Thursday, December 29, 2011

Turning up the lights: Hanukkah in Hebron

It’s happened to me three times in the past few weeks. Once, while giving a tour, in the middle of a suspense story, the next time at a Brit, a baby’s circumcision, and two days ago, during a candle-lighting ceremony; all at Ma’arat HaMachpela, the tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.

More Hanukkah in Hebron here - Videos and photos
On the second night of Hanukkah we had a double candle-lighting ceremony. The first, at six o’clock, was with the police. Hebron police commander, Itzik Rachamim, together with some officers and police, were listening to Rabbi Hillel Horowitz speak about the eternal elements of Hanukkah.  Then, as he mentioned the great miracle, the great blessing and the lights of Hanukkah, which still shine upon us today: Allah HuAchbar. The muezzin began his call to prayer, with the loudspeakers facing into the Machpela courtyard, drowning out whatever anyone might try to say. Rather than begin lighting the Hanukkah menorah, the gathered crowd began singing and dancing to Eli Gilboa’s accordion music, in an attempt to prevent having to listen to the noise being projected by the Arab muezzin.


Time and time again we face this disgrace. I have no problem with them praying amongst themselves, but why do we have to suffer their public worship, at least five times a day, beginning at about five in the morning, through late at night. In a city such as Hebron, the noise levels are multiplied, as the various mosques, all equipped with modern audio equipment, blast out the Arabic words, not necessarily synched. So we get it in quadraphonic plus. Not what I call music to my ears.

Having the Hanukkah ceremony delayed, a ceremony representing the lights of Judaism, rejecting foreign cultures attempting to destroy our own, at Machpela, in Hebron, by Islamic prayer, is more than a simple disgrace. It is humiliating. After we were prevented from entering into and praying at this so holy a site for 700 years, now we must hear that noise, at decibel levels  way above the norm, as we celebrate Hanukkah, or a Brit, or a regular prayer service? It makes no sense.

On the other hand, that aside, Hanukkah in Hebron is really quite special.  There are numerous candle-lightings. At Machpela, in the Avraham Avinu synagogue, and of course, the famous event on the very top of the Abu-Sneneh Hill, overlooking Hebron, sponsored by my good friend Rabbi Danny Cohen and Chabad.


The night of the above-mentioned shame also had some bright spots. After the noise ended and the candles were lit, Commander Rachamim spoke, saying things some people might not necessarily expect to hear from a senior ranking police officer, especially in Hebron.

"The police and officers of the Hebron serve in this holy place with a sense of challenge and purpose.
And as the dear  Rabbi said, we light the candles "to see them only,"  first of all when we see them, I have a wish that the Israeli police here in Hebron together with the army and the Shin Bet and the organizations and the communities and all elements of security and settlement, and the rabbis and community leaders, that G-d will enlighten our path every day this year allowing personal safety for residents, quality of life and dwell only on projects will enhance the unity of Israel and the whole country (Shelmut HaAretz).  And the vision of serving in a Holy place like this, our ultimate goal is not only Jews in the Diaspora will come to visit the Cave of the Patriarchs, but even the citizens of Israel will all come in droves to visit this holy place. We fully identify with the importance of this place which is Israel's foundation.

So thank you and I thank everyone for the opportunity you gave us light Hanukkah candles on the second night of Hanukkah and everyone should have a happy holiday."

We do not always agree with the police, with everything they say and do. But Commander Yitzik Rachamim’s words, as opposed to the noise of the muezzin, are music to my ears.

A little later, Hebron’s military Commander, Col. Guy Hazzut lit candles also at the Ma’ara. Much is made of the negative attitudes and behaviors towards the army, be it in Hebron or elsewhere. For that reason, I think it imperative that all watch the greeting Col Hazzut received at Machpela, by Hebron residents and students from the Shavei Hevron Yeshiva. The video and photos speak for themselves.

Finally, last night, I attended a ceremony at ‘Havat Yehuda,’ a few minutes out of the center of Hebron, on the road to Kiryat Arba. It was at this site that Asher Palmer, and his baby son Yonaton were murdered by Arab terrorists a few months ago.  It has since been discovered that that area is the site of an ancient Jewish village, and attempts are being made to renovate the place and bring visitors there, to see the ancient wonders of Judea. A bus-load of people attended in the cold but clear Hebron air, together with Hebron-Kiryat Arba Chief Rabbi Dov Lior, who lit three lights, on the side of the road, publicizing the miracle of Hanukkah to all who drove by. Also attending were Michael and Mollie Palmer, who lost their son and grandson in the murderous attack. Additionally, Noam Arnon spoke about the historical importance of the area, only a short distance from where the Maccabees fought for Jewish independence from the Greeks, some 2,300 years ago.


At present, we still must fight, for our identity and for our right to live freely in our land. There are those who would still take both from us. Judah the Maccabee was a warrior, but he also realized the significance of the spiritual side of our people. He fought and killed, and also lit the lights of the Menorah in the Holy Temple.  Those lights, even though they seem to have dimmed, are still shining. We need only open our eyes and our souls in order to absorb them.  There are those who have opened themselves up to this light, as we heard in the words of Yitzik Rachamim. It's called, turning up the lights. That’s what Hanukkah is all about.

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