidays from Hebron.
Keep the show going
September 22, 2013
In 2002, on the first day of the huge Succot celebrations, early evening, an Arab terrorist opened fire near the Avraham Avinu neighborhood. As a result, Rabbi Shlomo Shapira from Jerusalem was killed.
Fast forward: Succot, September 2013, eleven years later. Almost the same exact time. An Arab terrorist shoots, killing an Israeli soldier, near the “Beit Merkachat” intersection in Hebron. As with Rabbi Shapira, the soldier never really had a chance. A bullet penetrated his neck, leaving an entrance and exit wound. Medical personnel did everything humanly possible. But it wasn’t enough.
Prior to the killing, I could define today as ‘interesting.’ Actually I really don’t know if that’s the right word to use.
Well over 10,000 people arrived in Hebron today, filling Ma’arat HaMachpela, walking the streets, visiting the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, all having a good time. One of the day’s highlights was the opening of the Cave of Otniel ben Knaz to Jewish visitors, an event occurring very few days during the year. This, because the site is located on the ‘Arab’ H1 side of the city.
But on holidays, such as today, the 300 meter walk from the ‘Kikar HaShoter’ checkpoint to the holy site is heavily protected, allowing visitors, escorted by soldiers or police, to view and worship at the cave.
But earlier, prior to its opening, I’d received notification of trouble. A firebomb was hurled at soldiers in the area. Rock-throwing, an almost normal occurrence in Hebron, was starting. But the security forces had the situation under control, and dozens and dozens of people walked back and forth to the place.
Me too. Today was the first day of our special VIP tour. A busload of Hebron friends and supporters visited our newly initiated Tel Hebron overlook, on the roof of Beit Menachem, in Tel Rumeida. They also heard a short talk from Mrs. Tzippy Shlissel, and then too, participated in the walk to the fascinating Cave of Otniel.
I had the privilege to escort a wonderful woman who I’ve known for about 15 years. Mrs. Ruth Simons is 91 years young, but you’d never know it. When we arrived at the Cave she climbed up the stairs on her own two legs, entering the site for the first time in her life.
But, honestly, on the way there, and on the way back, I wasn’t entirely relaxed. I’ve done this many times before, and people here, well, sometimes we develop ‘antennas’ which pick up vibrations in the air. And the vibes were definitely there.
Everything and everyone were in place – soliders, border police, regular police, but at the same time, booms from stun grenades and rubber bullets being shot at distant attackers, filled the air. It wasn’t, as it usually is, a quiet walk. I was very impressed by my guests. Ruth and her family, who didn’t seem phased in the least. They took it all in stride.
But my insides, my gut didn’t like it. It is a disgrace for Jews to have to walk down a street to the tune of stun grenades exploding, not too far from them, on a Jewish holiday. Or on any day, for that matter.
But we did it, and that was that.
Later our guests were treated to a delicious lunch at the Yeshivat Shavei Hebron Succah and then visited Machpela. After they left, I recalled, for some reason, Rabbi Shlomo Shapira’s murder, as I walked past the site of that terror attack, back to the office.
A little while later, at 6:30, I received a call from my son, who works with security in a community outside of Hebron, asking about the shooting.
“There was a shooting and someone was hit.”
It didn’t take long to get preliminary details, where, when, and the victim’s condition: very critical. Together with a few others, we watched soldiers and police, running back and forth, huddling, talking in whispers. Ambulances, their red lights flashing, driving by, in all directions.
There wasn’t too much else to do, except wait.
Later tonight we’ll meet, and talk, to discuss our reactions.
The first reactions are easily expressible. First, our shock and pain at a young soldier’s death, as a result of an Arab terrorist sniper’s bullet.
But after that, the first question everyone asks is, ‘what about tomorrow?’ Tomorrow we are expecting some 50,000 people in Hebron, to participate in our Succot music festival, outside M’arat HaMachpela. This year the festival is headed up by Ya’akov Shwekey, one of the most popular Jewish/Hassdic singers in the business today. Shwekey in known to bring out big crowds, and a free concert in Hebron is sure to be a huge event.
Eleven years ago, following Rabbi Shapira’s murder, we faced the same, identical question. And we didn’t cancel. The show went on. We hosted thousands more than we’d expected. People showed their support for Hebron, and their disdain for terror by voting with their feet, by coming into Hebron by the droves.
We expect the same tomorrow. Of course, the show will go on. There will be pain, pain at the needless killing of another Israeli, in the line of duty. But, actually, we are all soldiers in the line of duty.
No, not only the Jews of Hebron. Jews in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beer Sheva. We are all soldiers, whether we wear khaki uniforms or not. We are living in our land, and still fighting for our land, against those who wish to take it from us. Our enemies don’t distinguish between Hebron and Tel Aviv, Sderot or Beit El. It’s all the same. And the way to fight them is to continue to live in all these places, to continue on, despite the difficulties, despite the pain and the blood. There is no choice, it’s us or them. And we don’t have any intentions to allow them to win. Whatever the cost.
That is the way of an army, of soldiers, and that is what we all are. As will be the multitudes who will fill Hebron tomorrow.
Succot is a feast of joy and happiness. This year, there will be a tinge of black over the blue skies of tomorrow’s concert. But one of the answers to tonight’s murder is to keep the show going, and that’s what will happen. Forever and ever and ever.
Atonement at the Hallowed Grounds of the Tabernacle
September 12, 2013
Last week one of my daughters moved from the southern Hebron Hills community Eshtamoa to Shilo in Binyamin.
Shilo is one of those places I’ve read about in the Bible, and a place passed by when traveling to communities in the northern Shomron.
I have friends who live there, but haven’t ever really spent time at this ancient, holy place. (Next week, over Succot, we will, with G-d’s help).
Presently Shilo is broken into two areas: the modern community and the ancient site.
Modern Shilo was founded in 1978. Actually, I seem to recall being present at the ceremony, for the laying of the cornerstone at the new community, an event attended by Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook zt”l and other important rabbis and leaders. Today almost four hundred families live here, 40 kilometers (40 minutes) north of Jerusalem. It is quite an impressive community, with a view second to none.
Ancient Shilo was Israel’s first capital. Following the exodus from Egypt, the ancient Israelites brought here the ‘Mishkan,’ the ‘tabernacle’ – a sanctuary built by Moses in the desert, and later brought into Israel by Joshua. It remained in Shilo for 369 years, until being destroyed by the ancient Philistines, shortly prior to the crowning of Saul as King of Israel.
One of the most famous Biblical stories occurring at the Tabernacle in Shilo was the “Hannah’s prayer.” Having no children of her own, Hannah cried out to the L-rd at this holy place. Eli the High Priest, seeing her whispering, and thinking Hannah to be inebriated, reprimanded her. When Hannah replied, with tears and a broken heart, her desire for a child, and her willingness to dedicate that child to G-d, Eli promised her a son within the year. That child, of course, is Shmuel, Samuel, the prophet who led the Israelites and anointed both Saul and David.
Yesterday, together with friends from our Hebron office, we visited ancient Shilo. We are in the process of planning a major upgrade of the Hebron Heritage museum in Beit Hadassah. One of the facets of the renovated museum will be a video/sound and light show, telling the story of Hebron and all its magnificent history to the multitudes who visit this holy city.
The Ancient Shilo organization has recently concluded production of a new presentation about Shilo and the Tabernacle. We were invited to a sneak-preview, allowing us to learn from their experience.
A tower, housing the auditorium, is surrounded by archeological sites and excavations. At the entrance to the tower is a Mikvah, a pool for ritual purification, probably dating to the 2nd Temple era.
But the most amazing view is that of the site of the Tabernacle itself. Presently, archeologists believe they have discovered the actual place where this sanctuary rested for almost four centuries. We were told that fossilized burnt raisins, discovered at the site, have been dated to the exact time when the Tabernacle was burnt down and destroyed just over 3,000 years ago.
Seeing this wondrous site and realizing its illustrious history and significance to the history of the Jewish people in Israel, is literally breathtaking.
But the best was yet to come. Sitting in the small auditorium, overlooking the Tabernacle through glass windows, the presentation began. In just over 13 minutes, we witnessed a living, breathing experience of our heritage. Watching this amazing production, I felt like I was there, living my way through hundreds of years of history. And I wasn’t the only one who shed a tear as Hannah pleaded with G-d for a child.
The Tel Shiloh – Ancient Shilo organization has actually renewed, at this site, Hannah’s prayer. Not too long ago 4,000 women participated in a special program at this site, called “Hannah’s Prayer.”
After seeing the production, I can only hope that the program we put together here in Hebron, is as powerful, real and effective as this one. And of course, I highly recommend visiting this special, unique site and program.
At this time of the year, approaching Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, it is customary to write about and speak about ‘Tshuva,’ that is, repentance. There are numerous types of repentance. Each and every individual should, and must, make an accounting of his or hers deed and actions over the past year, searching out what has to be patched up and fixed over the coming year.
But it’s not enough to practice personal atonement. We must also, as a people, as a nation, put ourselves back together.
Actually the word ‘tshuva’ is rooted in the word, ‘shuv,’ which means ‘return.’ We have to return to ourselves. Any deviation from our real selves is a problem, needing to be resolved. I personally believe that the first step of tshuva, return, is coming home, coming back to Israel, where Jews belong.
But being ‘here’ is not only Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beer Sheva. Being ‘here’ is Jerusalem, Hebron, Shilo, and Beit El. Being ‘here’ means understanding that this is our home, the home of Joshua, Eli, Shmuel, and David. These are our roots, these are our past, these are our present, these are our future. If you cut off the roots of a tree, what happens to the tree?
This must be our national accounting. Our tshuva is to stop speaking about Eretz Yisrael as ‘palestine,’ and rather, to recognize all of our land as an integral, essential, official, part of the State of Israel. Rather than negotiate away and abandon our birthright, we must renew, revitalize, and relive our gift, for our land, Eretz Yisrael, truly is a Divine gift.
Anyone walking the hallowed ground of the ancient Tabernacle in Shilo can surely sense such sacredness.
Happy New Year, an easy fast, and Gmar Hatima tova.
August 19, 2013
Actually, it’s been quite some time since I’ve been detained by the police.
One of my favorite visitors to Hebron is Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis. I’ve known her for just about as long as I’ve been working here, close to 20 years. A frequent visitor to Ma’arat HaMachpela, she brings diverse groups of people, always interested in what’s going on. Her groups are also invariably spiritual. The Rebbetzin and her groups invest much time worshiping at Machpela.
Late this morning a small group, led by Rebbetzin Jungreis, left Jerusalem, stopping first at Rachel’s tomb and then continuing to Ma’arat HaMachpela in Hebron. We began with brief explanations outside the building. One significant point always made is the fact that for 700 years Jews and Christians were forbidden from entering this holy site. Only since our return in 1967 do we again have the right, and privilege to pray inside the huge, 2000 year old monument above the caves of Machpela.
When I’m asked why Jews live in Hebron, one of the answers deals specifically with this issue. Our neighbors make it quite clear that should they ever control this holy site, it will again be off-limits to anyone not of the Islamic faith.
Having related this information to the Jungreis group, we then proceeded to ascend the many stairs leading to the second floor of the building. We entered the first, outer room, and I continued, leading the way, into the original structure. However, to my surprise, a border policeman stood in the doorway and told me: Entrance Forbidden. You have to wait.
For what? The Muezzin, the Arab Moslem who operates the loud speakers which blast out their prayers, five times a day, was being escorted to the room from which the audio is operated. Until he was safely tucked away in that room, we couldn’t go in.
What, I asked, are be back in 1929? Because of an Arab, we can’t go inside?
On the 'Jewish side' of the building?
We have to wait? Where is our honor - the honor of Am Yisrael, the honor of Abraham? Let him wait for me. I have to wait for him?!?
The border policeman refused to relent and put his arms up, blocking my way. That notwithstanding, I did my best to get around, or under his outstretched arms. This, of course, brought other security forces running, police and border police officers. I was accused of ‘pushing’ the border policeman and ‘disturbing the peace.’
I finally convinced them to allow my group inside – their time was limited. But I was detained. An officer demanded that I ‘promise not to do it again.’ I refused. How can I describe to my group, that for 700 years, we had no access to this site, and now, in 2013, explain to them that we must wait for an Arab to walk the halls of this holy place before we can go in? It makes no sense.
A policeman who I’m usually friendly with, started reading me the riot act, how I was totally off-center, and now, was being, not arrested, but detained, but if I didn’t follow orders and walk quietly, like a good boy, to the police station, for interrogation, I would be arrested and it would be much much worse.
Seeing that some of the police were upset with the entire incident, and trying to find a way to ‘climb down from the tree,’ I offered partial repentance: ‘Ok, I shouldn’t have started with the border policeman at the entrance. He’s just following orders. This issue should be taken up with higher-ranking officers.’ But this wasn’t enough for the officer in charge. So I abandoned my group, and was marched to the nearby police station.
The border policeman who had been ‘attacked’ followed us down the stairs. He was visibly upset. Being religious and also realizing that I really hadn’t done anything wrong, he looked rather disgusted with the entire episode. But, he had been told by his superiors to relate his side of the story to the police, allowing them to then ‘deal with me’ – the bad guy.
I sat there for a while, sent out a whatsapp to my colleagues, informing them of my incarceration, and made a few phone calls to choice friends who could help alleviate the situation. About a half hour later I was
I could leave.
Thankfully my group hadn’t left yet. I had a chance to see them off. But I felt bad that I hadn’t been able to guide them at this so very special a site. Some of them didn’t realize what had transpired, and when I told them I’d been detained by the police, they couldn’t believe it. Well, some of them. Others, understanding a bit about what happens here, weren’t so surprised.
On the one hand I find it difficult to comprehend how we act so contemptibly towards ourselves. Where is our self pride? On the other hand, this is what happens on Temple Mount in Jerusalem, daily.
This is disgrace redux. A self-disdain, a conscious or unconscious unawareness of our most basic right to live freely in our land.
Once it was the Turks and then the British. What excuse is their today?
Zechut Avot: An eternal birthright
August 04, 2013
The first time was many years ago. I had just concluded explanations about Yeshivat Knesset Yisrael” which arrived in Hebron from Slobodka, in Lithuania in 1924. The Hebron Heritage Museum at Beit Hadassah features an exhibit about this illustrious Torah-learning academy, nicknamed the ‘Hebron Yeshiva,’ which includes a ‘class picture’ from 1928.
As I finished my brief account, an older man approached me, put his finger on a picture of one of the yeshiva students and asked me, ‘do you see him? That’s me.’
That was Rabbi Dov Cohen, a phenomenal Torah genius, who, following my tour, came back to Hebron and gave us his tour.
I always thought that this was a ‘once in a lifetime event,’ having someone point themselves out in a photo taken so many decades ago, here in Hebron.
But it happened again.
On Friday afternoon the Farbstein family came into Hebron for Shabbat. Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Farbstein, today dean of the ‘Hebron yeshiva,’ now located in Jerusalem, arrived with his wife and many grandchildren. And his mother, Rabbanit Chana Farbstein.
Chana Farbstein was born in 1923. Her father was Rabbi Yechezkel Sarna, a Torah giant. Her grandfather was the legendary Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein, dean of the yeshiva, located then located in Slobodka, which, a year or so later, moved to Hebron. Chana lived in Hebron until the 1929 riots, in an apartment next to Eliezer Dan Slonim and his family.
Friday afternoon, before Shabbat, the Farbsteins took a short tour of Hebron, which began in the museum. When we approached the Hebron Yeshiva exhibit, she moved, as hypnotized, to one of the photos on the bottom row, stared at it, and then pointed to a small girl in the right corner, saying, ‘that’s me.’ To her right, a young woman had her hand on little Chana’s shoulder. ‘That’s my mother.’
A ‘once in a lifetime event.’ And it happened to me for a second time.
Chana later told us that she must have been about four years old at the time the photo was taken.
Even though she was barely five and a half at the time of the riots, she remembered them quite clearly: “I remember a big truck going through the streets. They were throwing rocks at our house and calling out my father’s name ‘Chezkel.’ They were looking for him. It was our good luck, he was in Jerusalem.”
“Do you remember what was told to you, what was going on?”
“No one had to explain. We knew exactly what was happening.”
She said that on Saturday afternoon, her family was removed from Hebron and taken to the ‘Strauss Building’ in Jerusalem, across the street from ‘Bikor Cholim hospital. Asked when she ‘left’ the city,’ she replied: “We didn’t leave. The British came, on Shabbat, and took us to Jerusalem.”
Later she also spoke about remembering the pain of having to pray at the 7th step at Ma’arat HaMachpela, not being allowed to enter the structure. “We would stand there for a few minutes, and then leave.”
Were relations with Arabs always poor? “No, when we went shopping in the market an Arab with a large round basket would go with us. We would put the produce we wanted into the basket, he would carry it and later bring it to our home.”
Chana Farbstein is a phenomenal woman. She also stood with us on Friday afternoon, at the cemetery in Hebron, where 59 of the 67 massacre victims are buried. Her son, Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Farbstein, recited two Psalms at the site, his voice breaking, sensing the atrocities and pain of the events occurring 84 years ago.
The next morning, Mrs. Farbstein walked from Beit Hadassah to Ma’arat HaMachpela for morning prayers, and later in the afternoon, to the Avraham Avinu neighborhood to attend a special class presented by her daughter-in-law, Dr. Esther Farbstein, an expert on Holocaust studies, author of the book, “Hidden in Thunder.”
After Shabbat, as I arrived to interview her, I found her sweeping the floor.
Her son, Rabbi Farbstein, told me that that last winter she had been very ill, and there was grave concern that she might not recover. But recover she did, and despite only meeting her for the first time, her inner strength and iron will were quite obvious.
The Hebron yeshiva lost 24 students during the massacre. The Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein moved the Torah academy to Jerusalem, but never really recovered from the horrors of that awful day, dying five years later. But the family tradition of Torah greatness continues, as was apparent during the Rabbi’s Torah class Saturday afternoon. Asked why the yeshiva hadn’t returned to Hebron following the 1967 Six day war, Rabbi Farbstein related that his grandfather, Rabbi Yechezkel Sarna, met with then Prime Minister Levy Eshkol to discuss this matter. ‘Eshkol,’ he said, ‘basically scared my grandfather, saying that he shouldn’t take such responsibility on himself. ‘
“However, every year, on Tisha B’Av, after reciting Lamentations, my grandfather would get on a bus and come to Hebron, to visit at Ma’arat HaMachpela.”
My encounter with the Farbsteins, and especially with Rabbanit Chana, left me full of wonder and amazement. As we left them Saturday night, I told her, ‘here in Hebron we are blessed with ‘zechut avot,’ with the birthright of our ancestors, beginning with Abraham, thru to King David, and continuing on to such heroes as your father and grandfather. We are links in a chain, trying to follow in their footsteps, to continue where they left off. “
This is our inheritance, our legacy, an eternal bequest, from time immemorial.
No 'rules' or 'red lines'
July 30, 2013
This morning we woke up to a treat. Our favorite piece-partner began renewed negotiations with a formal policy declaration. Abbas, aka Abu Mazen, president of the PA: "In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli - civilian or soldier - on our lands."
This is not the first time he’s made such as statement. Back in 2010: “We have frankly said, and always will say: If there is an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, we won’t agree to the presence of one Israeli in it,” Abbas told reporters in Ramallah.
Only a couple of weeks ago: Mahmoud Abbas honored terror leader with “Star of Honor” decoration: Nayef Hawatmeh is the leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). The DFLP carried out many deadly terror attacks, including the killing of 22 schoolchildren and 4 adults after taking them hostage in Ma'alot, the killing of 9 children and 3 adults in an attack on a school bus, the killing of 7 in a Jerusalem bombing, the killing of 4 hostages in an apartment building in Beit Shean, all of which took place in the 1970's…
In addition, Israel continues to release terrorists. According to an article in HaAretz by Nadav Shragai in 2007: Palestinians released in previous gestures killed 177 Israelis… 6,912 militants were released between the years 1993 and 1999, and nearly 80 percent of them returned to terrorist activity.
And tomorrow: A delegation of senior members of the Palestinian Authority are scheduled to come to the Knesset, Wednesday.
Let’s not fool ourselves. Everything is up for grabs. Beginning with Hebron, Beit El, and Elon Moreh, onwards to Jerusalem and finally, Tel Aviv, Beer Sheva and Haifa.
"Our final aim is the liberation of all of historical Palestinian, from the river to the sea, even if the conflict continues for a thousand years, or for many more generations." So declared the ‘great palestinian stateman, Faisel Husseini, shortly before his death in 2001.
“Husseini characterized the Oslo accords as a Palestinian Trojan horse that established the PLO and its chairman Yasser Arafat in the territories - an ambush of sorts that paved the way to the present Intifada.”
This is who we are dealing with, and what we have waiting for us. Clear as day.
This being the case, the time has come to clarify positions. I’ve been working as an official spokesperson for Hebron’s Jewish community for about 18 years. I have never said that in order for Jews to continue living in Hebron, the city must be rid of its Arab population.
However, we live on a two-way street. If it is considered racism to speak of transfer, or expulsion of Arabs, so too is it racism to discuss transfer, and expulsion of Jews. If is permissible to contemplate moving Jews off their land, so too it is permissible to contemplate moving out Arabs. If it is forbidden to speak about ejecting Arabs, so too it is forbidden to speak about expelling Jews from their land.
And not only in Hebron. And not only in Judea and Samaria. Rather, in all of the state of Israel. If the president of the PA can express his opinion, that any future ‘state of palestine’ will be Judenrein, why should Israel agree to host any Arabs in our state? If the so-called ‘state of palestine’ will not have any Jewish or Israeli citizens, why should Israel allow any Arabs to participate in our Knesset, our parliament? There are Arab MKs representing Hamas, Hizballah, Syria, and the palestinian authority, working passively and actively against the State of Israel. Arab MK Haneen Zoabi was a participant on the Gaza flotilla Mavi Marmara, assisting terrorists attempting to kill Israeli soldiers. Former MK Azmi Bishara fled Israel shortly prior to being arrested for treason for the passing military secrets to the enemy during the war in Lebanon. MK Ahmad Tibi: No Apologies For Being a 'Palestinian Patriot' - “I’m a Palestinian patriot whether you like it or not.”
Israeli MKs to aiding and abetting the enemy; Abbas doesn’t want us. Fine. Then we don’t want them too.
Of course, this policy is not, in any way, dependant on ‘creation of a palestinian state’ as such. If the policy is considered to be legitimate, (and I don’t hear the EU, the UN or anyone else condemning Abbas), then so be it. We can and should adopt the same policies. Now.
These thoughts may sound very harsh. But we are dealing with an extremely severe situation. The Arabs, in cooperation with the US, Tzippy Livni, Yair Lapid, and Bibi Netanyahu are playing for keeps. Insiders say that the negotiations will be very difficult, but if Netanyahu has an agreement in hand, he’ll go with it.
Today, in Washington, ‘rules’ are being drawn up between Israel and the Arabs, mediated by the Americans. So too must we publicize our ‘rules.’
Last time around, before the expulsion from Gush Katif, various right-wing leaders publicly announced ‘red lines’ which would never be crossed. That was our downfall. Our foe, at that time, Ariel Sharon and his government, only had to go one up on our ‘red line’ and the game was lost. And of course, they made up new rules as the game went on. We ‘played by the old rules,’ and as a result, never had a chance.
Well, times have changed and, at least in theory, we must learn from our mistakes. The stakes are very very high. Hundreds of thousands of people, the heart of our land, and in the end, the existence of the State. So it must be spelled out in no uncertain language.
There is only one rule:
Rule number 1: There are no rules, there aren’t any red lines. Anything and everything goes.
That, my friends, is the name of the game. It’s about time we win.
The physicist who changed Hebron: The 30th Anniversary of the passing of Prof. Ben-Zion Tavger
July 18, 2013
Some people you encounter can change your life. As Rabbi Levinger before him, meeting with Prof. Tavger changed my life, and the history of Hebron in recent times.
Looking back, it was not at all obvious. Professor Tavger was very far from the definition of a "charismatic leader." I did not know him in his courageous Zionist activity and struggle against Communist rule in the Soviet Union. All of these, like his great scientific achievements were for us, a small group of young people gathered around him in Hebron somewhere in the mid-seventies, a distant rumor. He was not the leader that leads enthusiastic crowds to a decided goal, not an exciting speaker who persuades a cheering crowd.
He knew quite basic Hebrew, and spoke calmly, using simple language. Actions were quiet and minimalist, reflecting a personal example, substantive action and hard work. The logic that led him at first seemed to us strange and unacceptable. Nevertheless, in the end, he was a man not to be forgotten, a mentor to many, leading the redemption of Hebron in our generation.
Ben Zion Tavger was a prominent physicist in the Soviet Union of the 1960s. He was recognized by the Soviet government as a result of his talents and was appointed a Senior Researcher, but even then he was not satisfied with the status quo, but combined with remarkable bravery, the struggle for Jewish identity and Zionism. The list of his scientific publications is at least as the list of arrests and harassment he suffered. But in the end, he was victorious over the Soviet empire, and was able to break through the iron curtain and make aliyah to Israel, his primary objective. As a result of his scientific achievements, he was invited by Prof. Yuval Ne'eman to join the faculty of Tel Aviv University.
But Tavger, the freedom fighter and seeker of justice, could not be satisfied with tranquility and a prestigious Chair at Tel Aviv University. The late Haim Magni, Hebron’s first tour guide, introduced Tavger to the disgraceful situation at the ancient Jewish Quarter, left in ruins. He was shocked at the condition of the Avraham Avinu synagogue, which had been transformed into a garbage dump and animal pen.
Equally shocking was the fact that the destruction of the synagogue and its transformation into an animal pen were "legal" and acceptable actions according to the Israeli government. The original explanation given by the government attorneys (yes, even then) regarding this position was that during the 19 years of Jordanian occupation, the Jordainian authorities confiscated the property of Hebron community and declared it "Zionist enemy possessions". Now when the "Zionist enemy" returned and became sovereign territory, they continued to recognize the legality of the theft of Jewish property and its destruction, and continued to rent to the Arabs who chose to place there an animal pen .
This reality managed to shock even Professor Tavger, who had experience struggling with a totalitarian rule. Among other struggles while in Russia there was a struggle for the establishment of a monument in memoriam of the Jews murdered by the Nazis at Babi Yar near Kiev. He was one of the activists who managed to prevent the desecration of the Jewish graves and motivate the government to build a memorial monument, But what he saw in Hebron were things he never saw even in Russia. "When a window gets smashed in a synagogue in Moscow, you can hear about it all over the world, and here there is a ruined synagogue, sitting beneath waste and stinking cattle dung, and that no one is talking about," he said. In his perspective this was, as he defined," Status quo of a pogrom. "
When he began to try to find out what was the matter, he realized that the settlers in Kiryat Arba were still waiting for the government to decide to redeem the synagogue. Tavger, who never studied at "Yeshivat Merkaz Ha'Rav" and wasn't part of Gush Emunim, was not used to waiting for the government. "If a Jew sees a dirty synagogue - he needs to clean it, and not wait for the government to do it," he said. He did more than just talk about the situation, he entered the animal pen, and began clearing the trash with his own hands . The intensity of justice and truth that came from this operation were making waves. We were a few young guys and we couldn't just stand by, we joined him and his assistant, Eliezer Breuer, and got to work. It wasn't easy; it was a great effort: we removed, with our hands and wheelbarrows, tons of debris, garbage, trash and filth, with swarms of flies, next to the stinking bathrooms the Arabs built.
But it was no less difficult for us knowing that for the State of Israel - the destruction of the synagogue and the location of the animal pen instead of the synagogue, were legal, and we, who are trying to clean up and reclaim it, we were considered "lawbreakers". Professor Tavger was taken into custody, time after time. But he continued quietly, professionally and politely, and without tumult, he would get in a police car, and when he returned - he continued to work.
This silence cried more than any outcry or demonstration. This silence ultimately led to public assistance and political activities of the Hebron Community leadership, Rabbi Levinger and others, leading to exposure of the synagogue and approval to renovate and rebuild it., After completion of the first stage of this project I became responsible uncovering and renovation of the synagogue. It's interesting to note that the approval to start the renovations were give to us by none other than those who were Prime Minister and Minister of Defense - Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.
Today, The Abraham Avinu Synagogue in Hebron has been rebuilt and restored to glory. It constitutes proof of the power of a single person, dedicated to a goal, quietly working, and proof of the power of truth to permeate, influence and change reality.
The lesson in democracy, in humility, in devotion and personal example that he taught, will never be forgetten. Tonight in Kiryat Arba, a Memorial Symposium will be held in his memory. Among the speakers who will take part in this event: Beni Katzover, Moshe Feiglin, Yehuda Etzion, Rabbi Dov Lior, Rabbi Israel Ariel, Dr. Shifra Mishlov and many more.
Even 30 years after his death, the story of Prof. Ben Zion Tavger's struggles, actions and achievements, the Avraham Avinu Synagogue, the Old Cemetery, the Tomb of the Patriarchs, and more – have become a cornerstone and another chapter in the history of Hebron, a history of 4000 years of the first Hebrew city, renewed and restored in our generation.
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