Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Lean on the Purity of Israel

Today is, according to the Hebrew calendar, the 17th day of the month of Av. Exactly 85 years ago today, the 1929 (Tarpat-Hebrew year) riots and massacre began. Over 160 people were killed throughout pre-State Israel. Sixty seven were slaughtered in Hebron. This led to the expulsion of the Hebron survivors, and the first time in almost 1,000 years that Hebron was Judenrein.

A couple of weeks ago we were honored to hear a fascinating lecture by Mr. Ya'akov Frank. He is the grandson of the former Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank, who was born in 1873 and died in 1961.
Most of the following is from Ya'akov Frank's lecture:

In 1920, Rabbi Frank wrote a letter to two important Rabbis, one of them, Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein, the Dean of the Knesset Yisrael Yeshiva, in Slobodka in Lithuania. He invited the Rabbi to bring his Yeshiva to Israel. Rabbi Epstein replied that his Yeshiva included 100 men, that he would try to come to Israel, but not yet.

In 1925, they did leave for Israel. After much discussion it was decided to bring the Yeshiva to Hebron, as Jerusalem was already saturated with important Rabbis and Torah organizations. Hebron was quiet; they didn’t expect any problems. They arrived with 100 students; the number quickly blossomed to 180 pupils.

We jump to the end of 1928. Arabs were making claims to the Western Wall in Jerusalem and trying to prevent Jews from praying there. Trouble was brewing.

1929. Rabbi Tzvi Pesach's niece, Hannah Slonim, and her husband Eliezer Dan, lived in Hebron. They invited him to participate in a family wedding celebration at their home on Shabbat, the 18th of Av. Rabbi Frank agreed, and planned on arriving in the holy city on Friday, before Shabbat.

But at the last minute, there was a change in plans. Rabbi Frank's son and daughter in law, who lived in Jerusalem, were blessed by the birth of a baby son. Being born on Saturday, the 11th of Av, the newborn's Brit, circumcision, eight days later, would be on Saturday, the 18th of Av. The baby's grandfather, Rabbi Frank, was invited to be the 'Sandak,' who is honored to hold the baby during the procedure. As such, Rabbi Frank had to cancel his planned visit to Hebron, that next week.

As such, he wasn't in Hebron, at the home of Eliezer Dan Slonim, where some 25 people were murdered, that infamous Shabbat day.

And by the way, the little baby who most probably saved Rabbi Frank's life, is the same Ya'akov Frank, who is relating to us these events.

Ya'akov Frank continued: I (the baby) was at a hospital in Jerusalem, six kilometers away. My father, and grandfather would have to walk there for the Brit. But on Saturday morning Arabs in Jerusalem started shooting at Jews. An Arab taxi would pass by Jews on the street, stop, gunfire would erupt, and the taxi would continue, looking for other victims.

Ya'akov's father decided that it was much too dangerous to allow his father, Rabbi Frank, to walk with him, and forced him to remain at home. His father, accompanied by two brothers, started walking. It took them hours to arrive, being shot at every few minutes.

When they finally made it to the hospital, the place was almost empty. They didn't even have ten men for a Minyan (prayer quorum) for the ceremony. However, one person did arrive. The famous holy Rabbi, Rabbi Aryeh Levin. Realizing the problem, and despite the shooting attacks , he went outside and rounded up a few more men, in order to have ten men for the Brit.

Ya'akov Frank related many other stories. Anyone who understands Hebrew is invited to hear the entire lecture here. It would be very worth your while.
The annual memorial will take place tomorrow afternoon at the ancient Hebron cemetery. However, today, a memorial will take place for Hebron resident Elazar Lebovitch, who was killed by terrorists 12 years ago, today, on the eve of his 21st birthday.

Elazar's father, Rabbi Yosef Lebovitch, was interviewed for last week's Chabad publication, "Sichat HaShavuah." The family had, during the Gaza war, five sons in the army, with two of them in combat units in Gaza. Asked about concern for his sons, he answered, "Worry, what will that help? I get up in the morning, pray, say Psalms and later more Psalms, and then some more. Psalms, and faith in G-d, knowing that everything will be OK."

What did he say to his sons as they left for combat? "The same thing that I was told, during the 1973 Yom Kippur war, before we crossed the Suez Canal. Maimonides writes: When a person becomes engaged in war activities, he should lean on the purity of Israel, which will save him during such a difficult time, that he should know that he is sanctifying the holy Name of G-d, that he should put aside all thoughts of himself, and his life, and shouldn't fear or be afraid, and shouldn't think of this wife and children."

What message does he want to leave to Am Yisrael? "To put our trust in G-d and to strengthen our faith. Whoever does so will not break and will know that G-d is with him."

This is the message of a bereaved father, with two sons fighting terrorists in Gaza.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Bring Back Sherman

The Jerusalem Post

Bring Back Sherman
August 6, 2014
During the war I only attended two military funerals. The first, lone solider Max Steinberg, and the second, Kiryat Arba resident Benaya Sarel, HY"D. He was supposed to be married on Aug. 21. Thousands were present, in the middle of the night, for the procession which began at his home in Kiryat Arba, to Ma'arat HaMachpela, to the small military plot at the ancient Jewish cemetery, here in Hebron.

I've known Benaya's father, Rabbi Shalom, for somewhere in the vicinity of thirty years. Many years ago we studied at the same Torah study center in Kiryat Arba.  At that time he was already teaching some of the most difficult Torah subjects at very prestigious yeshivas in Jerusalem. In short, he is a genius.  Very tall, very smart.

At some point, when the Sarels decided to make their home permanently in Kiryat Arba, Rabbi Shalom designed the house. When he finished and the home was built, he decided he could contribute more building Jewish homes than sitting day in and day out in a study hall. So now he is an engineer, designing and constructing buildings for Jews in Judea and Samaria

Benaya's mother is a teacher of literature at the Kiryat Arba women's high school. I think she taught all of my daughters.

One of my sons studied with Benaya for a year, in the same class, when they were in high school.

So, it touches home.

At the funeral many people spoke. We call it a eulogy. Military eulogies are called, 'parting words.'  Just about all of what was said was touching, heart-breaking, gut-wrenching.  The problem is that words about a young man, an IDF officer, just beginning his life, about to be married, an authentic hero, are not enough. But that's what's left.

Benaya was injured a few days before he was killed. When at the hospital, having shrapnel removed from his chest, he refused to allow his mother to visit him. He told her, 'I don't allow my soldiers to see their parents. So you can't come see me either.' His father added, 'you're right, 100%. That's how you should behave. Don't let your mother mix you up.'

After the shrapnel was removed, he returned to the battle field.

Rabbi Shalom told two stories about him. The first: during his division's swearing-in ceremony at the Kotel, the Western Wall, Benaya saw a great deal of army food about to be thrown away. So he took all that food and gave to homeless, hungry people standing around there. The second: Benaya had been a candidate to receive a medal for heroism during a previous operation in Gaza. However, in the end, it wasn't awarded to him. When his father called him, to offer words of encouragement, Benaya told him he was happy. 'Why?'

'When I heard, first I was angry, then I was sad, and then, happy. Why? Because now I know that all I'm doing for our people isn't for my personal gain, for my ego, rather only, and totally for the good of the people.'

This sheds a little light on the kind of person Benaya Sarel was.

Yesterday was Tisha b'Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av. It is one of two annual fast days that begins in the evening and finishes 25 hours later. Primarily it commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem, thousands of years ago. It is also the day, according to Jewish tradition, that ten of the twelve spies sent by Moses in the desert to check out the Land of Israel, returned and told the people that they were better off staying in the desert. 'It is a land of giants…We cannot conquer it.' The punishment included forty years of suffering in the desert and later calamities, on the same date, including the burning of the Temples.

Every year observant Jews observe three weeks of 'official mourning,'  culminating with yesterday's fast. (If you are interested in reading a fascinating, albeit very sad account of the Jewish rebellion against the Romans, leading to the Temple's destruction, clickhere.  This book was authored by Hebron resident, Dr. Gershon Bar Kochva, a known historian and lecturer. The book is worth reading.) But it is very difficult to mourn, to really sense grief, for something you've never really known. We can read, study, and attempt to experience as much as possible. But perhaps it is like trying to describe to a blind person, what is sight, or to a deaf person, sound. It doesn’t work. Until it is experienced, it is really hard to be missed. Because when you really don't know what it is, you don't know what you're missing.

So, how can we learn to mourn the destruction of the Temple?  Perhaps only by paralleling that to what we can be aware of. We mourn Benaya, Max, and the other 62 men who fell fighting for Israel, crying for the loss of such courageous people, and then multiply that sensation by about a million, and the tears too, by multiples higher than we know how to count. Then, maybe, we can start to fathom the loss we endured when the Temples were destroyed.

Of course, it is preferable that we should no longer need to mourn, not for the men and not for the Temples. But that will only happen when we fully comprehend who we are, what we are, and where we are. Then, and only then, will we make and implement the decisions that will lead to an end to our weeping.

Of course, some of you will ask, what kind of decisions am I talking about? There are a few. But the first, today: Bring back Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, and let him loose down in Gaza for a few days.  He had some experience marching to the sea. That would be a really good start.