Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Shabbat Chayei Sarah: V'Shavu Banim L'Gvulam

Shabbat Chayei Sarah: V'Shavu Banim L'Gvulam
Friday afternoon, a few hours before Shabbat, Shabbat Hebron, what we call Chayei Sarah, I wandered into the Avraham Avinu neighborhood. It was difficult to drive into the parking area, which was a huge maze of cars. I left mine near the street and walking around, bumped into what would be called in another place, a 'homeless' zone. Tents all over the place. Tables were set up with hot-water urns and food-heating platters. I bumped into a few kids, turned on the video and asked where they're from. "Migdal.'

Migdal is all the way up north.

Why? "Shabbat Chayei Sarah."

A man, probably about forty, saw me talking to them and walked my way. The camera turned towards him. How long did it take you to get here? "About four and half hours."

Where will you sleep tonight? "In a tent, on the pavement, on the ground." Do you usually sleep in a tent on Shabbat? "No, I have a big house, but we came here to strengthen Hebron."

Where will you pray? "At Ma'arat HaMachpela." And when you say 'the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,' there, what do you think? "I get goose-bumps, just thinking about it. The holiness of the place."

Blessing him, that next year he should be able to sleep in a hotel in Hebron, he said, "no, I'll come to live here. V'Shavu banim l'gvulam – And the sons have returned home."

This was one, of somewhere in the vicinity of 20,000 people, who filled all the neighborhoods of Kiryat Arba and Hebron, just to be exactly where Abraham purchased the Caves of Machpela, as we read about this event in the Torah, on Shabbat.

Tents were everywhere. Next to Machpela, on the streets, inside buildings, everywhere. People used their cars as temporary dwellings, sleeping on the seats and eating at picnic tables they'd brought with them.

Two huge tents, feeding literally thousands of people, were located near the old Arab market at the entrance to Avraham Avinu, and in the park across from Machpela. A special station was set up for real 'homeless,' people arriving without any food or a place to eat. There they received enough of a Shabbat meal to keep them from being hungry, Friday night and Saturday afternoon. And Yeshivat Shavie Hevron, at Beit Romano, was filled to capacity.

The amount of people arriving for worship at Machpela can only be described as massive. Inside, outside, on the lawn, in the courtyard. At night, and again the next morning. Finding a chair was luxury. There simply weren't enough to go around. I stood thru early Shabbat morning services.

Hebron's streets were filled with people. It seemed like a city with no night. And people's apartments were, as a rule, full up. I guess my apartment was fairly standard for Chayei Sarah. We had six guys sleeping on my living room floor and another on the couch. Most of them were American Yeshiva students, as well as a friend from Tel Aviv and his girlfriend. One room with three women: an Israeli from Tzfat, a young American woman studying in Israel for the year, and another Amercan who'd come over to visit family and 'had to be in Hebron for Chayei Sarah.' The last time she'd been here was about 12 years ago, during the 'intifada' – the Oslo war, while Arab bullets bounced off our sandbagged windows as we enjoyed our Shabbat meal.

What never ceases to amaze me is the number of people who fly in from outside of Israel, just for this Shabbat. Some organizations, like our friends at AFSI, set up annual trips to Israel in order to be here for this unique occasion.

So too with the Hebron Fund, our American organization. The Hebron Fund, assisting in supporting Hebron projects in the community, has sponsored this event for many years. Executive Director, Rabbi Dan Rosenstein, put together a wonderful program for friends and supporters, whose sole reason in Israel was Hebron for Shabbat. Some arrived a few days earlier in order to attend the 'Night to Honor Hebron' at the Knesset. Others landed Thursday night and left Saturday night or Sunday morning.

Some of our guests slept at the Avraham Avinu guest house; others at the Ulpana in Kiryat Arba. They dined in the Gutnick Center, outside Ma'arat HaMachpela, and participated in various tours and events at night and during the day. For many of these people, this wasn't there first Chayei Shabbat mission. And we always know when our guests enjoy themselves, when they 'come back for more.'

Another special event was part of this Shabbat. Teaneck teenager Jonathan Rosen celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in Hebron, at Ma'arat HaMachpela, on this very exceptional day. This is truly a unique happening: reading your Bar Mitzvah portion about Ma'arat HaMachpela, at the very sitewhere it occurred. Not too many kids have such a unique opportunity. Jonathan's father, Michael, is a Hebron Fund board member, and a number of the family's friends from Teaneck, NJ, also participated in the celebrations, which included, of course, festive meals and a tour of Hebron.

I had the honor to speak with our guests shortly before the end of Shabbat, and stressed to them how important their visit here is to us, Hebron's Jewish community. When we see literally tens of thousands coming into Hebron, all at once, including people who make such a long, and expensive journey from outside Israel, for all of one day, it shows us how important Hebron is to Jews from Israel and around the world. Such dedication, such love, such determination! We then know that we are not a small group of 90 families and 850 people, rather we are a community of multitudes. And I have no doubt that we aren't the only ones to take notice. The Israeli government, the US, the EU and also our neighbors across the street; they all see the enthusiasm and commitment of our fellow Jews. The scene of tens of thousands says more than words could ever express.

That's what Hebron is: the word itself means 'to bond' and is derived from the word 'friend.' Hebron bonds us, links us, and transforms us all as friends, whether from Migdal in northern Israel, or from New York, Texas or California.

And of course, all of this originates from our Grandfather Abraham and Grandmother Sarah, whose merits still stand for us today. Despite the fact that during this Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, we read of Sarah's death, the words "Chayei Sarah" speak of her life. For though Sarah's body was interred at the Cave of Machpela, her spirit lives with us through the present, and can be tangibly sensed on this extraordinary Shabbat day.

V'Shavu Banim L'Gvulam. The Children Have Returned Home.

From Hebron we thank all those who participated, and made this day what is was.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Motivation: Shabbat Hebron

 The Jerusalem Post
Cheshvan 21, 5774, 10/25/2013

Motivation: Shabbat Hebron

A few days ago, speaking to a group of young adults, one of the people asked me what’s my motivation to live in Hebron.  My answer contained a few elements.
Usually my first stop on tours is Tel Rumeida, a great place to start. Because this neighborhood is actually ancient Tel Hebron. If Ma’arat HaMachpela is where the Patriarchs and Matriarchs are buried, this is where they lived. Two walls, one 4,500 years old, dated to the era of Noah, and another, 3,700 years old, from the times of Abraham and Sarah, ensconce a stairwell, over 4,000 years old. We are almost 100% sure that our Forefathers walked these stairs.
Today, the stairs reach the only road accessing this neighborhood. Archeologists have explained to us that under that road, at the end of the stone stairs, are probably the Gates to the ancient city of Hebron.
This site is, for me, probably one of the most important places, not only in Hebron, but in all of Israel, and in the world. Why? Tomorrow, together with literally tens of thousands here in Hebron and Kiryat Arba, we will read in the Torah how Abraham, almost 4,000 years ago, purchased the Caves of Machpela for us, his children. TheTorah states twice, specifically, exactly where this transaction occurred, when he paid 400 silver shekels (today valued at $700,000) to Efron the Hittite. That place is, the gates to the city.
Standing with groups, looking at this spot, I tell them that it is very possible, even likely, that this is where Abraham purchased Machpela. And what I always find amazing isn’t so much that Abraham was there then, but that we are still here today. How many people can say, after 4,000 years, this is where they began, and where they continue to live today?
This is our roots, the roots of Judaism, the roots of Monotheism. Any person, any group of people, any religion that professes a belief in one G-d, this is where it all began. Quite literally, this is the beginning of humanity as we know it today, the beginning of the end of human sacrifice, of a belief in the one and only Creator of the Universe, our G-d. It is difficult to get closer to our roots than at this very place.
Later we visit the actual site of those caves, known as Ma’art HaMachpela. Here groups hear the stories, legends, Biblical and Rabbinic accounts of this place’s sanctity.  It is difficult perhaps, to comprehend this is the tomb, not only of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah, but also of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman.  Abraham, it is written, upon discovering these tombs, was able to inhale and smell the unique fragrances of the Garden of Eden.
Here, so it is written, our souls ascend to the world above, after they depart our physical body.
Not the seventh wonder of the world, rather the first wonder of the world.
But perhaps, the most incredible part of the story, again, isn’t then, but today. For this singular place was inaccessible to Jews and Christians for hundreds of  years, seven centuries. For seven hundred years  no one, not of Moslem faith, was allowed inside the 2,000 year old Herodian monument built on top of the caves.
Only in 1967, following the six-day war and our return home, home to Hebron, were we once again able to visit, pray, identify with our holy relatives, at this very exceptional  site.
How many peoples of the world remember what they lost, centuries ago? How many peoples  strive, pray, and even die, to return to their roots, their holy sites, the core of their essence?  And how many succeed?
But it doesn’t end there. Not too many years ago, January, 1997, most of Hebron was taken from us, abandoned to our enemy. During negotiations, leading to the signing and implementation of the Hebron accords, the Arabs demanded control of Machpela. They have stated, time and again, that should they retain power here, it will again be off-limits to anyone not of the Islamic faith.
True, we had then, and still do, have many disagreements with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. But when it came to Machpela, he said no. The holy place remained under Israeli control. That is why some 800,000 people of all religions, from around the world, can visit here annually.
Again, such talks are underway. But again, a few days, ago, Netanyahu issued a special ‘blessing,’ leading up to ‘A night to honor Hebron’ in the Knesset and this Shabbat.
“It is no coincidence that the government of Israel included the Cave of Machpela in its list of National Heritage Sites.  Hebron, like Jerusalem, has the power to unite Israel…My wish for you is that ‘Shabbat Hebron,’ with its thousands of participants, will deepen our affinity to the City of our Forefathers, to our Land and to our heritage.”
Those Jews, who worship three times a day, recite a special blessing, speaking of the resurrection of the dead.  Today’s Jewish community, living at Tel Rumeida-Tel Hebron, Beit Hadassah, Beit Romano, the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, worshiping at Ma’arat HaMachpela, the close to one million people who visit Hebron every year, are all living examples of rebirth, resuscitation of the dead.  
Who was here? What was here? Who could have possibly imagined that we would ever really come back, and LIVE here again? Who could have dreamt of a night to honor Hebron, in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset?  A dream, a dream come true.
We are here: for all of those who lived here and died here, for all those who dreamed but could only dream, and for our grandchildren’s grandchildren, so that they too will be able to be here.
We are but links in a chain, the beginning of which started 4,000 years ago, and the end of which is eternity. This is what will be going through my head tomorrow, celebrating Shabbat Chayei Sarah in Hebron, with tens of thousands from Israel and around the world.
We  are here. To stay. Forever.
If that’s not motivation, I don’t know what is.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The legalities of Ma’arat HaMachpela

  The Jerusalem Post

The Wilder Way 

The legalities of Ma’arat HaMachpela
The Prime Minister’s office door swung open. In strode the Attorney General and Justice Minister, unannounced, uninvited. As they sat down, another six suited men filed into the office, standing behind them.

Surprised, the Prime Minister waited.

Not for very long. The Justice Minister growled at him: “Mr. Prime Minister, this has to stop, and I mean stop, now!” The attorney general nodded his head in agreement.

“What are you speaking about?”

“Look Mr. Prime Minister, these settlers, the extremists in Hebron, they’ve done it again. And we must act fast, this is too much.”

The Prime Minister cleared his throat, looked at his watch, and seemed to squirm uncomfortably in his big, padded chair. “OK, uh, please clarify.”
v “It’s that cave, the cave and the field, and the building. All of the area called Machpela, Ma’arat HaMachpela, the Caves of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, it’s all illegal.”

This time, not only did the attorney general nod in agreement. The other six-suited men, still standing, all hummed yes in unison, (almost as if they’d practiced).

She continued: “He, Abraham, he claims that he purchased all that from Ephron. Now we all know that property values, as they are, make that property worth much more that 400 shekels. I mean, come on, who’s he fooling?!

Some days ago a few men came into my office, claiming to be related to Ephron. One is the offspring of a cousin, another, of an uncle, and the third, of an illegitimate son.

Now, they all say that their ancestors too had a stake to all that property. You know, these clans, they share the wealth. They claim, first of all, that Ephron didn’t sell both caves, only part of the outer cave, and not all of that either, just part of it, enough to bury Abraham’s wife. So the inner cave, and at least half of the outer cave, belong to them. It was divided up into four parts. Ephron sold his half of the outer cave, and the other three parts were divided almost equally between the others. I mean, the illegitimate son claims a little more that the others, but, who knows. We still are checking that out.

Also the nonsense about the field. You really think it all belonged to Ephron? He had a small piece of land, adjacent to the caves, but that’s it. The rest belonged to the others, or, actually, their ancestors.

So, the cave and field must be returned.”

“But that’s not all.”

A huge grin appeared on the Attorney General’s face. The Justice Minister stomped on his foot, giving him a dirty look, and the grin disappeared, replaced with a solemn expression of pain.

We all know that Jews cannot buy anything from Arabs without expressed permission from the government. We’ve checked all the way back. Abraham never even filled in the papers. He didn’t ask for permits and they were never granted. In other words, his possession of the entire site is illegal. He should have been arrested and imprisoned. Look at all the problems he’s caused us.”

“And one more thing. The building. The building on top of the caves, was also built without the proper permits. We all know, no building in Hebron without a full government decision. We checked the protocols. Herod never consulted with anyone. The building is an eyesore and was illegally built.”

The attorney general and the other six-suited men puffed out their chests, and pointed their index fingers at the Prime Minister, as she exclaimed: “This is what we’ve been waiting for; a chance to close down Hebron. Without Machpela it is worthless. Get the Jews out and leave it to the Arabs.”

The Prime Minister sat still for a few moments, looked at them, and queried: What happens when this goes to the Supreme Court. After all, the Jews there will certainly find some witnesses to testify on their behalf. I’m sure, if they look hard enough, they’ll find someone saying he’s related to Abraham and try to prove that everything was done right, all the papers were signed legally, and the ruling powers agreed to the deal. And concerning Herod, truthfully, I once heard that there were a few people who objected to the construction of that building.”

The Attorney General stared at the Prime Minister in disbelief. “That’s a state secret. How do you know?”

The Prime Minister ignored the question and continued, “and those who opposed it, well, they were used as stuffing for some of the hollow stones…”

The Justice Minister, clearing her throat, continued growling: Don’t worry, it’s all taken care of. I’ve already spoken to the President of the Court. He’s familiar with the facts, and won’t allow a few minute ‘details’ change history. It’s a done deal.”

The Prime Minister froze. “But, what about Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebeccah, Jacob and Leah? If we void the deal, then they are all there illegally. We cannot afford to let the founders of our people continue to break international law. If it never really belonged to them , except maybe Sarah, so what do we do with them?”

The Justice Minister snarled: “We’ve checked it all out. You see, the six of them were entirely unfair, leaving Matriarch Rachel all by herself. So we are going to move all of them, including Rachel, so that they’ll be altogether, in an undisputed place, in holy, eternal rest. This will also solve our problems in Bethlehem.”

The Prime Minister sighed, “And where might that be, a place where the Arabs have no claims, and we’ll never have to go thru this again?”

The Attorney General piped up, “Next week is when the Torah portion speaks of Sarah’s burial, this seems like the perfect time, and all those Jews who go to celebrate in Hebron, well, they can all escort them, a really big funeral.”

The Prime Minister, now showing his impatience: “Yeah, but where, where?”

“It was a little expensive, but we negotiated and the Arabs have agreed never to make a claim…”


“We purchased seven plots next to Rebbi Nachman in Uman, in the Ukraine…”

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Historic visit of Italian Minister of Culture and Tourism in Hebron, with David Wilder

  The Jerusalem Post

The Wilder Way 

Historic visit of Italian Minister of Culture and Tourism in Hebron, with David Wilder
Italian Minister of Culture and Tourism, Mr. Massimo Bray, hosted by Tiph in Hebron, walked near Beit Hadassah, where he was met and greeted by David Wilder, spokesman for Hebron's Jewish Community. Following brief introductions, the minister toured the Hebron Heritage Museum and visited the community's dav-care center. The visit was very positive. It was suggested that perhaps an Italian-sponsored project, spearheaded by the minister, could try and bridge the gap between Arabs and Jews in Hebron. The project could deal with common culture between both Arabs and Jews.

Hebron's Jewish community welcomes such visits and hopes that other international leaders, particularly those from the EU, will follow in Minister Bray's footsteps, following his example, and meet with Hebron community leaders.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.