Friday, April 30, 2010

The Zionist Response

The Zionist Response

For the past week I've felt haunted. Being very busy with tours and other necessary tasks, I hadn't found time to put down some words on paper. Actually, I began working on a very important document which I didn't even find time to finish.

But something else was eating at me. Friday night. Tomorrow night. The 17th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar. Exactly thirty years ago, the 17th of Iyar was also on a Friday night. I lived then in Mevassert Tzion, just outside Jerusalem. The next night a friend of mine commented, 'I knew something was wrong, seeing helicopters flying into Hadassah hospital.'

And something was very wrong. Friday night, May 12, 1980. It was just a year earlier when a group of about 10 women and 40 children had reentered Beit Hadassah in Hebron. The building, originally built in 1893, and having served as a medical clinic for Jews and Arabs in Hebron prior to the 1929 riots, had been vacant since Israel's return to the city in 1967. A week and a half following the end of Passover in 1979, the group climbed in thru a back window of Beit Hadassah in the middle of the night, reestablishing a Jewish presence in the heart of the city for the first time in 50 years.

Living conditions were non-existent, and the going wasn't easy; to the contrary, it was very difficult. But women such as Rebbetzin Miriam Levinger, Sarah Nachshon, and others were made of platinum. Not necessarily material platinum, rather spiritual platinum. Their faith, and their grasp of the significance of the return to Hebron, overcame all other factors. Together with a large group of children they defied all odds, refused to surrender to pressures, physical and mental, and maintained the Jewish presence in the city of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.

Every Friday night, following Shabbat worship at Ma'arat HaMachpela, a group of men would sing and dance their way down the street to Beit Hadassah, where they continued the festivity, joined by the women and children living in the building, adding to their Shabbat spirit.

Friday night, May 12, the 17th of Iyar, only one day before the Lag B'Omer celebrations. The men arrived as usual and began forming a dance circle…and then it happened. Shots rang out, blasts enveloped the pure Shabbat air. Arab terrorists, hiding on a rooftop across from Beit Hadassah, began 1929, all over again.

The sudden attack on the Jewish men was not the first since the Tarpat massacre. Only three months earlier a young yeshiva student from the Kiryat Arba yeshiva, Yehoshua Saloma, a new immigrant from Denmark, was shot and killed at the entrance to the Kasba while purchasing dried fruit for the upcoming Tu'B'Shvat holiday. Following the murder the Israeli government decided, in theory, to reestablish an official Jewish community in Hebron. But that decision remained theoretical; in practice, nothing was done.

Three short months later, it seemed that history was repeating itself. The terror attack was heard miles away. Even up in Kiryat Arba, residents, hearing the shots, quickly make their way into the city. Something bad was happening.

Six were killed and about 20 injured. Among the killed was a young Torah scholar from the United States studying at Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav in Jerusalem, Tzvi Glatt. Another victim was also a former America, who had fought in Vietnam and converted to Judaism, Eli HaZe'ev. Three others studied in Kiryat Arba and another at Kerem b'Yavneh. The murders left the country in shock.

I remember attending two of the funerals: that of Tzvi Glatt in Jerusalem, outside the Yeshiva. I remember that the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook attended and eulogized the martyred scholar. I don't remember what he said, but his grave presence made a deep impression on me. From there I travelled by bus to Kiryat Arba and Hebron, for the funeral of Eli HaZe'ev. Little did I know that about a year later I would move to Kiryat Arba and later to Hebron. I don't remember too much, except that many many people participated, and all were very very angry.

The day after the attack, on Sunday, the Israeli government finally decided to reestablish a Jewish community in Hebron, and this time, they did do something about it. Families were reunited; husbands were allowed to join their wives and children at Beit Hadassah. And eventually the government approved and assisted in rebuilding Beit Hadassah, adding two floors to the original structure, (and building the apartment I've lived in for the past 11 1/2 years).

That's what happened. But that's not what's bothering me. I've told the story more times than I can begin to count, and have written it a few times too. But still, something's been tugging at me.

Back in those days, even before Oslo, before the first and second intifadas, even then, Arabs killed Jews. But thirty years ago, when an Israeli was murdered, there was some kind of authentic response. Where a Jew died, another Jew would live. This was the rule. Where Jews were murdered, a building, or even a community was founded and established. This was called, 'the Zionist response.' The Arabs don't want us here and will do anything and everything to rid themselves of us, including cold-blooded murder. Normal people understood that the answer to such action was to do the opposite. Wherever they don't want us, that's where we'll be. And that's the way it was in Hebron.

I would guess that you've figured out what's bugging me. Back then, thirty years ago, that was the Zionist response. And today? Today, when Jews are killed, rather than build, the government decides to flee. If the Arabs don't want us 'there' then it's just too dangerous for us to stay 'there.' And we run, in the wrong direction. It's been called Oslo, Hebron, Wye, Gush Katif, and who knows what's next. Jerusalem? More Hebron, more of Oslo? G-d forbid.

We are in Hebron today by the grace of three factors: the grace of G-d, whose Divine Presence and assistance was (and still is) indispensable; by the grace of the women and children whose dedication and determination, whose faith and inner comprehension of Hebron kept them from abandoning their mission; and by the grace of the lives of six men, who gave their bodies for the soul of Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael, for they brought us back to Hebron.

I only hope and pray that those neshamot, those souls, and the thousands who have been killed since, will, wherever they are, never feel abandoned, never feel that their deaths were in vain, that they too, with their lives, brought new life and spirit to the Jewish people in their land.

May their memories be a blessing upon us, forever.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

30 years since the murder of 'the Six' at Beit Hadassah

Iyar 15, 5770, 4/29/2010

30 years since the murder of 'the Six' at Beit Hadassah

Rebbetzin Miriam Levinger speaking about life in Beit Hadassah
The events of the terror attack from 8:50 min

Beit Hadassah and Beit HaShisha (from the Hebron Web Site and - posted following the dedication of Beit HaShisha - the House of the Six, exactly ten years ago.)
Pesach 1968 - Jews return to Hebron to celebrate Pesach.
Erev Rosh HaShana 1971 - Jews move from the Hebron Military Compound to the newly founded Kiryat Arba
Erev Rosh Hodesh Iyar 1979 - Jews Return to the city of Hebron
A week and a half after Pesach a group of 10 women and 40 children left Kiryat Arba in the middle of the night, driven in a truck through the deserted streets of Hebron. They made their way to the abandoned Beit Hadassah building, originally built in the 1870s as a medical clinic for Jews and Arabs in Hebron, abandoned since the 1929 riots.
The women and children, assisted by men, climb into Beit Hadassah through a back window, bringing with them only minimal supplies. They swept some of the decades-old dust from the floor, spread out some mattresses, and went to sleep.

When they awoke in the morning the children began singing: v'shavu banim l'gvulam - the children have returned home. Soldiers guarding on the roof of the building, coming down to investigate, were astounded at the sight of the women and children. Quickly they reported to their superiors, and soon the "Beit Hadassah women" were a national issue.

Prime Minister Menachem Begin was not in favor of Jewish settlement in the heart of the city, but opposed physically expelling the group. He ordered the building surrounded by police and soldiers, and decreed that nothing, including food and water, be allowed into the building. Begin was soon visited by Rabbi Moshe Levinger, whose wife Miriam and many of his children were among those inside Beit Hadassah.

"When the Israeli army surrounded the Egyptian third army in Sinai during the Yom Kippur War, we gave the enemy soldiers food, water and medical supplies. If this is what we supplied Egyptian soldiers who had attacked and killed our soldiers, at the very least allow the women and children in Hebron the same."
Begin had no choice but to agree. The women and children lived like this, under siege, for two months. No one was allowed in and anyone leaving would not be allowed to return.

One day a little boy in Beit Hadassah had a tooth-ache and left for a dentist in Kiryat Arba. When he arrived back at Beit Hadassah the soldier guarding at the entrance refused to allow him back in. The little boy started crying, saying, "I want my Ema (mother)." At that time the Israeli cabinet was in session, and a note was relayed to the Prime Minister that a little boy was crying outside Beit Hadassah because he wasn’t allowed back in. Following a discussion by the cabinet, the little boy was permitted to return to his mother in Beit Hadassah.

After over two months the women and children were allowed to leave and return, but no one else was allowed in. They lived this way for a year.

On Friday nights, following Shabbat prayers at Ma'arat HaMachpela, the worshipers, including students from the Kiryat Arba Nir Yeshiva, would dance to Beit Hadassah, sing and dance in front of the building, recite Kiddush for the women, and then return to Kiryat Arba. In early May of 1980, a year after the women first arrived at Beit Hadassah, the group of men was attacked by terrorists stationed on the roof of a building across from Beit Hadassah. The Arab terrorists, shooting and throwing hand grenades killed six men and wounded twenty. Later that week the Israeli government finally issued official authorization for the renewal of a Jewish community in Hebron.

On June 11 of this year, exactly twenty years after the murder at Beit Hadassah, a new building in memory of those men killed was dedicated in Hebron. Beit HaShisha, the House of the Six, will house six new families. This beautiful structure will eternalize the names of six young men who gave their lives in Hebron, and who deaths led to the return of Jews to the heart of the city. Hebron's Jewish community had to wait twenty years to memorialize these men, but that dream is now a reality.

(please excuse the quality of the video)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Shema Story

A Shema Story

You know, I don’t think I’ve said a Shema Yisrael in at least twenty five years...
We’ve concluded the annual threesome – Holocaust Memorial Day, Memorial Day for those in uniform, killed in action, and those murdered in acts of terror, followed by Independence Day. Always a time of introspection, leading to very mixed emotions and thoughts. We live in a very mixed up time.
Some of the issues we are dealing with are, on the face of it, absurd.
a) A young Israeli soldier stealing secret military documents and passing them on to a journalist, to be printed in HaAretz newspaper?
b) A bookstore, literally giving away a pamphlet which describes residents of Judea and Samaria as "brainwashing, hypnotized zombies… "Think of gangs of randy youths going to screw the country. The young generation of settlers forgot what it is to be Zionist."
c) The deputy editor of the HaAretz magazine, calling the Peretz family, (whose son/husband/father was killed a week earlier in Gaza, the 2nd son from that family killed in action) ' a family of Jihadist Fascists.' ' I don’t want an army that G-d loves. For that I may as well move to Iran.”'
d) And perhaps above all, we are witness to a corruption and fraud scandal, allegedly leading to the highest realms of power in Israel, including a former mayor and deputy mayor of Jerusalem, a bank chairman, leading industrialists, and the cherry on the icing, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. (Olmert, it should be remembered, offered the Arabs almost everything they asked for, including over 95% of Judea and Samaria and East Jerusalem. One can only wonder what he was offered in return.)
Where does this leave us? It can leave one depressed. So I’d like to tell you a few stories which leave me feeling good, even in the midst of such grave moments.
Normally I don’t speak, or for that matter, write about money, especially about contributions or contributors. However, sometimes there are exceptions to the rule. A couple of years ago, prior to our expulsion from Beit HaShalom, I was in the US fundraising, and in particular, looking for money to heat that huge building during the freezing cold winter. I appeared on a TV show produced by an Israel-loving non-Jewish couple down in Midland, Texas. During the two hour show, we screened a short video I’d made of one of the families (one of my daughters) living in Beit HaShalom. A few weeks later our New York office received a check for $20,000 from a woman, a widow, who had seen the program.
When I called to thank her, she told me that she didn’t want the children in Beit HaShalom to be cold that winter, and sent in the check to help defray heating costs.
If that’s not heart-warming, I don’t know what is.
A while ago, the same couple who produces the TV show, brought a group into Hebron. One of the women had trouble walking, and we utilized a motorized wheelchair, donated to Hebron for just that purpose, to get her up the multitude of stairs into Ma’arat HaMachpela. A couple of weeks ago I received a letter from that woman, in which she writes:
“I wish to let you know that I am thinking of you all there in Hebron as we enter the Holocaust Remembrance Day. My thoughts and prayers are with you nearly every day. I pray for your courage, strength, and protection as you continue to stand firm on behalf of Eretz Israel and Hebron.
My the grace and mercy of HaShem be with you all, now and forever.
Signed: The lady with tour in Dec. who rode the motorized wheelchair up to Machpela. I will ever be grateful for that experience and blessing.”
That also makes me feel good.
But perhaps I reached the pinnacle of my present thoughts a couple of weeks ago.
I’ve given countless tours of Hebron over the past decade and a half. And of course, I’m not the only one showing Hebron to people around the world. Each one of us has a ‘style’ and/or ‘label’ attached to our excursion. My tours are considered ‘political’ as compared to those given by my friend and colleague Rabbi Simcha Hochbaum, who is known for his ‘spiritual tour of Hebron.’
But I guess you really never know what’s going to affect a person.
A couple of weeks ago I received a call from a fellow living in one of the nearby communities. He had some friends in from the States and wanted to show them Hebron. Fine, no problem. Expect that he told me that these people aren’t of the same political mold as we are; they’re a bit more left of center.
OK, that didn’t bother me either.
So, they came in and we did the tour. We had interesting discussions; it was clear to me that the gentleman was more ‘left’ than his wife, but not in the traditional sense of the word. He seemed to be very concerned about the future of the Jewish people and feared that the ‘road’ we, the ‘right’ were taking, would lead to catastrophe. We discussed the issue as much as time permitted, but of course, didn’t convince each other. But, clearly they had wanted, and received, and I think enjoyed, the type of ‘political tour’ I present in Hebron.
When at our last stop, at Ma’arat HaMachpela, after I’d finished speaking, a Chabad Rabbi from somewhere in the US approached them and started a conversation. At some point he asked them (they’re not orthodox-observant Jews) if they’d yet said Shema Yisrael that day. When they said no, he opened a prayer book and recited the ancient words of faith together with them.
Honestly I was very surprised that they agreed to pray with him, but stood from the side and watched. When they’d concluded, we left.
On the way down the stairs, my guest and I were talking about the Ma’ara, and he related how it made an impression on him, as, I think he described it as, ‘a historic memory of the Jewish people.’ I added that it is a living memory.
Then he exclaimed, ‘you know, I don’t think I’ve said a Shema Yisrael in at least twenty five years.’ I interjected, ‘and you had the privilege to recite it here, at Ma’arat HaMachpela in Hebron.’ And he finished, emanating something of an aura of awe, ‘yes, it really is.’
It sort of left me with a feeling that it’s all worthwhile. That’s what Hebron’s all about – bringing people together, of all faiths and religions, allowing them to return to their roots, bring them closer to their people and true faith.
It’s true, there are issues. But the essence, as projected and exemplified by Hebron, will keep us going all the time, even when it’s dark outside.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Destroying terrorists is not apartheid

Destroying terrorists is not apartheid
April 1, 2010
Many times people seem to bristle at the fact that Israeli soldiers patrol in Hebron and, horror of horrors, arrest Arabs. The caption on a photo on the Ha'aretz Homepage points to an article, says, "Border Police arrest Palestinian youth in Hebron on Monday. Akiva Eldar asks why Israeli actions against Arabs can't be called apartheid." []

Why? Very simple. In the past two days 4 Arabs armed with knives have been arrested at Ma'arat HaMachpela, all admitting that they intended to perpetrate a terror attack against soldiers or civilians. Is self-protection- self-defense apartheid? Or is it survival? <[br>

A little while ago I received the following news item on my beeper:
In Jerusalem police arrested three terrorists, all residents of Hebron, on their way to commit a stabbing attack. The three were arrested by the Jaffa Gate in a Fiat Uno, and raised suspicions of security personnel in the area. After an initial check it was discovered that they carried counterfeit identification papers and were carrying a knife with which they intended to perpetrate a terror attack against Jews. 

Is this arrest apartheid, or is it self-defense and survival?

A few days ago a young woman participating on a group tour with me in Hebron raised the following question: She asked how it could be possible that 'killing' could be allowed in Judaism; Judaism decries killed, she exclaimed. She was referring to wars that Israel has had to fight against our Arab enemies. 

After a short discussion I asked her in return: If I see someone chasing you with a knife, trying to kill you, and I, as a bystander, have the opportunity to kill him before he kills you, what is preferable- that I kill him or that he kill you?

She answered, of course, that I should kill him.

I rested my case. 

But sometimes self defense is not enough. You can never win a defensive war. It's said that the best defense is a good offense. Israel must take the offensive, not waiting until terrorists from Hebron reach Jaffa gate, or even the entrance to Ma'arat HaMachpela. Israel cannot wait to destroy murderers, such as the killers of Rabbi Meir Chai, until after they have attacked. Israel has to hit first, destroying the terrorists before the terrorists can harm even one hair of a Jew.

Arutz 7 reported tonite: Arutz Sheva has learned that the Shabak received highly dependable information that Subuh had gone back to terror activity after the fugitive “pardon.” The IDF therefore demanded that the PA, which is headed by Fatah, arrest him. The PA refused, apparently because Subuh belonged to a Fatah subgroup and not to rival Hamas. []

If Israel security forces knew, why didn't they take the necessary action, rather than expect Arabs to protect us. Putting our security in their hands is suicide. We've done it before, such as in 1929, such as Oslo, such as the Hebron Accords, such as Gush Katif - why don't we ever learn? Why did Rabbi Meir Chai have to pay with his life due to Israeli stupidity? Why didn't Israel act first to stop the terrorists?

Such acts are not apartheid - they are actions of a normal healthy country, protecting itself and its people from enemies, determined to destroy them. That is the responsibility of the state's leadership, leadership that Israel is sorely lacking.