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December 21, 2014 / 29 Kislev, 5775
 
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Kiryat Arba’

IDF Evacuates Mitzpe Avichai Outpost Community

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

The IDF demolished the Mitzpe Avichai outpost, located near Kiryat Arba, in the early hours of Thursday morning.

The community was established in 2007 in memory of Avichai Levy, who was murdered by a terrorist that same year. Mitzpe Avichai has flourished over the past year, with ten homes housing nine families being constructed.

This is the third community to be dismantled by the IDF in a week, along with Givat Arye and Gal Yossef.

All three evacuations proceeded without incident.

Chayei Sarah with Sheikh Jabari

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

This year’s Shabbat Chaye Sarah, was, thank God, very successful, as expected. Despite the rain, somewhere in the vicinity of 15,000 people walked the streets of Hebron, worshiped at Ma’arat HaMachpela, and even tented outside. Lectures and Torah classes to people of all ages were conducted in Kiryat Arba and Hebron. Groups of Americans, visiting Hebron via the New York-based Hebron Fund, and also AFSI, feasted on scrumptious meals at the Gutnick Center, adjacent to Machpela and participated in various Hebron excursions, including the famed Casbah tour, Shabbat afternoon.

I spent a good part of Friday night and Shabbat day with a group of American/Israeli youth, who study in a special Yeshiva High School near the Kinneret in northern Israel. Their Rosh Yeshiva, the dean of the institution, Rabbi Danny, told me that he wanted the guys to have a good time, but also have a meaningful experience. It’s a long drive, to and from Hebron, and he wanted to make sure the Shabbat was a full educational experience.

I set up a Torah class Friday evening, as well as a short discussion with a Hebron resident. We also took a tour of Tel Rumeida in the cold crisp night air. The next day we toured other Hebron sites, and concluded with a discussion, tea, cake and cookies in my apartment in Beit Hadassah. They certainly left Hebron knowing more than they did when they arrived. More importantly, they ‘felt Hebron.’

However, a real highlight of the day took place on Friday afternoon. The Hebron Fund group, together with AFSI, drove in two buses, early Friday afternoon, about 15 minutes south of Hebron, to the Zif junction. There, leaving the buses, we all walked a few minutes to a big tent, where everyone was asked to remove their shoes before entering.

A number of years ago, a group of Arabs, together with Israeli leftists and anarchists, planned on burning down the Hazon David Synagogue, just outside the gates of Kiryat Arba, on the eve of Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year. The event was stopped at the last minute when it came to the attention of Sheikh Jabari, leader of Hebron’s largest clan. He told Hebron Arabs that he didn’t agree to destruction of a ‘holy place,’ especially on a Jewish holiday. He told them that this was a place of prayer, and prevented the destruction.

Following his intervention, a meeting was arranged between several Hebron leaders and the Sheikh, thanking him for his involvement. Since then, the Sheikh and Hebron-Kiryat Arba leaders meet relatively frequently, discussing relevant issues. He has publicly declared his opposition to unilateral declaration of a ‘palestinian state’ in the UN and also acknowledged the right of Jews to live in Hebron. Last summer he met at his Hebron home with Rabbi Shlomo Riskin and Pastor John Hagee.

This past Friday afternoon he met with almost 70 Americans and a few Hebron residents in a large tent, just outside Hebron. Welcoming the group, he asked those attending to be ambassadors to his message of peace ‘in the land of peace.’ He also spoke of Shabbat Chaye Sarah, Abraham and Ma’arat HaMachpela, saying that Machpela should unite all of us together, that we are one family, from one father, Abraham. He blessed the group ‘from all his heart, on this holy Shabbat.’ He thanked the group for visiting him, saying he appreciated that they came from so far away for this holy occasion.

Other members of the group addressed the Sheikh, expressing thanks for his hospitality, commenting and asking questions. The event concluded after the group was given a small cup of traditional Turkish coffee.

A free people in our land – Hebron

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

Can we be a free people in our land without the first Jewish city in Israel?

Several years ago, on the anniversary of the liberation of Hebron in 1967, I was interviewed by a journalist who queried me about various problems facing Hebron’s Jewish community. His concluding question/statement was, “Well, I guess you’re not celebrating today?”

“Why not?” I replied.

“Well, you have all these problems and issues, how can you celebrate?”

“You just don’t understand,” I answered. “Look at where were we 70 years ago, or 60 years ago. Were we in Hebron? Today I’m here, in the first Jewish city in Israel. I live here, I work here, I’m bringing up my children here. This is my home. True, we have problems. There are ups and downs. Issues must be dealt with. And they will be overcome. But I’m here. And as long as I’m here, I have what to celebrate, and that’s exactly what I’m doing today!”

One of our most special celebrations will occur this weekend. The Torah portion of Hayei Sarah, otherwise known as “Shabbat Hebron,” is an extraordinary event. It is not an ordinary shabbat (which in Hebron is also unique). Rather, it is an event.

Over the past decade, some 20,000 people have capitalized on this special Sabbath to crowd into Hebron and nearby Kiryat Arba to rejoice. Starting on Friday morning, Israelis young and old will begin flocking to the city. Jews from the United States and other countries fly to Israel to be in Hebron for this exceptional occasion.

Well over six months prior to this Sabbath we begin receiving phone calls and emails requesting places to sleep and eat on this auspicious day. Dozens of tents are pitched outside Me’arat Hamachpela, the Cave of the Patriarchs, and Matriarchs. Public buildings are transformed into dormitories, with separate facilities for men and women. It’s the only time of the year when my living room is wall-to-wall people sleeping on the floor.

One year, on Saturday night, a young woman walked into our kitchen to thank my wife. She asked what for. The woman said she had slept in one of our rooms. We had no idea she was there, or where she slept, because the room was already packed.

A huge tent is constructed outside the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, providing meals thousands of guests. Literally every nook and cranny in Hebron is utilized, with people sleeping and eating wherever they can find a few free meters.

All hours of the day and night the streets are full of people walking to and from the various neighborhoods in Hebron. Saturday afternoon, multitudes tour the city, visiting the Hebron Heritage Museum at Beit Hadassah, the tomb of Jesse and Ruth in Tel Rumeida, and the Avraham Avinu synagogue in the Avraham Avinu neighborhood. Special Casba tours are also included in the day’s agenda.

The heart of the day’s events takes place at Me’arat Hamachpela. On Friday night, literally thousands of people gather at this holy site, inside and out, to offer joyous Sabbath prayers. Singing and dancing during a huge “Carlebach minyan,” conducted in the Machpela courtyard, is unbelievably uplifting.

But the pinnacle and actual raison d’être for the ingathering begins early Saturday morning.

By 5:15 a.m., thousands make their way to early morning prayers at the Machpela. The entire building is open to Jewish worshipers, including “Ohel Yitzhak,” the Isaac Hall, available to Jews only ten days during the year. The first vatikin service, with the sunrise, is a spiritually inspirational way to start the day.

However, the peak takes place about an hour into the service. A Torah scroll is removed from the Holy Ark and opened. The first person, usually a cohen, or priest, is called up to the Torah. Following recitation of a blessing, the reader begins:

Rabbi Lior And The ‘Rule Of Law’

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

Approximately a year ago, Rabbi Dov Lior, venerated chief rabbi of Kiryat Arba, gave his approbation on a book about the Jewish laws of war, The King’s Torah, written by Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira. Among other issues, the book deals with the legal ramifications of the Israeli army taking action to kill terrorists even when enemy civilians may also be killed in the process. Rabbi Shapira cites numerous Jewish law sources to prove that this is permissible. The Left immediately accused Rabbi Shapira and the rabbis who gave their approbation on his book of incitement to murder. Recently, Rabbi Lior was questioned and arrested. Heated demonstrations by the rabbi’s students ensued.


For my part, I support everyone who protested against Rabbi Lior’s arrest. An evil cabal has taken control of some key positions in the Ministry of Justice and has transformed its public service positions into a tool of destruction. It makes no difference if the reason for their hostility is ideological, or an almost religious hunger for “enlightened” approval – or a combination of both. We must put an end to this despicable behavior.


Deputy State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan and his accomplices implement their evil actions within parameters determined by ideology and violence. Law enforcement is totally irrelevant to their actions. Just a few weeks ago, extreme leftist Uri Avnery publicly called for the killing of settlers. He was not called in for any type of questioning. Why not? Avnery and other “lovers of Israel” are on the correct side of the political divide. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef will not be questioned for remarks that would have brought Nitzan’s legions to the doorstep of any religious Zionist rabbi because Nitzan and his accomplices are a gang of weaklings who attack only those weaker than them. They would never dare enforce the law against those who know how to exact a price in the public domain.


When these are the rules of the so-called enlightened game, the public that sees Rabbi Lior as its spiritual leader has no choice but to participate in street protests. These protesters are not just protecting Rabbi Lior. They are also defending the State of Israel’s liberty from a hostile and destructive takeover by an aggressive gang that crushes our society, makes large swaths of our population miserable and endangers many lives. The youth protesting in the streets may not know this, but they are the true defenders of Israeli democracy in the face of a wanton takeover by a tiny and belligerent minority.


The forces of enlightened idol worship, under the guise of legality, have made it impossible for Israel to take such measures as making the prison conditions of terrorists less comfortable in order to free Gilad Shalit. It is impossible to overcome bureaucratic obstacles and authorize massive construction of new homes for young couples. It is impossible for a Jew to pray on the Temple Mount, for the police must protect the rights of the violent Arabs instead of those of the Jews. It is impossible to fight our enemies without an attorney for each soldier. The Israeli “justice” system does not include itself in Israeli life, but instead sees itself as an external factor – not just elevated above the nation, but actually disconnected from it.


If we want to return the justice system to the nation, we must return the nation to its own justice system. At this point, we still do not have a relevant Jewish legal codex for our modern reality, but we certainly have an excellent foundation. As soon as we seriously take Jewish law out of its exile and apply it to all facets of our current existence, it will become the most pertinent justice system for Israel. It will follow the Hebrew language’s rebirth from exile to its current status as the natural language for Israel, and the Jewish nation’s emergence from 2,000 years of exile to its return to its land.

An Unforgivable Sacrilege

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Several days ago, Hebron’s police chief showed up at the home of Rabbi Dov Lior, chief rabbi of Hebron and Kiryat Arba. The officer informed Rabbi Lior that an arrest warrant had been issued. Should the rabbi agree to be interrogated, the warrant would be cancelled. On the spot Rabbi Lior responded, telling him that such questioning represented a “disgrace to the honor of the Torah” and that he would not cooperate with such humiliation.

Why are the police and prosecutor’s office chasing this 77-year-old righteous man? Born in Poland, Rabbi Lior arrived in Israel in 1948, shortly before the creation of the state of Israel. He studied under Rabbi Abraham Kook’s student Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Neria at Kfar HaRoe and later at Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav in Jerusalem under Rabbi Kook’s son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook. He was considered one of the yeshiva’s most important students. During festive dancing on the Simchat Torah holiday, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda changed the words of a popular song; instead of “tov li, tov li, Toratecha” (Your Torah is good for me), he recited “Dov li, Dov li Toratecha,” paying his young student a great compliment.

In 1976 Rabbi Lior moved to the newly founded community of Kiryat Arba, where he was appointed rosh hayeshiva of the Kiryat Arba-Nir Yeshiva, working side by side with Rabbi Eliezer Waldman. Over the years the rabbi became known as a prominent Torah scholar. However, his teaching involved more than dry rabbinic rulings. He became an active leader in the movement to repopulate Judea, Samaria and Gaza. He spent many summer vacations in Gush Katif. With the rise of the left and the advent of Oslo and the Hebron Accords, he became an outspoken leader, blasting attempts to delegitimize the Israeli right.

He worked tirelessly against the Gush Katif expulsion, making frequent trips to that beleaguered area, giving hope and strength to the local population. He participated in prayer rallies and protests while providing Torah support via various rabbinic rulings needed during those struggles.

Some 25 years ago he was elected chief rabbi of Hebron and Kiryat Arba. Later, he formed the Rabbinic Council for Judea and Samaria and was appointed its leader. He is widely considered be the preeminent rabbinical figure of the Nationalist-Zionist movement and one of the most significant scholarly rabbinical figures in Israel.

Frequently rabbis are requested to write a hascama, an approbation of a Torah book by a younger rabbi. Rabbi Lior, himself the author of thousands of Torah responsa as well as his own books dealing with Torah law, is also approached to write short introductions to Torah books.

So it was that a couple of years ago he agreed to write an approbation for a book titled Torat HaMelech. This scholarly work, written by two young rabbis, deals with relationships between Jews and non-Jews, particularly during situations dealing with life and death during war and other conflicts. Specifically, it details rulings by many Torah giants, from the Talmud down to the present.

Rabbi Lior was not the only Torah scholar asked to write an approbation for this book. Others include Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, also considered an authentic Torah giant; one of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s sons, Rabbi Ya’akov Yosef, a leading Sephardic Torah expert; and the well-known Rabbi Yitzchak Ginzburg.

Among other comments, Rabbi Lior praises the authors for writing such a comprehensive book and including the opinions of so many Torah commentators. He clarifies the significance of understanding Jewish law to its fullest, even when dealing with sensitive topics such as life and death.

As a result of his approbation, Rabbi Lior was accused of incitement and ordered to appear for police interrogation. In a filmed presentation to yeshiva students, Rabbi Lior explained that a rabbi must be able to freely express da’at Torah – that is, the Torah ruling on any given subject – even if that expression is not popular with others. He stressed that a rabbi must never fear to express Truth as it appears in the Torah, even if such a ruling could cause him damage:

“Limiting what a rabbi may say is comparable to Bolshevik regimes of Soviet Russia which would decide what people could think and what they could say . There are certain elements in society who lately want to oppress rabbis, ordering investigations and interrogations, in order to silence them from expressing Torah opinion and this directly contradicts what is known as democracy and freedom of expression. If there is freedom of expression, it must be for everyone. We haven’t heard of those preaching from mosques, inciting against the state of Israel, being arrested and interrogated “

Martyrs and Memory

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Thirty years ago – Friday evening, May 2, 1980 – in Hebron. Inside Me’arat HaMachpelah, the massive 2,000-year-old Herodian edifice above the tombs of the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish people, the Shabbat service had just concluded.

Several dozen Jews, led by Rabbi Moshe Levinger, walked to nearby Beit Hadassah, the former medical clinic in Hebron. It had been abandoned after the murderous Arab riots in 1929 that claimed 67 Jewish lives. For nearly a year several dozen women and children had made Beit Hadassah their home. The first Jews to return to live in Hebron in fifty years, they were the only Jews permitted by the government of Israel to live in the city.

On the way to Beit Hadassah the worshippers sang a verse from Jeremiah: v’shavu banim l’gvulam (“Your children shall return to their borders”). Among them were Zvi Glatt, a recent American immigrant; yeshiva students Gershon Klein, Yaakov Zimmerman, Shmuel Mermelstein and Hanan Krautheimer, who had chanted the Song of Songs during the service; and Eli Ha’zeev, winner of a Silver Star for bravery in Vietnam who came to Israel during the Yom Kippur War and converted to Judaism.

Once inside Beit Hadassah, they would make Kiddush before heading up the hill to Kiryat Arba, where a small Jewish community had been established nearly a decade earlier.

* * * * *

 

National exultation after the swift and stunning military victory in the Six-Day War had propelled Jews to return to their ancient holy cities and sites. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan proclaimed: “We have returned to all that is holy in our land…. We have returned to the cradle of our people, to the inheritance of the Patriarchs…. We will not be parted from the holy places.” Denied access to Hebron by the Kingdom of Jordan ever since 1948, Israelis came to visit by the thousands and tens of thousands in June 1967.

Secular Israelis rejected the “vehement nationalistic messianism” and religious fervor that erupted after the astonishing military victory. Archeologist Yigael Yadin, ridiculing Jews who returned to Machpelah to pray, denounced the embrace of religious relics as “idolatrous.” Young writer Amos Oz confessed: “I don’t have any feeling that Hebron’s part of my homeland.” He preferred Holon, where he had first fallen in love.

The government immediately decided to reconstruct and repopulate the Old City of Jerusalem, even demolishing an Arab neighborhood adjacent to the Western Wall. When it came to Hebron, however, it equivocated.

To be sure, Hebron, where Abraham had purchased the first landholding of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel, evoked deep historical memories. King David had reigned there before relocating his throne to Jerusalem. But in 1967 little but ruins remained of the old Jewish Quarter. Even the ancient cemetery had been desecrated. The government resisted the return of Jews to live in Hebron, which had become an Arab city.

For a handful of Jews, however, Hebron – as Tel Aviv lawyer Elyakim Haetzni expressed it – was “part of our genetic code.” Rabbi Levinger and Rabbi Hanan Porat, graduates of the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva in Jerusalem, met with Haetzni to plan the rebuilding of a Jewish community in Hebron. Rabbi Levinger, accompanied by an elderly survivor of the 1929 massacre, visited the city to determine whether Jewish property there was available for rental or purchase. In the Jewish cemetery, he experienced “an awakening of tempestuous spirits” and “an internal turmoil that left me restless for days and weeks.” Rabbi Levinger decided to return to Hebron and restore the Jewish community there. His wife Miriam told him: “The government won’t send you there. Go settle, and things will work out.”

Shortly before Passover 1968, Rabbi Levinger negotiated a rental agreement for the holiday week with the Arab owner of the Park Hotel in Hebron. The owner, believing Rabbi Levinger represented a group of Swiss tourists, assured him that his group could stay longer if they wished. Rabbi Levinger left a large deposit for “an unlimited amount of people for an unspecified period of time.” The government learned of the agreement but did nothing. General Uzi Narkiss told Rabbi Levinger: “What do you want? To settle in Hebron? I don’t care. I know nothing. Rent a hotel, put up tents.”

Between sixty and eighty Israelis arrived in Hebron to celebrate Passover and restore a Jewish presence in the city. The Levingers, clearly intending to stay, brought their four children, a refrigerator and a washing machine.

Rabbi Chaim Druckman, another graduate of the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva, led the Seder. Miriam Levinger sensed a “historical breakthrough, and we all felt deeply moved and excited.” Elyakim Haetzni, joined at the Seder by his wife, mother and children, realized, “I am at home in the bosom of Abraham.” The next morning the celebrants, singing and dancing through the streets of Hebron, carried Torah scrolls to Me’arat haMachpelah.

Their presence in Hebron and evident determination to remain caught the government by surprise. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol was ambivalent. Foreign Minister Abba Eban was opposed. But Labor Minister Yigal Allon came to visit the Park Hotel and agreed to have weapons sent from nearby Gush Etzion “just in case, God forbid, there should be fighting.”

Menachem Begin, leader of the opposition Herut Party, praised the new settlers. From his desert home in Sde Boker, David Ben-Gurion offered support: “We will make a great and awful mistake if we fail to settle Hebron, neighbor and predecessor of Jerusalem.”

After nearly six weeks, a ministerial committee authorized Dayan to relocate the Park Hotel group to Israeli military headquarters overlooking the city. Permission was granted to establish a yeshiva there. Rabbi Levinger donated his library. His brother loaned a four hundred year-old Torah scroll that had been sewn inside oilskin and immersed in the Rhine River for the duration of World War II to save it from the Nazis. Another Torah, rescued from Hebron in 1929, symbolized continuity between the destroyed and returning communities.

In the spring of 1969, two apartment blocs were built inside the military compound to house a dozen families. The community pressed the government for a more permanent site. Ministers considered the possibility of an “urban suburb,” on a hilltop overlooking the city.

Early in 1970, Deputy Prime Minister Allon announced plans to build “upper Hebron,” to be called Kiryat Arba (the name of biblical Hebron). “Like emigrants and settlers at the turn of the century, … and kibbutz farmers,” Rabbi Levinger proclaimed, “we, too, are pioneers.”

The isolated hilltop settlement of Kiryat Arba grew slowly as a satellite of Hebron. After five years, the diverse population of 1,500 settlers included religious Zionists, secular Jews, American olim, and new immigrants from North Africa, the Soviet Union and Ethiopia.

Access to Machpelah remained a constant problem, with local Muslims fiercely resisting any change in the status quo under which, for 700 years, Jews and other “infidels” had been excluded. Kiryat Arba residents pressed for prayer time and the inclusion of traditional life-cycle religious ceremonies that were normally held in a synagogue: bris, bar mitzvah, marriage.

When a boy was born to Sarah and Baruch Nachshon in Kiryat Arba, they secretly held his bris in Machpelah. Six months later, Avraham Yedidia Nachshon suddenly suffered crib death. His parents decided to bury him in the old Jewish cemetery, where no Jew had been buried in nearly fifty years. Israeli government officials, unwilling to provoke Hebron’s Arabs, refused permission.

But Sarah insisted. On the day of the funeral, soldiers blocked the road to the cemetery. After more than an hour of waiting, she told them: “You have your orders. I have mine.” Cradling her son in her arms, she walked past the military blockade, with other mourners following behind. In the cemetery she said: “God gave us our son for one reason. He had a job to do in his short life – to open our ancient graveyard. This he has accomplished and God has taken him back.”

The Nachshon baby was buried a few meters from the common grave of the massacre victims of 1929. After the funeral, his mother said: “If we open the Jewish cemetery, we open the gates to the city.”

* * * * *

 

But the new Likud government of Menachem Begin resisted the return of Jews to Hebron. Exploratory discussions between Kiryat Arba residents and the Defense Ministry were unproductive. Then, in 1978, the government stunned settlers by signing the Camp David accords with Egypt, pledging “autonomy” for West Bank Palestinians. With prospects for expanded settlement slipping away, the community was galvanized.

The following year, fifty years after the massacre, Kiryat Arba residents decided to return to Hebron. Women and children, least likely to provoke a harsh response from the government or military, were chosen to be the vanguard.

One week after Passover, at 4 a.m., ten women led by Miriam Levinger and Sarah Nachshon, accompanied by thirty-five children, arrived by truck at the rear of Beit Hadassah, in the heart of the old Jewish casbah. Assisted by teenage boys from Kiryat Arba, they quietly climbed ladders, cut wires to the windows, and unloaded mattresses, cooking burners, gas canisters, water, a refrigerator, laundry lines and a chemical toilet.

Safely inside the dilapidated building, the excited children began to sing v’shavu banim l’gvulam, God’s promise that the children of Israel would return to Zion. Hearing their enthusiastic voices, a puzzled Israeli soldier came down from his observation post on a nearby roof to investigate. When he asked how they had entered the building, a four-year-old girl instantly responded: “Jacob, our forefather, built us a ladder and we came in.”

Miriam Levinger announced: “Hebron will no longer be Judenrein.” At the end of their first Shabbat in Beit Hadassah, yeshiva students from Kiryat Arba came to dance and sing outside. She described that moment: “We felt as if the souls of the murdered of this place had come and gathered with us at the window … to rejoice with us at the sight of Jews dancing on Saturday evening in the streets of Hebron. I wanted to calm them and say to them, ‘You can rest, you have waited for many years, now we have returned. What was in the past in Hebron is what will happen in the future. Always.’ ”

An infuriated Prime Minister Begin labeled the women “invaders” who were “arrogant and neurotic.” He ordered soldiers and police to surround the building; nothing – not even food or water – could go in; no one who left would be permitted to return. Rabbi Levinger met with Begin, reminding him that even during the Yom Kippur War, when Israeli military forces had surrounded the Egyptian Third Army, beleaguered enemy soldiers received food, water, and medical supplies. Surely the women and children in Beit Hadassah deserved no less. Begin relented.

Sarah Nachshon long remembered the terrible living conditions, “without windows and doors – everything wrecked and destroyed – without running water … without electricity, without anything.” When the six-year-old Levinger boy developed highly contagious jaundice, Miriam alerted the other mothers but none left. A woman in late pregnancy refused to leave until her return was assured. It was, and she came back from the hospital with her infant daughter, named Hadassah.

With the women and children of Beit Hadassah resolute, the government finally agreed that every Friday evening, at the beginning of Shabbat, one husband could enter the building to recite Kiddush. Following a visit from then-Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon, restrictions on arrivals and departures were lifted. It was the first step toward normalization of life in the beleaguered outpost.

* * * * *

 

At the end of January 1980, nine months after the move into Beit Hadassah, Yehoshua Saloma, a Kiryat Arba yeshiva student, was murdered in the Hebron market. The next day, enraged Kiryat Arba residents seized five empty Jewish-owned buildings in Hebron, demanding the right to live there. Attacks on settlers and soldiers escalated but Defense Minister Ezer Weizmann, insisting on “restraint and forbearance,” warned the Knesset of the impact of retaliation on “world opinion.” By a narrow vote, the Cabinet authorized the establishment of a yeshiva in Hebron.

Local Arabs were furious. The mayor promised “force against force.” The Qadi insisted: “This land is Muslim…. We’ll fight until you, the Jews, are wiped out.” In a cave at the edge of the city, four Arabs – two from Hebron and two from Jordan – prepared their response. On May 2, before the beginning of Shabbat, they positioned themselves on the roof of a building overlooking Beit Hadassah and in an adjacent doorway, armed with assault rifles and hand grenades. As the Jews returning from Machpelah crossed the footbridge to Beit Hadassah, they were caught in a withering crossfire of bullets and explosions.

Eli Ha’Zeev was killed instantly, before he could reach for his gun. Miriam Levinger, trained as a nurse, rushed outside to treat the wounded, but nothing could be done to save Glatt, Klein, Zimmerman, Krauthammer, and Mermelstein. She would say, “Not only were their lives a continuation of the lives of the murdered community [of 1929], but also their deaths.”

But from those six deaths would come new Jewish life in Hebron. Twenty years later Beit HaShisha (“House of the Six”), with apartments for six families, was built adjacent to Beit Hadassah to commemorate the massacre victims. Now, after thirty years, may their memory be a blessing.

Now, too, when an American president adamantly insists that new Jewish “settlements” must not be built in Jerusalem, he needs a reminder that Jerusalem – and Hebron – are the ancient holy cities of the Jewish people.

By every plausible justification – divine promise, ancestral history, international agreement, modern settlement, and defensive war for survival – Jews have earned the right to live where their ancestors buried their revered patriarchs and matriarchs, built their sacred Temples, and exercised national sovereignty. That means Jerusalem – and Hebron.

Jerold S. Auerbach, author of “Hebron Jews” (Roman & Littlefield, 2009), is writing a history of the Altalena episode.

‘To Secular Israelis, Hebron Jews Are A Pain’: An Interview With Professor Jerold Auerbach

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Some people hate them, others love them. Perhaps no other group of Israelis engenders as much debate as the residents of Hebron. There, among 150,000 hostile Arabs, live 700 Jews determined to dwell in the city where the biblical Abraham purchased a burial plot for his wife Sarah.

Close to 40 years ago, Jerold Auerbach, a professor of American and Jewish history at Wellesley College, visited Hebron as part of a group of Jewish academics. The group met with the city’s mayor, Muhammad Ali al-Ja’bari, and so ignorant was Auerbach of Hebron’s history that he acceded to his tour guide’s request and asked al-Ja’bari what his family did in 1929. Al-Ja’bari, not wishing to discuss the vicious massacre that left 67 Jews dead, mumbled an inaudible reply.

Today Auerbach is considerably more educated on the history of Hebron, and has recently completed his eighth book, Hebron Jews: Memory and Conflict in the Land of Israel. The Jewish Press recently spoke with him.

The Jewish Press: What’s your background?

Prof. Auerbach: I grew up in Forest Hills, Queens, as the only child of assimilated parents. I had a bar mitzvah, which was understood to be the exit from Judaism. I didn’t have to do anything after that.

It wasn’t until my first trip to Israel in 1972 that I began to wonder [about my Jewish identity]. I went back two years later on sabbatical, living in Jerusalem, and that began to reorient my life. It cemented an attachment to Israel that simply hadn’t existed before, and it also brought me into Jewish religious life here in the United States.

Although so many people detest Hebron’s Jews – respected Israeli professor Zeev Sternhell once called Jewish Hebron “a national disgrace, a genuine sin and crime” – it is clear from your book that you admire them. Why?

Those who live there combine religion and nationalism – Judaism and Zionism – and that has come to make great sense to me as a synthesis over the years. Those who hate Hebron’s Jews don’t want religion to be part of their self-identity as Israelis.

Why the intense hatred, though?

To secular Israelis who very much want to be part of the Western world and liked and appreciated for their many talents, Hebron Jews are a pain, a source of external criticism. They draw attention in ways that secular Israelis and Jews don’t want. They exhibit a kind of passion for settling the land of Israel, and although this is what Zionism was always about, it’s not so much what Zionism is about in the 21st century.

Today Zionism is guided by high tech. This seems to be the new capstone of Zionist achievement. There are whole books written now about Israelis as the high-tech innovators in the world, several of which point out that the high-tech folks in Israel have second homes in the Silicon Valley, which is their source of inspiration.

In the book, you quote historian Anita Shapira who argues that the conquest of the biblical West Bank in 1967 “destroyed the romance of the Bible” for many Israelis. What does that mean?

Twenty years after the birth of the state, most Israelis had really [gotten used to Israel's 1948] borders and had relinquished the biblical homeland. All of a sudden, in 1967, they confronted this new reality that it was all ours, and they didn’t know what to do with it. Very few people did.

Many were happy to visit. There were floods – tens of thousands – of visitors to Hebron that first year after the war, but they were tourists in a foreign place. Once they crossed it off their list, they went back to Tel Aviv and resumed their normal lives.

Shortly after the Six-Day War, General Moshe Dayan ordered that the Israeli flag be removed from Me’arat Hamachpelah and forbade Jews from holding weddings there. Why?

He remained hopeful that there would be peaceful relations established between Israel and the Arab countries. Jews didn’t have to live in Hebron; he was perfectly happy to have them living up the hill in what became Kiryat Arba. He didn’t want them in the city because he anticipated, rightly, that they were going to be a problem for fundamentalist Muslims who lived there and considered Hebron theirs.

But the settlers took that choice away from him. The women of Kiryat Arba, led by Miriam Levinger and Sarah Nachshon, with their children in tow moved into [the empty] Beit Hadassah building in Hebron in the middle of the night in 1979 and [refused to leave until the government permitted Jewish settlement of Hebron].

In the book I tell the story of one of the women, who was pregnant and wanted to go to the hospital to have her baby. She was told by the government that if she left she wouldn’t return. The community protested and finally Prime Minister Begin caved in and said she could leave, have her baby in Hadassah hospital and return to Beit Hadassah – which she did, with her new baby named Hadassah.

In the book, you also relate the story of Avraham Yedidia Nachshon, the first boy to have his bris in Me’arat Hamachpelah after the Six-Day War – despite Israeli orders against bringing wine into the area.

That boy died of crib death six months later. His mother, Sarah Nachshon, was determined to bury him in the old Jewish cemetery in Hebron where the victims of the massacre of 1929 were buried. But the army stopped the funeral procession and said you can’t go any further. [The cemetery was off-limits to Jews at the time.]

Sarah Nachshon spoke with the soldiers and they started telephoning up the line to their superiors. This went on for close to an hour and finally she decided she had had enough. She went back into the car, took the corpse of her baby, and started walking through the military blockade to the cemetery. The soldiers were sufficiently stunned to let her go, and some even accompanied her.

While the Israeli government adopted a conciliatory stance toward the Arabs in Hebron in 1967, in Jerusalem it razed an entire Arab village adjacent to the Western Wall to make room for what is today the Western Wall Plaza. Why the difference?

I think the joy of returning to Jerusalem in 1967 was simply overwhelming and irresistible, even to secular Zionists. A momentary unity swept over the country, instantly, for Jerusalem. But the sober second thought about Hebron was that this is a Muslim city deep in the heart of Judea, and therefore we’re not going to respond the same way.

When Baruch Goldstein killed 29 Arabs one Friday morning in February 1994, some people hailed him as a hero who gave the Arabs their just desserts while others, like Prime Minister Rabin, called him a “villainous Jew.” How do you view Goldstein?

When I started writing the Baruch Goldstein chapter, I really had no idea how it was going to end. I had met people who loved Baruch Goldstein for all the medical care he gave to members of the community, including Arabs, and I met people who loathed Goldstein – not only of course for the massacre but because he was a devoted student of Rabbi Meir Kahane and served on the local Kiryat Arba council under the Kach label.

I wanted to try as best as I could to track his journey and his decision to do what he did. The end of the story for me was that he did a horrible thing. But the reason he did it was because of the fear in the community that another pogrom was imminent, based on very clear warnings from the Israeli military authorities in Hebron and local Arabs.

What does the future hold in store for Hebron Jewry?

Insofar as we know, Hebron has not been included in the settlement clusters that apparently are under agreement to remain part of Israel [in a future Israel-Arab peace deal]. So the question for me is, will the government of Israel try to evacuate and expel the Jews who live in Hebron and Kiryat Arba, the way it did in Gaza, or will it simply turn its back on them and say, “You want to stay where you are? You defend yourselves.”

If the government abandons them, would they stay?

I think most would.

And if the government tries to force them out?

I think most of them would not go willingly. It’s not going to be a peaceful surrender. But I hope it doesn’t come to that.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/interviews-and-profiles/to-secular-israelis-hebron-jews-are-a-pain-an-interview-with-professor-jerold-auerbach/2010/02/24/

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