Sunday, January 30, 2011

Rooting for a roof!

I know it may seem difficult to fathom, but there are certain elements of life in Hebron that have nothing to do with politics. At least, they shouldn’t.
For example, Tel Hebron. This site was called, by a preeminent archeologist, the second most important archeological site in Israel, after Jerusalem. Excavations in the middle 1960s, during the Jordanian occupation, revealed on the southern tip of the tel, ancient walls over 4,000 years old. Dr. Avi Ofer, during middle 1980s, discovered a shard dating to the pre-Abraham era, with a list of animals written on it. During the latest dig, in the late 1990s, archeologist Emmanuel Eisenberg uncovered 2,700 year old ‘lemelech’ (‘to the King’) seals, with the word Hebron, in ancient Hebrew, inscribed on them. This, in addition to a house constructed during the days of King Hezekiah, and two walls, one of which was built during the days of Abraham and Sarah.

Such a site, anywhere else in the world, would be classified as a national treasure, and related to appropriately. In other words, the government would invest funds to beautify the area and insure its well-being, while encouraging tens and hundreds of thousands of people to visit each year.

Imagine bringing a third-grader to ‘the house where Abraham lived,’ or to the burial place of Ruth the Moabite. (This place, at the height of the tel, is traditionally also the tomb of Jesse, King David’s father.) What could be more impressive than standing on 4,000 year old stairs, leading to the gates of the city of Hebron, with a foreign diplomat, explaining to him that ‘this is not only the roots of Judaism, it is also the roots of all of monotheism.’

I have declared this to thousands of people touring this wondrous area, and never cease to be amazed at my own words. And also at the expression of the faces of those I’m speaking to. Jaws literally drop.

But it’s the truth, and the truth has to be told. The real question is, does anyone listen? I’ve taken countless journalists to this site, yet almost none of them have seen fit to include such a precious parcel of history in their articles. History is not political, but such an expose just might be taken the wrong way, proving the fact that Hebron really does have Jewish roots.

So, ignored it is. Even by our own. Our own journalists, politicians, and anyone else of any importance.

And what about Ma’arat HaMachpela, the tombs of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs? It took a bit of ‘pushing and shoving’ until the Prime Minister was convinced that this site is really of national importance and should be included on the list of national heritage sites.

However, Netanyahu isn’t the only one who was persuaded to relate seriously to Machpela. According to recently received statistics, last year over 700,000 people visited the so-called ‘Jewish side’ of this holy monument. That is quite a lot of company. The number continues to climb and it won’t be long before we pass the one million mark.

But what do people see when they arrive at Machpela. Climbing the stairs and entering this massive 2,000 year old structure, visitors find themselves standing under a canvas awning in the building’s mains courtyard. Not a roof, rather a tarpaulin. This covering, a poor attempt to protect visitors and worshipers from the elements, hasn’t been cleaned in years. A filthy, water-creased tent-like structure adorns the second holiest place to the Jewish people in all the world.

In one word, this can be described as disgusting. An additional word is disgraceful. Is this the wys to commemorate our nation’s founders: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah?

For about a decade Hebron community leaders have been trying to convince the ‘powers that be’ to remove the awning and replace it with a high-quality roof, as would be befitting of such a national monument. To no avail. Despite hundreds of thousands of annual visitors, of all races and religions, a roof is too political. A potato much too hot to touch.

A few weeks ago, when finally on Shabbat, thank G-d, rain began to fall, water dripped down from the canvas covering onto a Torah scroll. The Torah reading was stopped and the scroll immediately moved. Last night, as a result of heavy winds and rain, the roof finally caved in, falling to the ground, leaving a gaping hole, and a great view of the sky above. And rain falling on worshiper’s heads.

Isn’t it time to stop playing politics with our national treasures and bring an end to such humiliation?! This solution is not to replace the old canvas with a new one. The time has finally come to take the giant step and authorize a real roof atop Ma’arat HaMachpela.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Provisional death certificates

Provisional death certificates

There’s a person I know with serious medical issues. He’s undergoing various treatments, which may, or may not succeed in healing him. The therapy is exceedingly difficult, and the doctors, despite their continuing efforts, are not optimistic. A few days ago a senior medical staff member at the hospital had a meeting with the patient’s family. The conversation went something like this:
Professor: Your loved one isn’t in very good shape. We’ll continue to treat him, but chances of recovery are very small. In cases like this we have a standard procedure which can help to lessen your pain.

Family member: We certainly expect that you haven’t given up hope. The medication may still prove to be effective, we continue to pray, and miracles do happen.

Professor: True, but in this profession one learns to expect the worst. Therefore we have conducted major research projects attempting to discover ways to ease your suffering.

Family member: Our suffering? Shouldn’t you be concentrating on the patient?

Professer: Yes, umm, well, we work in several different directions simultaneously.

Family member: OK, I’m not sure that this is really necessary, but what do you suggest? Tranquilizers?

Professor: No, just this.

With that, the professor removed a document from an envelope he’d been gripping and handed it to the family member.
Reminiscent of a college diploma, the paper was titled, ‘Provisional Death Certificate,’ and showed the ill person’s full name, date of birth and an date of death. It was signed by the chief doctor, the Professor and the hospital CEO.
Reading the document, the family member sunk into a nearby chair, paled, and began shaking and crying.

Professor: Ah ha, you see, this is exactly the reaction we expect. All the signs of initial grief. Having already gone through this now, it will be much easier for you when the event actually happens. You will then receive the same certificate, only then it will not be titled ‘provisional,’ and the date will, of course, be changed. You understand that this way, later on, it won’t hurt so much.

Family member: (gasping and stuttering) You aren’t trying to heal him; you’re preparing him for death! That’s not your job. You are supposed to emanate life, not discharge death!
The Prime Minister: We are providing life; a world-to-come, a new life for us and our neighbors. We are creating life, a new state, with provisional borders.
The Jewish people: But these provisional borders are nothing less than a death trap, perpetrated to ensnare us unaware, and then bury the Jewish state of Israel.

PM: I am doing what is provisionally best for the state.

Jewish people: So said your predecessor prior to abandonment of Gush Katif. Since then, hundreds still unemployed, without permanent housing, and thousands of rockets blasted into Israel from the very land we gave them! Again, you will repeat that same mistake again?!
(The Prime Minister glancing behind him, where he sees Olmert, Livni, and Obama cheering him on.)

PM: (taking a deep breath) Ah, well, Gush Katif was an excellent practice session in preparation for the next stage, provisional borders of a new Arab state. And these temporary boundaries are the concluding plans prior to the final solution; just think, following these experiences, perhaps it won’t hurt so much…..
Professor: Easy now, just fill in the blanks – Provisional Death Certificate Name- The State of Israel; Born- May, 1948; Provisional death- Creation of the provisional palestinian state bordering Israel. (Final date to be filled in upon absolute ceasing to exist). ROP (Ruins of Provisionality)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Righteous Man - Herb Zweibon z

A Righteous Man - Herb Zweibon z"l (of blessed memory)

I don't think that by chance Herb died on Tu BeShavat, known as the holiday of trees, and also the holiday of Eretz Yisrael
Early this afternoon I had a few minutes before leaving the office to photograph kids planting trees and bushes here in Hebron. An envelope had been sitting on my desk for a couple of days and finally I had a chance to open it.
It contained the monthly edition of OUTPOST, a magazine published by AFSI - Americans for a Safe Israel.

AFSI is one of those rare organizations which I can define as pure. Really pure. Without any hidden agendas, without any need or desire for anything for itself. Their only concern is the welfare of Israel. And AFSI's Israel includes places like Hebron, Kiryat Arba, Beit El, Shilo and Gush Katif. I've had contact with AFSI since beginning work in Hebron, about 17 years.

Seeing OUTPOST's headline, earlier today, took me back a year or so ago. The organization's founder and chairman, my friend Herb Zweibon, a true Jewish patriot, decided to boost one of his favorite subjects. Via AFSI, he sponsored a national contest for Israeli school children, dealing with Zeev Jabotinsky.

Being extremely aware of Jabotinsky's importance and significance, and knowing that certain elements of Jewish history have ways of 'getting lost,' Herb initiated an essay contest, offering monetary prizes for the best works written about Jabotinsky, who died exactly 70 years ago. A month or so ago the prizes were awarded at a prestigious ceremony in the Knesset, which included participation by Knesset speaker Rubi Rivlin and Education minister Gideon Saar.

Looking at the article I felt a real emotional tug: Here is a man who doesn't just talk about his beliefs, but actually does something about them. Of course, this is not new to AFSI - this is what they've been doing for years. But this event, perhaps more than any other, bringing Jewish heritage to Israeli children and youth, who otherwise might never know who Zeev Jabotinsky was, is more than just impressive. It's an action worth saluting.

A few hours later, sitting at a friend's in Kiryat Arba, participating in small celebration, I opened my email to check the latest arrivals. And there, to my shock and surprise, I read an article, just posted, in memory of Herb Zweibon. I sort of had to pinch myself. But there it was. Last night, after a short illness, Herb suddenly passed away. Despite the happiness of where I was, an overwhelming sadness enveloped me. It's difficult to think of Herb in the past.

Herb Zweibon z"l, third from left at Beit HaShalom. To Herb's left, Tzafrir Ronen z"l.

Every time he visited Israel, for as many years as I can remember, Herb came into Hebron. He brought friends with him, and insisted on taking a tour of the city, places he'd seen dozens of times. We walked to different sites even though his legs weren't in great shape; he refused to give it up. We would sit and discuss current events, he praised the good while trying to find solutions to the problems.

Herb was here a couple of months ago. When he called, I already had another group planned for that day, and asked Noam Arnon to spend a couple of hours with him and his friends. I'm very sorry I missed him that day.

Herb was also very generous. When times were difficult and others, facing financial difficulties, had no choice but to cut back, Herb's generosity continued, as if the monetary problems did not exist.

Herb's love for Israel, for the state of Israel, for Eretz Yisrael, knew no limits. And he worked tirelessly to help Israel as much as he possibly could. AFSI is the embodiment of his love, concern and action, and as I wrote above, it is truly a 'pure' organization. Herb looked for nothing for himself, only for Israel.

I don't think that by chance Herb died on Tu BeShavat, known as the holiday of trees, and also the holiday of Eretz Yisrael. The roots of the trees he planted for Israel run deep into the holy ground he so loved and will undoubtedly bear fruit for decades to come. Herb was a righteous man, and he will be sorely missed. I haven't met many people like him, and consider it an honor to call him a friend. On behalf of the entire Hebron Jewish Community and the Hebron Fund, I wish to offer condolences to Herb's wife of 58 years, Sheila, to his children and grandchildren, and to all the AFSI staff, who too, will feel his loss as creating an irreplaceable vacuum.

I'm sure that Herb Zweibon, where he is now, will continue to work for Israel, on a much higher plane. May his memory be blessed.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Machpela miracles

Tevet 27, 5771, 1/3/2011

Machpela miracles

Over the past month, what I would consider to be three miracles have occurred in Hebron. I’d like to relate them.
The first happened on the last night of Hanukkah. Every night, at Ma’arat HaMachpela, someone was honored to
This is the aura of Hebron, the spirit of Machpela, the Divine essence of this holy city.
 light the Menorah. On the first night, the special guest was Knesset speaker Rubi Rueven Rivlin. On the last night, one of the army units serving in Hebron for five months was asked to attend the ceremony and have one of the officers do the honors.
After the group arrived and received a short introductory tour inside, one of the officers, a company commander with the rank of captain, stepped forward and said that he wished to light the candles. He told the people there that this was the first time he had ever visited Ma’arat HaMachpela. In addition, he said, coming from a secular background, he’d never before lit Hanukkah candles. Therefore, on this very special occasion, marking his first time at Machpela, he requested the honor and privilege of lighting the candles.
With genuine joy radiating from his face, he lit the eight candles and repeated three blessings. The first two are recited every night, for the mitzvah (commandment) of the lighting, and for the miracle that had occurred. But the third blessing was extraordinary:  thanking G-d for have kept him alive, for sustaining him, and for having brought him to this special moment.
It was a moment of tremendous spiritual uplifting.
The second miracle happened a couple of weeks later. By way of introduction: Hebron is plagued by numerous foreign organizations who flock to the city to help the Arabs, while simultaneously inciting against the Jewish community.
One afternoon two people visited my office, a male photographer and an older woman with him. She introduced herself as a research student at a university in Sweden, and was looking for information about Hebron. I queried as to exactly what she was researching and she replied that she needed facts about the pre-1929 Hebron Jewish community.
I decided to introduce her to my colleague Noam Arnon, who is more of an expert on this subject than I. They made an appointment to meet and a few days later she showed up at the office and sat with him for a couple of hours. After she had left I asked him how the session had gone. His answer was astounding.
Noam told me that actually this woman belonged to one of the foreign organizations in Hebron, caring for the Arab population. She had a feeling that perhaps it would be beneficial to speak also with the Jews in the city, but her superiors refused. So she decided to take matters into her own hands and made an appointment with us. After questioning Noam and hearing his responses, she literally had tears in her eyes. She said that there was, somewhere in her family, Jewish blood, and that his answers supported her inner feelings that in Hebron, the conflict between the Jews and Arabs contains more than meets the eye. She left our office telling him how important it had been for them to speak.
A few days later I met this woman at Ma’arat HaMachpela. It was difficult for her to speak, her voice choked and she seemed to fight tears. She thanked me so much for introducing her to Noam and for taking the time to speak with her.  When I offered to sit with her again she said that, unfortunately, she was leaving Israel that night, but was so happy that she had had the opportunity to meet with us and hear the other side of the story. When we parted she returned to offer a few more prayers near the memorial for Abraham and Sarah.
The third event occurred about a week ago. An American producer came in to interview me for a new movie. He was accompanied by three Israelis: a videographer, an audio man, and a third, younger person, driving and helping out. He seemed to be extremely tense. While driving into Hebron, calling me for instructions, he exclaimed, “I don’t believe I’m really here.” Later he declared that the group had to be out of the area before nightfall because, ‘Life is good to me, I like my life.’ In other words, ‘it’s much too dangerous to be here.’
The group had arrived late and the interview and tour lasted for a couple of hours, more that they’d intended. At about four thirty, outside Machpela, I told them that I had to go pray afternoon and evening prayers. When they asked if they could join me, I agreed and they followed me upstairs. Arriving, this younger man, never having been in Hebron or Machpela, searched out the Abraham room, and literally fell on the grating of the Abraham memorial, as if pasting himself to it. I had trouble believing that this was the same individual who was so uptight only a few hours ago. Also, it should be kept in mind that he is not religiously observant. But inside Machpela, he seemed to be in a trance.
Later, as they were leaving, he told me that, ‘I have to start coming here to Hebron.’ The next day, calling me, he told me that he wanted to bring a busload of friends into Hebron too.
This is the aura of Hebron, the spirit of Machpela, the Divine essence of this holy city. A couple of hours, a short tour, a conversation or two can and has changed people’s lives. We witness such occurrences all the time. Jews, non-Jews, people from all over the world.  Literally, Machpela miracles.