Wednesday, May 19, 2004

A Beacon of Light

May 19, 2004

I’m presently wandering around the United States – so here, it’s still Yom Yerushalayim and tonight begins Yom Hevron - the days when Hebron and Jerusalem were liberated during the Six-Day War in 1967.
I’d like to share with you some of my experiences here.
I spent last Shabbat out west. It was a great few days. People greeted me with wonderful enthusiasm and their hospitality was reminiscent of Abraham’s generosity. As far as I was concerned, it was a highly successful trip.
It was also highly educational. In what way?
I’m frequently asked if Hebron isn’t dangerous. How do we live there – how do we deal with terrorist threats, and the like. Hearing questions like these, one might assume that just about everywhere else in the world is really really safe. Everywhere except Hebron, and maybe a few other places, like maybe all of Eretz Yisrael.
Well, as I wrote, my hosts were fabulous – they wined and dined me, and made sure I met some of the right people. One night, knowing that I’d probably be leaving the house earlier than them the next morning, they gave me a key to their home, along with some interesting explanations. They told me that not too long ago a group of thugs had been breaking into people’s homes in their vicinity. Not only would they break into homes, they would break doors down, kicking them in, sometimes at two different entrances simultaneously. Once inside the house, they would not only ransack and steal. They raped women and beat up others present. Real good folk, as you can imagine.
So, at night, their front door isn’t only locked. Rather, a large, heavy metal bar is fitted horizontally on the door, preventing it from being kicked in. And that was only the beginning. This particular family, all of whom are really lovely people, have a household arsenal including a 12 gauge shotgun, a SigSaur pistol (an automatic sidearm used by elite special forces unit and the US Navy SEALs), and some other goodies, the likes of which I’ve never seen before. They all know how to shoot, mother, father and kids. If I had half of what they own in Hebron, I’d be accused of everything under the sun – and terrorism would be the least of the charges. They also installed electronically controlled metal security shutters.
So, that’s safe, good old America – and I thought, perhaps naively so, that the ‘wild west’ only exists today in cowboy movies and novels.
That’s out west.
Now, a little closer to the Atlantic, on the east coast. I spent an evening with friends out here in New York, in one of the famous five boroughs. At ten o’clock at night I went out with my host for evening prayers at a nearby Jewish educational institution, a large, very successful mix of Jewish and secular studies.
Just before we entered the building, he pointed in the direction of some benches outside, within the plaza leading to the building’s doors. Sitting there were a bunch of our ‘cousins,’ the kinds of which I thought I’d left in Hebron. Women wearing scarf head coverings and chadors, the veil showing only their eyes. Kids too, and a few men. There they were, sitting right next to the entrance of a yeshiva study hall in greater New York.
My host told me that during the summer months the courtyard is filled with them, and they sit there all night. When I asked about security problems he said that last year there was a little ‘rock-throwing’ but following some calls to the police, that had stopped. Since then it had been quiet. That really made me feel good, right at home.
And I’m the one people ask about ‘security threats?’ Maybe the questions are legitimate, but they should be directed perhaps, at the places I visit while traveling around the United States, as opposed to my home in Hebron.
Ok – that’s one set of stories. The second deals with how I celebrated Jerusalem Day. This morning I attended a few children’s classes in a New York elementary Jewish school. I spoke to three classes of children in 4th to 8th grade. It was really a lot of fun. The kids were good and listened to what I had to say.
I told them how it was, how it used to be - how the British arrested Rabbi Moshe Segal in the early 1930s for blowing the shofar at the Kotel, the Western Wall at the conclusion of Yom Kippur prayers. And how Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, then the Israeli Chief Rabbi threatened to continue the Yom Kippur fast and conduct a hunger strike until Segal was released. And how Jews were banned from the Kotel from 1948 until 1967.
I also spoke to them about Hebron and Ma’arat HaMachpela, about the ordinance forbidding a Jewish presence inside Ma’arat HaMachpela for seven hundred years, and how Rabbi Shlomo Goren, Chief Rabbi of the IDF, single-handedly liberated the city in 1967.
When their Rabbi introduced me as an American living in Israel, I politely corrected him, telling the kids that I’m an Israeli who happened to be born in the United States. And I tried very hard to impress upon them that we live like they do – the kids play basketball and soccer, go to school everyday, play outside and ride on bicycles, and, very simply, live, not in fear, not with trepidation, but with the same zest for life that kids have everywhere.
Yesterday I spoke at a different school, where the children were involved in ‘chesed’ or ‘good-deed’ projects. Some kids were sewing teddy-bears for Hebron’s nursery school. Others were writing letters to soldiers in Iraq. And still others were designing crossword puzzles in Hebrew for children in an Israeli hospital. I also told these youngsters about Hebron, stressing that they were walking in the footsteps of Avraham Avinu, our forefather Abraham, whose primary trait was that of loving-kindness and good deeds.
As we celebrate the 37th anniversary of the liberation of Hebron, I think it’s time that our brethren around the world start to view Hebron in a different light – not as a beleaguered city, drowning in the shadows of terror and evil. Rather, Hebron must be seen as a glorious radiating light of hope, of spirituality, the roots of all peoples. Hebron can and will remain a free city, open to all, only as long as the Jewish community there exists and thrives. Should our community cease to be, G-d forbid, for any reason, Hebron would revert back to oppressive, barbaric rule, as existed for literally hundreds of years prior to the Six-Day War.
As long as Hebron is envisaged as ‘dangerous,’ so it will be in the eyes of many. When Hebron is grasped as a beacon of culture and heritage, so it will be. Then, the only people who will query me about ‘treacherous places’ will be my children, asking, ‘Abba, isn’t the United States dangerous?’
With blessing for a happy Hebron and Jerusalem Day.

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