For Parshat Vayechi, my husband Stu and I were zocheh to spend Shabbat in Hebron and to daven in Ma’arat Hamachpela, the Tomb of our Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and our Matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca and Leah.

We always love spending Shabbat in Hebron for several reasons, not the least of which is the graciousness of our friends and hosts, Rabbi Shalom and Zelda Horowitz. They are exceptional people, without equal, who made aliyah to Israel in August 1957 and raised seven wonderful children on Kibbutz Shluchot, Mercaz Shapiro, Kiryat Arba, and, since 1978, Hebron. They live in an apartment in Beit Schneerson, on Rechov Dovid Hamelech. Their building is so named because it was owned by the Schneerson family (of the Lubavitch rabbinical dynasty) long before the 1929 massacre of Hebron’s Jewish residents by their Arab neighbors.

Rav Shalom and Zelda are surrounded in Hebron by five of their children and approximately 35 delightful grandchildren. Their children are exceptional yirei shamayim and religious Zionists.

Shabbat night, after lichtbenching, we walked with Rav Shalom down to the Ma’arah for davening. Inside, in the courtyard between Ulam Yaakov and Ulam Avraham, the only large area regularly open to the Jewish population, is a large tent-type structure, covering most of the courtyard, which keeps out some of the rain that drips inside or the wind that blows into the Ma’arah.

Friday night’s davening was in the Carlebach style, but so much more moving than any similar minyan I’ve ever attended. From my side of the mechitza, the men appeared to dance the entire Kabbalat Shabbat. My husband told me that Rabbi Moshe Levinger had personally invited him to join in this dancing. Both the men’s and women’s sections were packed, as they are every Shabbat, and some of us women were bouncing on tiptoes to the melodies.

The expression on the uplifted faces of those davening reflected what I suppose is sublime ecstasy, a transcendental and transfixed joy. My husband and I were, as always, inspired and humbled by the commitment and the kavanah, and deeply moved by the tefillah, which I felt Hashem must surely have received with favor. It seemed especially auspicious to daven near Ulam Yaakov that Shabbat, since the sedra discusses the burial of Yaakov avinu in the very place where we were standing. After Ma’ariv, I was privileged to meet David Wilder, the official Hebron spokesman, and Rabbi Simcha Hochbaum, who teaches at Yeshivat Reishit Yerushalayim.

The Hebron community is an amazing and warm kehillah. By New York standards, they live extremely modestly, but their mesirat nefesh, hachnassot orchim, and fundamental midot are unparalleled and exemplary. Knowing their true nature, I am so pained to read of media efforts to demonize the community as extremists or vigilantes, or to delegitimize the right of residents to live in Jewish-owned buildings.

There were, as usual, many guests in Hebron that Shabbat, and the community was celebrating at least two recent chasanahs. Rav Shalom told me that one newly married couple had procured a one-room apartment in a basement that had formerly been used as a storeroom for a kindergarten above it. The room was described as barely able to fit two beds. The community built a small shower to one side and a small kitchenette to the other, and the new couple was thrilled to have a place to live in Hebron.

Those who grow up in Hebron, one of Judaism’s four holy cities, will gladly suffer deprivation to be able to remain there. The community has a long list of people wanting to live in Hebron, and whenever a vacancy appears a committee meets to decide who will be privileged to join the community.

In the morning we heard the sounds of children playing outside and saw people strolling freely in the streets. After lunch, Zelda and I, along with two other guests, walked from the apartment up to Tel Rumeida, to the burial cave of Ruth and Yishai. The walk is very steep, up a hill, past Arab shops, many of which are now deserted, past Arab homes and past Arab residents, some of whom were walking in the streets. The community hopes the government will permit it to reclaim or purchase these deserted stores and buildings for Jewish residents.

At Tel Rumeida, seven families still reside in caravan homes (thinly walled trailers), even though the government promised they could build permanent housing after Rabbi Shlomo Ra’anan was murdered by Arabs who stabbed him in his own caravan. The permanent apartments are in mid-development and remain open, like a long-forgotten promise. One family living in a bullet-riddled caravan has raised 14 children, though two, now married, live elsewhere. Because space is so precious, some caravans were placed on top of others, an unusual sight, yet no one complains.

While in Tel Rumeida, I was privileged to meet Rebbetzin Levinger, who was also walking up the steep hill. She is a heroine, the wife of Rabbi Moshe Levinger, and the leader of the women who reclaimed for the Jewish people Beit Hadassah, site until 1929 of the Hadassah clinic. Until the actions of Rebbetzin Levinger and a few other heroic women, Jews were not allowed to live in the city of our forefathers. Zelda and I and our companions climbed a narrow path into the army observation post, and saw an incredible view of the entire valley, including the full Ma’arat Hamachpela. The soldiers there were enjoying a seudat shlishit prepared by the residents. Zelda told me that on Shavuot the entire community of Hebron and Kiryat Arba ascends to Tel Rumeida to hear the recitation of Megillat Ruth.

If only each of you, as well as the prime minister and his cabinet, could have joined me for that Shabbat. Hebron is not the city portrayed by the media, and it certainly doesn’t feel like a “city under siege.” On the contrary, it is a city where children play in the streets and the sounds of prayer and conversation among friends emanate, punctuated by calls to prayer from the distant muezzin atop the nearby Abu Sne’neh hills.

Of course, we realize that Hebron at times can be a dangerous city. Two years ago, when we last spent Shabbat there, our friends’ windows were partly blocked with sandbags, the city was under curfew, and shooting was intermittently heard (not that any resident let it interrupt his life). Yet on that same Shabbat, more than twenty-five people, including numerous guests, crowded into the Horowitz’s apartment to celebrate a birthday, dance with a chassan, and share love, laughter, and beautiful zemirot.

It was so spiritually uplifting to see the men and boys, wearing black hats, kipot srugot, cloth yarmulkes or oversized Bucharian kipot, dancing together in a circle in this small apartment to honor a chassan whom some had just met. Baruch Hashem, instead of sandbags, several houseplants now fill the ironworks installed to hold the sandbags, the soldiers on duty seem more relaxed, and Shabbat in Hebron was as peaceful as the Shabbatot we spent in Yerushalayim and Maale Adumim.

Perhaps more than the noticeable peace and quiet in Hebron was my sense that those who mistakenly believe that this city can be given away (not “back,” since it never legally belonged to anyone else since World War I) do not understand either ancient or modern Jewish history. The people living there, regardless of their age, have a connection to this area and this land that cannot be broken. No force will be easily dislodge these people, G-d forbid, as happened in Yamit. Indeed, each week brings more busloads of visitors to Hebron. The Jewish community has returned to the land of its fathers and is there to stay, and those who disagree that Hebron is eternally Jewish are living in a dream world. 

Unfortunately, Hebron, like other places in Israel, sometimes suffers tragic losses when terrorists succeed. But to those who urge us to avoid Hebron for our safety, we ask: Where is it truly safe? In New York City, the National Guard patrols Penn Station. The NYPD and other law enforcement personnel combed Times Square on December 31 searching for dirty bombs. Intelligence warnings highlight the threats to other U.S. cities as well.

On balance, therefore, given the unbelievable ruchnias that pervades the holy city of Hebron, when we have the opportunity to travel there, we gladly go, despite the risks. (Anyone interested in visiting Hebron for a Shabbat can contact the Hachnossas Orchim Committee, chaired by Baruch Marzel, which will gladly arrange for housing and meals.)

We understand that more than 300 youngsters live in Hebron today (excluding the yeshiva students learning there). I pray fervently that Hashem will bring the redemption speedily, so that each of these children can grow, marry and raise many beautiful Yiddishe kinderlach. May we all be zocheh to experience the complete geulah now and to return as one united nation to our homeland, eretz hakodesh, in peace.


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Robin Stone Einbinder is an attorney whose New York City practice includes family law, commercial litigation, and insurance coverage and defense.