Sunday, May 16, 1999

-------------Day of Judgement------------------

-------------Day of Judgement------------------May 16, 1999
Monday is a day of Judgement - a Day of Awe. It is a day when
the Israeli People must make a choice - one of the most, if not the
most, important, critical, fateful decisions made by a public body, a
Jewish body, ever. Most decisions are made by a small group of people, in
the heat of a crisis. Who decides war or peace, who decides life and
death? Usually a few leaders, if not only one - who sits alone, pondering
the future of his people, weighing the lives of his soldiers, the fate of
his county, of the world.
Elections may generally be important, but usually, the outcome,
in spite of differences between the candidates, is not
earthshattering - it doesn't have an immediate effect on the
existence of a People, on the future of a Land.
Monday, in Israel, without trying to be overly melodramatic, the
truth is, that this is exactly what we are facing. Does this mean
that if Barak is elected 'we are done for?' No - of course not. Nothing
or nobody has been able to eradicate the Jewish People and nothing or
nobody ever will. Israel is eternal. The prospects for the immediate
future will not be easy regardless of the results of the election. If
Barak wins, he will continue on his chosen path until the bubble bursts -
until the Arabs have so much that even he will have to say stop - and by
then it will be too late. The resulting war will be barbaric and bloody,
but it will have to be fought and won. And if Bibi wins, - we mustn't
live under any illusions. Our experiences of the last three years have
taught us a lesson about Binyamin Netanyahu.
Where does this all lead? Is our future all black? Almost all of the
reporters who arrive in Hebron ask me the same question "What will you do
if Barak wins?" There is only one reply Hebron existed before Barak and
Netanyahu. Hebron will continue to exist after Barak and Netanyahu. We
are staying in Hebron, regardless of who wins the elections. That is our
right and our obligation. "And what if... what if... what if..." There
are so many hypothetical possibilities, it is impossible to prepare
contingency plans for them all. We hope and pray that most all of them
will never materialize, that we will never have to worry about them. And
if and when IT should happen - we'll worry about it then. We have to do
what we know and believe is right, not for us, but for the Jewish People,
of past, present and future.
That is, of course, a tremendous responsibility. But if we have been
so privileged as to be where we are, when we are, we trust in G-d that He
will give us the tools to make the right decisions at the right time.
Such it is, not only with Hebron, but with all of Israel - the Land and
the People. We don't live in easy times. But we, the citizens of the
State of Israel, have been given the privilege to participate in the
dream of the Jewish People, to be a part of the return to Israel after a
2,000 year exile. We believe with all our hearts that we weren't brought
back here only to be thrown out again - and we won't be. How the dice
will fall, how it will all work out, is a great unknown - but in the end,
it will work out. There may be different directions to go in, there may
be easier routes and more difficult ones, but in the end they all lead to
the same place.
So Monday's Day of Judgement isn't a question of
survival or destruction - it is rather the road we will take to ensure our
survival - whether it will be easier or harder. We have, to some
degree, the possibility to determine our own future. But regardless of the
results we will survive - in Hebron, in Jerusalem and in Eretz Yisrael -

Friday, May 14, 1999

Elections 1999

Elections 1999 May 14, 1999
Next week we again go to the polls. Three years ago we defined those
elections as the most fateful in the State of Israel's history. They were.
But these elections are more important.
Binyamin Netanyahu is not "the child we were praying for." He has committed
almost unforgivable blunders, including abandonment of over 80% of Hebron
and most recently, agreeing to the ? accords. Why did he do this? The
answer is still a very big question mark.
There are those who say he had no choice. I don't buy it. After the
September attack two and a half years ago, Arafat's reaction to the tunnel
opening in Jerusalem, Netanyahu had every excuse in the world to stop
implementation of Oslo. Even Rabin was quoted as saying that if PA
weapons, supplied by Israel, were ever used against Israeli forces, the
'peace process' would grind to a halt. If Netanyahu really desired to
avoid territorial concessions, the Hebron abandonment could have been
avoided. This in spite of his guarantees during the last campaign, that he
would continue where Labor left off.
I don't have to waste too much time on Wye. We all know that Arafat has
violated every and all of the obligations he previously undertook. That is
no secret. Even the Americans know it. Again, Netanyahu could easily have
wiggled out of further agreements.
This is, of course, all in light of Israel's seeming commitments to Oslo.
But Netanyahu could also have come into office and either declared, "I am
not chopping up any more of Eretz Yisrael," or he could have initiated
other projects (massive building in Hebron, East Jerusalem, and throughout
all of Judea, Samaria and Gazza), thereby forcing Arafat to publicly
renounce Oslo.
As we all know, he didn't do this. He followed the road to Hell, first
paved by his immediate predecessors. This may very well be the reason that
he WILL NOT be reelected. We have already witnessed that all of those who
have relinquished Eretz Yisrael have fallen from power.
Being that the right was running the country and not the left, those of us
in Hebron, and in Yesha, were recalled from the dead. We were no longer an
illegitimate species. We had who to speak to. Sometimes it didn't do too
much good. But sometimes it did. Much done behind the scenes which cannot
be publicly detailed occurred in spite of Netanyahu's policies.
The Education ministry was in the hands of the NRP and not run by Meretz.
Rabbi Meir Porush, an overwhelming supporter of Hebron and all Yesha funded
building projects from his post as Deputy Minister of Building.
Etc. Etc. Etc.
The Ehud Barak candidate for education may very well be Yosef (Tommy)
Lapid, whose entire campaign is focussed around 'anti-religion.' We may
find ourselves with a Moslem Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs and
another Arab sitting in crucial cabinet sessions where Israel's future
could be determined. Yossi Beilin, Shimon Peres, Uzi Baram and Haim Ramon
will hold key ministries. Needless to say, the fate of major portions of
Eretz Yisrael and dozens of communities will be in jeopardy. If Peres was
able to pull the wool over Rabin's eyes, what will he do to the weak,
inexperienced Barak?
I could go on, but it is unnecessary. We all know what has to be done.
Despite the polls, we have to do whatever is still possible to get
Netanyahu reelected.
It is almost Shabbat here. In a few minutes my wife will light the candles
and we will go to pray Shabbat prayers at Ma'arat HaMachpela. We will pray
that Netanyahu doesn't lose on Monday, and that we get a second chance on
June 1, when the run-off election is scheduled to take place. We ask all
of you to pray too, that Binyamin ben Ben-tzion and Tzila Netanyahu be
reelected to the office of Prime Minister and that Ehud Barak is defeated.
Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, May 13, 1999

The Shame and the Pride

The Shame and the PrideErev Yom Hebron 5759
May 13, 1999

Tomorrow is Yom Yerushalayim Jerusalem Day. Saturday, the 29th day of Iyar is the thirty-second anniversary of our return to Hebron - what we call “Hebron Day.”
Hebron Day is normally a time of special significance. Following an over 30-year absence from the first Jewish city in Israel, as a result of the 1929 massacre and exile, the return in 1967 was reason to celebrate. This year Hebron Day is especially poignant as we commemorate the 70th anniversary of that massacre.
It seems though, that the most significant facet of our return to Hebron in 1967 was the renewal of a Jewish presence at Ma’arat HaMachpela - the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
Many times tourists and journalists ask me why we have chosen to live in Hebron. Why be here, and not in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, or anywhere else in Israel? Why Hebron?
This is my response Ma’arat HaMachpela, is the second holiest site in the world for the Jewish people, second only to Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Chronologically, Ma’arat HaMachpela preceded Jerusalem by hundreds of years. According to Jewish sources Abraham purchased the Caves of Machpela to bury his wife Sarah after discovering there the tomb of Adam and Eve and the entrance to the Garden of Eden. Thus its importance, not only to Abraham, but for all generations.
For seven hundred years, from 1267, when the Crusader Wars concluded with the Mamalukes expelling the Christians from Hebron and from Israel, Ma’arat HaMachpela became off limits to all peoples, excepting Muslims. Jews and Christians attempting to visit were told that Ma’arat HaMachpela is a Mosque and that only Moslems can pray in a Mosque. Jews were forced to stand outside at what was known as the 7th step, on the way into the 2,000 year old structure atop the original caves. Only when we returned in 1967 were we again able to enter and pray in Ma’arat HaMachpela.
Today we are told by such notables as Mustafa Natsche, the Arab Mayor of Hebron, and officials such as the late Minister of Religious Affairs in the Palestine Authority, Hassan Taboub, that when “they” again control all of Hebron (G-d forbid), we Jews will no longer be able to pray at Ma’arat HaMachpela because it is a Mosque and only Moslems can pray in a Mosque. So they promise us ‘visitation rights.’ We know all about these visitation rights. We had them for 700 years, when we had no choice but to stand outside at the 7th step.
I have no doubt whatsoever that the only reason Ma’arat HaMachpela is today accessible to Jews and Christians is due to the permanent Jewish presence in Hebron. If we weren’t here, none of the 450,000 plus people who visit here annually would be able to get anywhere near Ma’arat HaMachpela.
I cannot imagine the following scenario becoming reality A family arrives in Israel for a visit. The children turn to the parents with a simple request “Mommy, Daddy, let’s go visit Abraham in Hebron. We just learned how he bought Ma’arat HaMachpela in school, a few weeks ago. Let’s go see it.”
And the parents look at each other and say, “Sorry but we can’t go.”
And the children ask, “Why not it’s only an hour from Jerusalem.”
And what will the parents answer? - “Because they took it away from us” or will they have to answer, “BECAUSE WE GAVE IT TO THEM?!” WE ABANDONED THE SECOND HOLIEST SITE IN THE WORLD TO OUR ARCHENEMIES WHO ALREADY PROCLAIMED THAT WE WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO VISIT THERE?
Very simply, this doesn’t make any sense.
We aren’t here because Hebron belongs to us. Hebron belongs to each and every Jew just as much as it belongs to me, or my family or friends. We are here as a kind of ‘keeper of the keys,’ keeping Hebron and Ma’arat HaMachpela for all the Jewish people. And not just for this generation but also for our children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, forever. And who knows maybe one day one of them will COME LIVE HERE IN HEBRON. And if you think that’s a really wild thought well, ask my parents!
That is why we are here in Hebron. It is a privilege but also an obligation. It isn’t so easy to live in the shadow of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Lea, King David, and tens and hundreds of thousands of righteous who preceded us.
It isn’t easy for many reasons. For example, yesterday as I was entering Ma’arat HaMachpela to attend a friend’s family festivity I heard a border policeman telling a visitor that it is forbidden to take a shofar (ram’s horn) inside because it is a “musical instrument.” I responded that a shofar is an instrument of holiness and may definitely be taken into Ma’arat HaMachpela. His answer It is only an instrument of holiness on Rosh HaShana (the Jewish New Year), but not during the rest of the year.” I asked to speak with his commander, who also forbade taking a shofar into the building. I requested to speak with his superior who finally permitted the shofar to be taken into the building.
The security forces have also decided that mirrors are potentially ‘dangerous’ and confiscate them from people entering Ma’arat HaMachpela. This includes makeup mirrors, and the like. Many times men, going to pray with Tallis (prayer shawl) and Tefillin (phylacteries) take a small mirror with them in order to check that the Tefillin are properly placed on their head. Yesterday, my friend, who was celebrating his newly born son’s Brit Milah (circumcision) had his small circular-shaped mirror taken away from him. When I asked the officers why they allow people wearing glasses or carrying cameras into the Ma’ara, I received a blank stare in return.
So where are we - in Israel or in Russia of the 1960s and 1970s?
There is pride in Hebron, but there is also shame in Hebron. Following a seven hundred year exile from Ma’arat HaMachpela and an almost 40 year exile forced exile from Hebron, a Jew cannot bring a shofar into Ma’arat HaMachpela, AS DECREED BY A JEWISH, ISRAELI GOVERNMENT?!
Yes, there is shame - shame which to a great degree is inexplicable. But there is also pride, for with it all WE HAVE RETURNED HOME. Sometimes we must struggle, sometimes with the Arabs, and yes, sometimes with our own. But we are struggling HERE, in Hebron, at Ma’arat HaMachpela. With time this ridiculous strife will come to an end and there will be only pride, and no shame. Until them we will press on, living here, educating, and attempting to follow in the footsteps of our sacred ancestors.
From Hebron we send our blessings for a Happy Jerusalem Day and Happy Hebron Day proud and glad that we have the privilege to be representing you here, in the City of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.

Friday, May 7, 1999

The Crossroad of Civilization

The Crossroad of Civilization
May 7, 1999

After years of waiting excavations have begun in the Tel Hebron (Rumeida) neighborhood. This location is thought to be the site of the original Hebron, home to the Patriarchs and Matriarchs and King David, well over 3,000 years ago. The first week or so of digging revealed a huge (for those days) winery, probably dating to the Byzantine era, about 1,500 years ago. Archeologists working under the auspices of the Israeli Antiquities Authority believe that following the Moslem conquest the area was transformed into an agricultural center.

Another find, capturing all our interests, included several skeletons, some of children and at least one adult. It is clear that at some point in time the land was also used as a cemetery. What we do not know is which people the skeletons belonged to. They were found on a surface above the winery, leading us to believe that they may be Jewish or possibly Moslem. It is still unclear how this revelation will affect the continued excavation. What is clear is that the area being dug out was within the original Hebron wall, part of which has also be uncovered. The implications of this fact are of major significance. It is extremely likely that underneath these discoveries, which are very close to the surface, are ruins extending back in time to the Bronze Age the days of Abraham, and later, King David. To this date the oldest find is that of pottery four thousand years old, uncovered several months ago. Yesterday a pottery signature with the word Melech (King) on it, approximately 2,700 years old, from the era of Hezkiah HaMelech was discovered. (Pictures of the excavations can be viewed on the Hebron Web Site http//

The archeologist heading the excavation is Emmanuel Isenberg. His authority to dig is being challenged by another archeologist, Avi Ofer, who excavated in Hebron over 15 years ago. Ofer is claiming that he should have first rights to continue digging, as a result of his previous work in Hebron. The Antiquities Authority believes otherwise, and the Israeli Supreme Court is due to hear the case and rule in the near future.

Here is where the crossroads of history and politics meet, one way or another. Avi Ofer is not only an archeologist. He is also a major Israeli activist. He is one of the leaders of Shalom Achshav, the Peace Now organization. A few months ago we had a discussion with him in our Hebron offices. His statement, still reverberating in my ears, represents the paradox of politics and Hebron. He said, “Tel Hebron is the second most important archeological site in Israel, second only to Jerusalem and Temple Mount. However, as unfortunate as it may be, the site belongs to Arafat and the Palestinians.”

It is well known that after the excavations are completed, it is the intention of Hebron’s Jewish Community to construct permanent housing at the site. As in Jerusalem, it is possible to build above excavations, thereby allowing accessibility to visitors, while living in buildings above them. Avi Ofer has made it abundantly clear that he opposes any Jewish building at the site, for reasons which extend well beyond his professional interests. The Israeli left demands the removal of Jews from all of Hebron.

The Jewish Community of Hebron had no say, and has no say in the choice of archeologists working at the site. But we know that should Avi Ofer be granted the permit to work there, he will do everything in his power to keep us from utilizing the site for a fully constructed present day neighborhood.

As the digging was getting underway, Israel’s archenemy Arafat was preparing to ‘declare a state.’ On May 4, the day he promised to make it official, we were observing the uncovering of our ancient history. The land the Arabs (and Avi Ofer) claim is theirs is being bared for all to see. True, at some time in history it is possible that Moslems lived there. But that was many hundreds and thousands of years after Jewish Israelites had settled that same land. Tel Hebron, known also as Tel Rumeida and Admot Ishai is not only a crossroad of civilization. It is the roots of all civilization. Those roots, from which we still soak up the teachings of our Forefathers, are based in Hebron, at Tel Hebron and Ma’arat HaMachpela, which is located in the valley under the neighborhood. Jews lived at Tel Hebron 4,000 years ago, three thousand years ago, two thousand years ago, one thousand years ago. And, of course, today. How an archeologist, whose primary objective is to uncover the past, enabling us to learn about our land and ourselves can make such a statement, “but it belongs to Arafat” is beyond my comprehension.

The crossroad of civilization still runs via Tel Hebron. Our people and our state stem from Tel Hebron. This neighborhood provides and represents, perhaps more than any other place in Israel, the moral and historical justification of our existence, not only in Hebron, but in all of Israel. The crisscross of present day politics cannot eradicate the roots of our existance. That is why we are here, and that is why we will stay here, forever.