Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Hebron Triple-header

Tammuz 24, 5770, 7/6/2010

A Hebron Triple-header

Yesterday was a triple-header. Three very different games.

Sometime in the afternoon I discovered an item on the internet which, on one hand sent shivers down my spine, yet on the other hand seemed quite fitting for the days and weeks of mourning approaching the 9th of Av. The internet item sent me to an article in the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot. There I read about the former commander of the Judean region, Col. Udi Ben-Mocha, who concluded his two year stint in Hebron a couple of months ago.
Commander of the Hebron Brigade is considered to be a very prestigious job, and also very stressing. It is also one of the key positions needed in order to achieve major advancement in the IDF. For example, two of the leading candidates to replace the present Chief of Staff of the IDF are former Hebron commanders.

It is quite normal for commanders, following the completion of their duty in Hebron, to be given a year of study at some important university outside of Israel. Ben-Mocha chose to spend his year, with his family, in London. According to the news accounts, his bags were packed and they were ready to take off. Except that at the last moment the IDF’s top brass decided to put the brakes on the colonel’s plans, and cancelled them. Why? Because they feared that following Colonel Ben-Mocha’s arrival in Great Britain he would be arrested and charged with war crimes.

What a disgrace! The ‘mighty’ state of Israel, and a leading officer in the IDF have to ‘fear’ left-wing, Arab activists, who might file charges leading to arrest, trial and G-d forbid, imprisonment in a foreign country. It’s a good thing that David lived 3,000 years ago and not today, for if he had his battle with Goliath occurred at now, well, it probably never would have happened. Israelite commanders would never have allowed him to enter battle, fearing the international repercussions if he happened to be victorious. It wouldn’t have made any difference that his victory saved the kingdom; rather, the international arrest warrant issued via Interpol would have taken precedence.
This guy, former naval commando, could be convicted for one reason only: According to British courts, an Israeli officer is, by definition, a war criminal. But then, I guess he’s in good company. MK Tzippy Livni and former chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon also had to cancel trips for the identical reason. The big question is, when will Israel put a stop to such humiliation, by, for example, threatening to arrest various English diplomats and businessmen in Israel, should our representatives there be put in the dock.

Well, that was the first event of my triple-header. The second was much happier and pleasant.

A few weeks ago, during one of my tours, a young man approached me, introduced himself as one of the group leaders and told me that in a couple of weeks he was bringing a Birthright group into Hebron – would I be interested in meeting them?

Would I be interested in meeting them? Birthright? Taglit? I looked at him as if he’d just arrived from the moon. Why such enthusiasm? Simple. Birthright’s been around now for a long time, and they’d yet to send a group into the city of the Forefathers.

But wait, what is Birthright – Taglit. Maybe some of you are unaware. The program was initiated about 15 years ago, and originally funded by Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt, along with the Jewish Agency. The idea of the program was simple: get Jewish kids to Israel. Well over 200,000 people from over 50 countries have already participated. Just about all costs are covered.

The program has two names: Birthright, which is fairly self-explanatory. The Jewish people’s birthright is Israel. Nothing could be clearer.

What is then, Taglit? Taglit is the Hebrew expression used, but it does not literally mean birthright or roots. Rather, it means revelation. In Hebrew, l’galot, means to reveal – hence Taglit is revelation. And what a revelation it is. People who barely knew they were Jewish leave Israel after 10 days to two weeks with an added neshama – a new soul, (as it is written, a person who walks 2 meters in Eretz Yisrael is bestowed with a new soul (neshama, in Hebrew). And this new soul, much purer and holy than that that preceded it, leaves a real mark.

And even without being so spiritual, seeing Israel, feeling Jerusalem, experiencing the Jewish homeland, walking Eretz Yisrael, it’s a real eye-opener. I know. I remember. I went through it to. Not on ‘birthright’ – but it makes no difference. Israel has an effect on people. I never intended on living in Israel, being ‘religious,’ on marrying an Israeli and living in a place like Hebron. But here I am, 35 years later. Probably not all these kids with come back, but, you never know.
The group I had yesterday really was a first – the first time an ‘official’ birthright mission has come into Hebron. The kids were all from Australia, we didn’t have a lot of time, and they visited only Ma’arat HaMachpela, the Tomb of the Patriarchs, but they were sure impressed and I’m sure it was a couple of hours they’ll never forget. Not because of me – rather because of the impression that Hebron, and such a magnificent and significant site as Machpela leaves on a person. I was ecstatic that birthright finally made its way to its own real birthright, and certainly hope this will lead to continued visits, allowing others to reveal the inner essence of their beings, here with Abraham and Sarah.

Their visit made my day. I spoke with some of the people on the group, saw the sparkle in their eyes, the radiance of youth soaking up a heritage they never knew existed. It was a wonderful time, and I really look forward to meeting other such groups.

So, that was my second part of our triple header.
Part three

After evening prayers I attended a short memorial program in Kiryat Arba for Rav Mordechai Eliyahu zt”l, the former Chief Rabbi who passed away a month ago. Rav Eliyahu was truly a holy man, a spiritual giant who walked among us. That’s important, because he didn’t walk above us, he walked with us.
Stories about this righteous man have floated around for years, but since he died, they’ve multiplied. This past Shabbat his son, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu wrote how his father prevented a couple from divorcing because of some stupidity. In order to make a point, the Rabbi had his secretary throw rotten fruit at him! But it worked. The couple lived happily ever after.

At the event last night four people spoke, including Hebron’s Noam Arnon. Noam told briefly about the Rabbi’s attachment to Hebron and his undivided assistance, whenever it was needed, at any time of the day or night. Rav Eliyahu frequented Hebron, participating in numerous public events, but also worked behind the scenes, assuring continued progress in all phases of Hebron’s communal life.

The first event was downright maddening.
The second was overtly uplifting.
And the third, profound.

So was yesterday’s triple-header in Hebron.

Today was quiet. We had only one guest – the Rebbe from Alexander – a Hasidic leader who is related to Menucha Rachel Slonim, granddaughter of the founder of Chabad, who is buried here in Hebron. 
And who knows what tomorrow will bring!
With blessings from Hebron.

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