Thursday, August 23, 2001

The Girls from New York

The Girls from New York
Aug 23, 2001


I’d like to tell you this evening about an example of heroism.

Two weeks ago a group of seven young women associated with the
Chabad Lubovitch movement arrived here, all from Brooklyn, New York.
Their mission: to volunteer in Hebron for two weeks.

These days, with war raging all around us, I have nothing but admiration
for anyone who comes to visit us in Hebron. Don’t get me wrong – I
think people should come and visit us here, thereby showing Arafat’s
armed forces that their guns will not scare us away. Yet, I understand
that many people are afraid, and I can’t really complain. Our criticism is
directed against Ariel Sharon, who has allowed Arafat’s attacks to turn
into a war of attrition, rather than finish it, once and for all.

In any case, anyone who comes in for a day tour is to be looked up to.
Those brave souls who spend a Shabbat here, and we do have groups of
Israelis and some tourists who do spend an entire Shabbat here, can only
be commended. But to come in for two weeks, that’s really very special.

The women, ranging in age from 18 to 25, spent most of their mornings
with Hebron’s children, assisting with the summer recreation program. I
knew they had acclimatized very well when my own children came home
one day and couldn’t stop talking about the precious new councilors
who spoke a lot of English and wanted the children to help them learn

During the afternoons, the women took it upon themselves to clean up the
Ashkenazi cemetery near Tel Rumeida. This cemetery was used primarily
by Chabad after they arrived in Hebron in the early 1800s. One of the
most prestigious personalities interred at the cemetery is Menucha Rachel
Shneerson Slonim, who was the granddaughter of the founder of the
Lubovitch movement, known as the Alter Rebbi, or the Ba’al HaTanya.

Menucha Rachel was a very very special person. It is told that as a young
woman she desired to live in Eretz Yisrael. Her father, the Middler Rebbi
refused, saying that was it was much too dangerous here. Menucha
Rachel fell ill, and her doctors informed her parents to pray, for prayer
was the only medicine left to save her. Menucha Rachel’s father came to
her and whispered in her ear, saying, “if you recover, you can go live in
Eretz Yisrael.”

Menucha Rachel did recover, married Yosef Culi Slonim, journeyed to
Eretz Yisrael and made her home in Hebron, where she lived for decades.

In Hebron Menucha Rachel was a pillar of the community, taking part in
every day life and decisions. But she was also looked upon as a spiritual
leader, as was her father and grandfather.

Menucha Rachel’s father’s successor in the line of Chabad Rebbis was
know as the Tzemech Tzedek. Following the death of the Tzemech
Tzedek’s wife, and the passing of Menucha Rachel’s husband, the
Tzemech Tzedek wrote to Menucha Rachel, asking her to marry him.
Menucha Rachel responded, “I am a shaliach, or representative here in
Hebron. If you want to marry me, you’ll have to come here.”

Needless to say, they did not marry.

After her passing, at almost 90 years of age, Menucha Rachel was
buried in Hebron, in what is today known as the Ashkenazi cemetery.
Several years ago the well-known Australian philanthropist, Rabbi
Yosef Gutnick, financed the renovating of Menucha Rachel’s grave site.
However, unfortunately over the past few years, and especially during
the past 10 months of war, the site has been vandalized and desecrated
time and time again, by Arabs who have no respect for the living and no
respect for the dead.

Our new visitors decided to do something about the sorry state of the
cemetery and every afternoon spent hours cleaning it up, trying restore
some of its past dignity.

One day last week, at about 6:00 in the evening Arafat’s armed forces
started shooting from the Harat a’Shech hills in the direction of Tel
Rumeida and the cemetery. All of a sudden seven girls from New York
found themselves under enemy gunfire. They didn’t lose their cool. Very
quickly they ran up to a small building and took cover until Hebron
security personal were able to safely evacuate them. An older woman
escorting the group, was slightly wounded when a bullet hit a rock right
next to her and the rock ricocheted onto her forehead. Fortunately and
miraculously, she was not seriously hurt.

Less than an hour after the incident, with massive shooting all around us,
I found the girls sitting relaxed in a Tel Rumeida caravan home, reading
stories to children, photographing the battle noises around them, smiling
and acting as if nothing abnormal had just happened to them. When I

asked them if they wanted to leave they all jumped and said no, of course
not. Most of them wanted to stay in Hebron, even after their two weeks
were up. As a matter of fact some of the girls did stay longer than they
originally planned on. And they all said that they want to come back in
the future.

So, my friends, this is a true story of true Jewish heroism, the story of
seven girls from New York, who wanted to contribute something to
their brethren in Hebron. Even in the face of death, they refused to run
away. Rather, they followed in the traditions of their great-grandmothers,
beginning with the Matriarchs, Sarah, Rivka, Lea and Rachel, and in the
footsteps of Menucha Rachel Shneerson Slonim, who too refused to take
no for an answer, even when the dangers seemed so great.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all the girls who helped us here
in Hebron, hoping to see them back again, very soon. To Ora Chaya,
Elana, Esther, Shirfa, Tirza, Devora Esther, and Michelle, and Hagar,
who joined them at towards the end, may you all be blessed with all the
blessings of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs.

With blessings from Hebron,

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