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.