Tuesday, September 29, 1998


ReturningErev Yom Kippur 5759
September 29, 1998

What is more appropriate to write about on the eve of the Day of Atonement than Tshuva - which literally means 'returning.' Of course there are many-faceted aspects of tshuva. Perhaps it begins with that of an individual, and his yearning to better his ways, while making up for the wrongs committed.
There is also the tshuva, or return, not of a private person, but that of a nation. Israel, as a people, is presently involved in a process of return - to our land, to our heritage, to our roots.
When pondering how to best depict these two processes I found an example which must be shared. The story is true - and I will use the Hebrew names of those involved, because just about everyone who knows them, knows them by their English names.
I met Akiva and Leah about two years ago, here in Hebron They had been approached by my colleague Judy Grossman, who asked them if they wanted to come and visit Hebron Their initial response was, "No, it's too dangerous. Anyway, we have plans to go visit the Golan on Tuesday, the day you are inviting us."
The next day they met two friends, who told them, "Have you been to Hebron? You have to go - you won't believe it until you see it!" So Akiva and Leah reconsidered and decided, "well, if they could do it, so can we." And they made reservations for our weekly tour, beginning in Jerusalem, on Monday of the next week. and toured Hebron with a busload of people.
On Monday night Akiva called Judy and asked her, "do you still have room for us on the tour you originally invited us to, tomorrow?" Judy was a little surprised, because she knew that they had visited Hebron that very day. "Weren't you in Hebron today - and besides which, you told me that tomorrow you are going to the Golan? "Yes," Akiva answered, we were in Hebron today and we want to go back tomorrow. We've already cancelled the trip to the Golan."
So, they came back again on Tuesday for another tour, and they came back for Shabbat, that same week. When Judy and I were in the US, Akiva took four days off from his very busy schedule to spend time with us in New York and then hosting us at his home for Shabbat. Whenever we have any kind of program in the NY area he drives for hours to assist us.
About six months ago Leah, who teaches young children in Hebrew in a day school, asked if she could come to Hebron for the summer, to help improve her own Hebrew. As a result, she and Akiva spent the entire summer in Hebron, as volunteers. Leah worked with children in the summer recreation program and Akiva provided assistance with tourists, he himself giving some tours, and speaking to visitors at Ma'arat HaMachpela about the importance of Hebron.
Leah and Akiva did not grow up 'religious.' Only after they were married, with children, did they 'discover' religious Judaism. Today Akiva is director of a major national Jewish organization, which is instrumental in keeping Jews Jewish.
This couple is, for me, an ideal model of tshuva, of returning, on all levels. They are Torah observant Jews, having made a decision that 'this is the way Jews should live' and serve as an example to hundreds, if not thousands of others. Their Shabbat table is regularly attended by many many people, some of whom barely know that they are Jewish.
But their tshuva is not only private. Their active involvement in Eretz Yisrael, and specifically in Hebron, is much more than individual tshuva. It is a higher plane of returning - for it is a return to our Land, and to our roots. What greater tshuva is there than to come back to our original homeland after a 2,000 year absence?
Akiva and Leah still live in the US but I know that shortly, with G-d's help, they will live here. Until then, I know where their hearts and souls are - they are here, together with us.
Akiva and Leah are two people - and they are special people. But they are also examples of thousands and thousands of others who help, each in his own way, to the return to Israel, to the return to Hebron. These are people who fulfill the precept of tshuva not only on Yom Kippur, rather every day of the year. May Akiva and Leah, together with all others in Beit Yisrael, be blessed with a Gmar Hatima tova - we should all be sealed in the book of life. May our tshuva should be accepted before the L-rd on this Holy Day.

Thursday, September 17, 1998

A New Year in Hebron

A New Year in Hebron
September 17, 1998

This New Year is going to be very special for me and my family. For the last
17 years we lived in Kiryat Arba. Moving to Kiryat Arba was one of the best
decisions my wife and I ever made. Arriving 2 weeks before the birth of our
second child, we never regretted bringing up our family in this wonderful
town, only five minutes from Ma'arat HaMachpela and the center of Hebron. In
spite of the negative image portrayed by the media, Kiryat Arba is a
fabulous place to raise children. The atmosphere is generally relaxed, the
educational facilities excellent, and the people second to none.
However, a few weeks ago, we decided to move. There was a vacancy in Hebron.
One of the families, due to a job opportunity, had to leave. My wife and I
talked about possibly moving in. We discussed it for a while and hadn't yet
made up our minds. But then the unthinkable happened: an Arab terrorist
climbed into the bedroom window of Rabbi Shlomo Ra'anan in Tel Rumeida and
murdered him. The day after his funeral I said to my wife, "That's it - we
have to move in, and the sooner the better." Actually I wanted to make the
move during the shiva, but for technical reasons that wasn't possible. But
soon after that we were setting up house in our new apartment in Beit
A few of our friends looked at us as if we were crazy. A gentile
correspondent who interviewed me a few days ago commented, "either you are a
little crazy, or very, very spiritual."
Why make such a move? The answer is very simple. This is the only answer to
Arab terrorism. Their goal is to push us out of Hebron, and not only Hebron.
Also, out of Haifa, Tel Aviv, and of course, Jerusalem. They will use all
means at their disposal, including political and psychological pressure,
violence, and even murder. In 1929 the massacre which left 67 dead led to
the swift removal of the surviving Jewish residents by the British. They
want us out again. So we have to do the opposite, which is, to move in. Of
course one family is not enough. We must bring in hundreds and thousands
more people to live in the City of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. And
eventually we will. At the moment we have a slight problem with space.
Unfortunately we haven't been able to build in years and all our apartments
are full. But soon this will change. Beit Nahum v'Yehuda will be finished
within a year. A new building, Beit HaShisha should also be ready for
occupancy during the next 12 months. And the Prime Minister himself promised
us real houses, to replace the caravans in the Admot Yishai-Tel Rumeida
neighborhood, including a doubling of the population there. With G-d's help
and a lot of hard work, we should soon see a real growth of Hebron's Jewish
So, for our family, it is this year in Hebron. This is our way of
memorializing the memory of Rabbi Ra'anan. This is the true Zionist solution
to Arab terrorism. And I have no doubt that living here, only minutes from
the 2nd holiest site to the Jewish people, is a truly spiritual experience.
I invite you to be my personal guest in Hebron the next time you visit Eretz
Yisrael. You too can be a part of the Zionist response to those who wish to
eradicate a Jewish presence in Hebron, and in all of Israel.
On behalf of myself, Judy Grossman, Noam Arnon Rabbi Yitzhak Pechman, Dr.
Dov Stern, and the entire Jewish Community of Hebron, please accept our
blessings for a happy, healthy, sweet and truly peaceful New Year from