The original idea was to light the menorah on the second night of Chanukah inside the confines of Kever Yosef, the tomb of Joseph, of biblical Technicolor Dreamcoat fame that we read over these last few weeks. Then the plan was to continue the celebration with the men and women of the IDF on the military base in Shechem.
Most of the plan worked out extremely well. But the government of Israel would not cooperate. And though there were appeals made to members of Knesset for weeks, including Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, the answer was the usual double standard and discriminatory “No, it cannot be done.”
Danon told those who reached out to him that the policy is that Jews only go to Kever Yosef after midnight and then usually only on Thursday nights (which this was) and only with close coordination with the IDF, which this was too. So what was the problem? Well, maybe it was that we were just a group of 100 or so Americans and former U.S. citizens—residing mostly in Bet Shemesh—who were not going to protest because we were being denied what we were anticipating for weeks: visiting and lighting our Chanukah menorahs in Kever Yosef.
Forget about the fact that under the stale but still mostly workable Oslo Accords signed in 1993, Israel and Israelis are allowed unrestricted access to Kever Yosef, just as they are to have unfettered access to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Kever Rachel in Bethlehem. So, in all fairness to Mr. Danon and the Israeli government, while the decision was disappointing, in retrospect it was probably prudent. You see, unlike Rachel’s Tomb and the Patriarchs’ Cave, the burial site of Yosef is smack dab in the middle of downtown Shechem, a potentially volatile and dangerous place for Jews at any time of the day or night.
You can rest assured that had the Labor Party been heading up the current government here in Israel, Jews’ access to Kever Yosef would be even more restricted than is currently the case. So why even make an attempt to saunter into Shechem under such trying and pressurized circumstances?
I think there are many answers to that query. But the chief responses are that the more we accede to Palestinian or foreign demands about the nature of Jewish rights in Judea and Samaria, the more that will be demanded. So it is left to a group like ours—just 100 people—to make that small effort that demonstrates not just sovereignty over, but indeed ownership of, sites like Kever Yosef. The Bible clearly delineates it was bought legally and properly by Jews for Jews, UN resolutions or wild and crazy threats notwithstanding.
We did not make it into downtown Shechem on this second night of Chanukah, but we did have access to the nearby Palestinian town of Huwara, which I suppose is a suburb of Nablus, the Arab name for Shechem. Riding through the busy and garbage-strewn streets of Huwara was not an easy task. We were in bulletproof buses (Americans are always excited about that feature) and each bus had two armed IDF soldiers to protect us in case there were any incidents.
One of the young soldiers, an American originally from Aventura in North Miami, told us that incidents involving violence are not infrequent. But the statistics were on our side, as most of the time nothing happens.
So we drove slowly down the streets of Huwara on the way to the IDF base that serves the area and polices the densely populated city of Shechem. We went to light the menorah and celebrate the chag with a few hundred young people serving the IDF on the base. The evening was sponsored by two groups that work extremely well together. One is Thank Israeli Soldiers, founded by Pamela and Abba Claman of the Old City in Jerusalem. Enough cannot be said about the dedication and commitment of the Clamans to boosting the morale of the young men and women of the IDF, injecting them with a strong and loving dose of reality that connects the dots of why Jewish soldiers do what they do to defend and protect this holy land of ours.
The other group, the brainchild and idea of former Lawrence resident Michael Gerbitz and his wife Bonnie, is United With Israel. This is also a group that touches the lives of Israel’s defenders, reaching out across the world through its website and Facebook page, which has been “liked” by more than 2 million people.
Michael and Mimi Jankovitz, the directors of ThankIsraeliSoldiers.Com, had been working on this event for weeks. And it certainly was an exquisite idea. Oddly enough, in the global market, appreciation for the gargantuan task and accomplishments of Israeli soldiers seems to be not firmly entrenched. The way in which Israeli soldiers are viewed in the world is in direct contradistinction to the reality of who they are.
And that is where these two groups, and others like them, come into the picture. Israel’s military should be the heroes of Jews everywhere, if they are not already viewed in that fashion. Because Israel’s soldiers do not just protect those who physically reside in the land of Israel. By protecting the Jewish State, they protect all Jews everywhere.
It was disappointing that we could not get into Kever Yosef during Chanukah. And it was additionally disappointing that we had to settle for looking down at Shechem and the lights that shine over Kever Yosef from a special observation desk that has been built for this purpose. On the other hand, we have to understand what it takes to allow Jews entry into Joseph’s Tomb. It was explained to me that on the occasional days that Israel asserts sovereignty over the area by allowing Jews to pray and visit there, a great deal of preparation is required.
On the day or night that is chosen for Jews to enter the area in bulletproof buses, the IDF forms a wide impenetrable ring around the site 12 hours prior to Jewish entry. That means if the Jews are scheduled to arrive at midnight, the area is closed to Arab movement at noon. At the wide perimeter that the IDF forms, the local Arabs become instantly aware that the army is preparing for Jews to enter the city. And that’s when the protest demonstrations begin throughout the day and into the night. Very often, I was told, because the Arabs expect the Jews to arrive at midnight, the organizers delay entry and those interested in the experience or the adventure do not arrive in Shechem until 2 a.m. or later. By that time, the protesting Arabs have gotten tired or have given up and gone home. What a way to live.
So with over 99% of the country not really interested in going to or visiting Kever Yosef, what is the right thing to do? Is it right or warranted to mobilize hundreds of troops and expose them to danger because 100 or so people want to go on an adventure to Kever Yosef once in a while? I’m not sure what the answer is, but I have to admit that I lean in the direction of not exposing our men to this kind of potentially dangerous situation. I desperately and excitedly wanted to light a Chanukah menorah in Kever Yosef, but at what risk and at what expense?
A few days later, on Sunday the fourth day of Chanukah, I revisited Maale Rehavam in Gush Etzyon. We have been drawn to the plight of the dusty slope because of its back-and-forth status, one day being bulldozed and one day being rebuilt. When we were here about 18 months ago, it was a hot summer day and at the behest of our friend, Israel Danziger, took to planting a dozen olive trees. Last Sunday, it was hazy and humid and my sons, Nison and Nachi, planted a few more.
The ordeal of these last few days reminded me of a commentary that I once read that explains why so much of the prognosticating of Jewish nation’s future was introduced through dreams. First, as you will recall, there was Yaakov’s dream about the angels on the ladder at Bet El. Then there was Yosef’s dream about sheaves bowing down to his sheaf and the stars serving and acceding to him as well. Then, last week, there was Pharaoh’s dream about the skinny cows consuming the fat cows and so on.
So why dreams? Well, the Lubavitcher Rebbe explains, perhaps it is because in a dream an otherwise seemingly contradictory circumstance can occur as a simple matter of fact. And we exemplify that type of existence on a daily basis. Many of us spend time each day engrossed in deep and focused prayer—sometimes followed by or preceded by a period of Torah study—that allows us to reach high and exalted places in our intellect while connecting us to G‑dliness. Then, in the blink of an eye, we immediately step into the mundane everyday material world of work or business.
And a similar dreamlike contradiction is, to a great extent, the experience here in Israel. On Shabbos, we walk the streets of Jerusalem, passing the closed opulent shops of Mamilla on the way to the Old City and davening at the Kotel. After Shabbos, those shops are open until way past midnight and you can almost hear the rhythm of plastic being swiped from every direction.
The next day, we are trying to maintain our balance on ramshackle slopes, stepping through rubble of some homes recently ordered bulldozed by the government. The debate rages about who owns the land. Is it privately owned Arab land or is it government owned land that can be assigned to whichever Jewish groups they prefer? Sometimes the Israel Supreme Court rules one way, sometimes in the exact opposite way. These hills where homes are being built are located between Arab villages and more advanced built-up communities like Nokdim or Kfar Eldad. This one in particular is what is classically referred to as an “illegal hilltop settlement.” In a dreamlike sequence of events, Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon recently declared the government’s intention to legalize Maale Rehavam and a few similar areas.
The dreamlike tug of war continues over Yosef’s kever in Shechem, as well as other areas of the country, where on any given night you may be allowed in or—who knows—encounter one of those not-so-dreamy Technicolor roadblocks. v
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.