Saturday, August 21, 2010
A couple of months ago I had a little shouting match with some of the border police next to Ma'arat HaMachpela, the tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. After a little while - when we had reached a dead-end - one of the regular police, a little older than the others, came over put an arm around my shoulders, pulled me over to the side and explained to me why I was wrong and they were right. I listened, and finally acquiesced to their demands, and the issue came to an end.
This might sound fairly normal and logical, but then again, it must be remembered that this is Hebron. Had the same incident occurred seven or eight years ago, I am sure the ending would have been quite different. The relationship between police and civilians in this holy city was very different. Back then if a police officer approached me, it would not have been to put an arm around my shoulder, it would have been to handcuff, arrest, and start legal proceedings against me - and who knows what else.
However, things have changed. That's not to say that we live in utopia, but at present I certainly do not look at our local police force as enemies. I can truthfully say that I consider some of the police officers to be friends - and to a great degree, the emotions are mutual. Last week a policeman called me a Tzaddik (righteous person). Now, I bear witness that I'm surely not righteous, but hearing those words from a policeman in Hebron left me with the impression that we really are approaching the days of the Messiah!
It should be kept in mind that such episodes cannot be taken for granted. Not too long ago the relationship between police and Hebron citizens could easily have been defined as something similar to open warfare. The police were used as an extended arm of the Israeli political system, and utilized to victimize, oppress and even terrorize us. It wasn't enough that the community had to deal with Arab terror and leftist harassment. Every once in a while, while looking back through photos eight and nine years old, it's difficult to believe that we really had to deal with such brutality. And of course, people in the community didn't 'turn the other cheek,' causing major confrontations, which were quite messy, to say the least.
A few years ago, as the political scene began to change, so did the people comprising Hebron's police force. Honestly, I was very surprised and to be honest, very suspicious. But over a period of time it became clear that somewhere, someone decided to attempt to change the rancid atmosphere which poisoned the relationship between the police and Hebron's Jewish population. And I can quite happily say that for the most part, it has worked.
For example, yesterday afternoon, Hebron's police sponsored a 'Police-Community Day.' True, not all the kids attended; it was very hot, some were on vacation, and others still have trouble digesting the fact that the police are not out to get us. But a nice group did show up, and enjoyed a fascinating exhibit of police dogs in action, were able to play-drive in a police car (complete with siren -every boy's dream), wear a police vest, carry around a police baton and receive a police hat.
I know this might not sound like much, but to even attempt to carry out such a program in Hebron would once have been thought of as something out of 'Alice in Wonderland.' But it did happen, and I enjoyed it very much.
Alas, innocence is a thing of the past. I'm very well aware that conflict can still arise. So what? Tension between police and civilians is not exclusive to Hebron. It's fairly common all over the world. In Hebron we face, frequently, unique situations which are liable to cause friction between the people in blue uniforms and the civilians. But today, I know that I'm dealing with normal, rational people who are not looking to break our bones because we're Jews living in Hebron - and that's very very important. I can only hope and pray that such a rapport continues, because it makes life much more pleasant and relaxed when you know that the policeman walking down the street really is a nice guy.
(See more photos and video at: http://www.hebron.com/english/gallery.php?id=361)
Friday, August 6, 2010
Av 25, 5770, 8/5/2010
I’d already spent two years in Israel when I came back officially as an Oleh Hadash, a new Israeli immigrant. I remember it fairly well. January, 1978. Having finished university and done a stint on Kibbutz, the time had come to get serious.
The plane landed sometime in the early evening. I was by myself, had no family here, but a few friends. They probably knew I was coming back, but waited for my call.
Of course, coming over as an Israeli meant that I had to ‘go through the mill.’ Actually it wasn’t too bad. The normal filling in forms in the airport office of the ministry of immigration, and then waiting for the free ride to my choice of destination. I do recall raising my voice as the hours marched on, but was told, ‘savlanut, savlanut’ (which means patience). I didn’t have much choice. My Hebrew wasn’t non-existent, but certainly not good enough to express myself in any great detail.
Finally, riding in some kind of truck, I made it to a dormitory in Talpiot, Jerusalem sometime after midnight. The gate was locked and it took some time until the building’s Russian guard finally heard the doorbell and let me in. The housemother showed me to my room, where my new roomate was rudely awakened in the early hours of the morning. Eventually he forgave me and is today a friend living in nearby Kiryat Arba.
That was how it began. No bells or whistles, but an inner sense of pride - ‘Here I am, now I’m an Israeli.’ It was a good feeling.
Yesterday I ‘made Aliyah’ all over again.
We had friends who were coming over on the Nefesh b’Nefesh flight, bringing some 230 new Israelis to our homeland from North America. The Abrams family, from Atlantic City, New Jersey, were finally coming home.
This flight over was far from their first. The family has been visiting Israel for at least one month every summer for over ten years. A few years ago they almost made it a permanent stay, but were held up at the last minute. The real hero of the family are not the parents, rather their oldest daughter, Elana, who decided that Atlantic City really wasn’t the place for a ‘good Jewish girl’ to go to high school. So a few years she left the US for Israel, on her own, to attend a women’s school in Bnei Brak. She came to visit us in Hebron every now and again; we tried to ease her way as much as we could. But in reality, her success was her own. A month ago she finished, Bagrut (graduation examinations) and all, and is planning, a year from now, to begin medical school here in Israel.
Standard studies weren’t enough of a challenge, so Elana also volunteered with Magen David Adom, and rode around in ambulances in the middle of the night assisting people who needed help. When that wasn’t keeping her busy she starred on her school’s basketball team.
In about a month Elana will begin her ‘Shnat Sherut,’ a year of volunteer work religious women undertake in place of army duty. She will be continuing her work with Magen David Adom and emergency aid, based in Kiryat Arba.
And during her free time she’ll be helping her parents and siblings adjust to their new lives in Jerusalem.
A month or so ago my daughter, who’s just a year older than Elana, received an invitation to greet the family at Ben Gurion airport upon arrival of the Nefesh b’Nefesh flight. The plane was supposed to land at about 7:30 AM, and invited guests had to be there by 6:45. That meant we’d have to leave the house at about 5:00. A little early for me. But at the last minute we decided to go.
It didn’t take too long until the Terminal 1 hall was packed with others just like us, waiting to welcome the new Israelis. Having a press pass, I was able to wait only meters away from the shuttle buses transporting the people from the plane to the airport. About thirty Israeli soldiers in dress uniform lined the walkway, with live music creating an authentic holiday atmosphere. When the first bus pulled up they began playing ‘Hevenu Shalom Alechem’ with hundreds of people waving Israeli flags, singing and cheering. As the passengers stepped off the bus, they seemed to be stunned.
There were young and old, singles and families of six and seven children. One group included a four generation family. Among the arrivals were eighty five youth who will be inducted into the army in a couple of weeks. From five months to ninty four years old, all coming to live in Israel. The expressions on these people’s faces left little need for words - they could not believe the reception they were receiving, as they took their first steps as Israelis.
My friends were on one of the last shuttles arriving at the terminal. I’d been filming video and photos of the festivities, but when I saw Ken and the others step off the bus I couldn’t really control myself. I ran over to him, grabbed his hands and started dancing, around and around and around.
Earlier in the morning I’d interviewed an NBN member, who told me that whenever he participated in these events, he had tears in his eyes. Well, he wasn’t the only one.
Finally, with everyone in the hall, a beautiful ceremony commenced, which included a speech by President Shimon Peres and a performance by Israeli singer Rami Kleinstein. But the ‘stars of the show,’ as far as I’m concerned, were Rabbi Yehoshua Fass and Mr. Tony Gelbart, who initiated Nefesh b’Nefesh less than a decade ago, and have, so far, brought over 25,000 new Israelis to Israel.
Watching the event, I could only look back and remember my Aliyah experience over thirty years ago, put myself in these people’s shoes, and say to myself, “Welcome to Israel.”
Photos and video at: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Blogs/Message.aspx/4309