“And the life of Sarah was a hundred and seven and twenty years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died in Kiryat Arba –the same is Hebron – in the land of Canaan; and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her… and Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver…four hundred shekels of silver… And Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre – the same is Hebron – in the land of Canaan…” (Gen: 23, 1-20).
HERE, AT Machpela in Hebron, some 3,800 years ago, Abraham, the first Jew, purchases the first Jewish property in Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel. It is an amazing thought: here we are, almost 4,000 years later, the offspring of the first Jew, present at that very site which we read about in the Torah. It is all the more astonishing considering that fact that this sacred site was off-limits to Jews for seven centuries, following the 1267 Mamluk conquest of Israel. Only since our return to Hebron in 1967 has this holy place again accessible to any and all who wish to visit or worship here.
If that isn’t a reason to celebrate, what is?
As a result of political anti-Semitism, the first Jewish site of national heritage has become an object of international controversy. UNESCO has recognized our first holy site as a “Palestinian heritage site,” demanding it be removed from Israel’s list of “national heritage sites.”
Should this site again be placed under Muslim control, Jews (and Christians) will no longer be allowed to enter and worship at this holy place, as was the case for 700 years, as the Arabs consider it to be a mosque. According to Islam, only Muslims may enter and pray in a mosque.
Support for a continued Jewish presence in Hebron and at Machpela is tangible. Some half a million visitors of all religions visit Hebron and Machpela annually, letting their feet do the talking. Polls show that almost 90 percent of Israelis reject relinquishing Me’arat Hamachpela. Rejection of Hebron and Me’arat Hamachpela is equivalent to chopping off our roots. And we all know what happens to a tree when you sever its roots.
Shabbat Hayei Sarah in Hebron is an affirmation of our people’s right to live and worship freely in our land. This is the embodiment of the Israeli national anthem,Hatikva: Lehiot am hofshi, b’artzeinu – to be a free people in our land. Can we be a free people in our land without the first Jewish city in Israel; without free, unlimited worship at the first Jewish holy site in our land?
This Sabbath, some 20,000 people from Israel and around the world will answer that question, at Machpela, in Hebron.
This article is dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Sholom DovBer Goldshmid, who passed away last week. Born in Hebron 86 years ago, he survived the 1929 Hebron massacre, but his father, Moshe, was killed at their home. He loved Hebron with all his heart and soul. May his memory be blessed.