By Larry Gordon
Someone has to be watching over Hebron for us, and it appears that it could not have been entrusted to a better group than these folks. We spent Sunday with Rabbi Dan Rosenstein, director of the Hebron Fund, and it was quite an enlightening and inspiring experience.
We have been visiting Hebron for decades and still marvel at how the city’s inhabitants manage to maintain that look of part archaeological site and part dumping ground. The bottom line is that the Arab side of the city—that’s 80 percent of the city—is intentionally made to look garbage-strewn. The Jewish side, the area we walked through, is filled with hope and projects and capital improvements where possible.
Rosenstein points out the new additions: The Hebron Observatory, where you can see all of Hebron, the West Hempstead Multimedia Center, the new ranger vehicle, the renovated caravans where Jews live, and the multimillion-dollar Hebron Heritage Museum hopefully opening in the summer are a few examples.
There are only 91 Jewish families living in Hebron. They are all that prevents the ancient historical city of Hebron from being turned over to—and probably overturned by—the Palestinians who inhabit most of this city. It’s Sunday morning and the streets in the Jewish portion of the city are mostly deserted. In nearby Kiryat Arba, where several thousand Jews live, there are more signs of life. People are in the street, there are buses running, and so on.
The children are in yeshiva and the adults are at work. When we get close to Me’arat HaMachpelah, the area is teeming with hundreds of soldiers. They have just finished an IDF officer training course and a visit to Hebron is part of the initiation and graduation process. You have to have some knowledge about where you come from if you want to know where you are going, how you are going to get there, and what you are expected to do when you get there. That’s life in Israel.
There’s an interesting sign in the me’arah, the Cave of the Patriarchs. It lists and pictures the three most important holy sites in Jewish life—here in Hebron, the Temple Mount, and Kever Yosef. Dan points out that the only one of the three where regular unchallenged Jewish prayer is allowed is here in Hebron. And he adds that it is important to analyze the various situations in order to arrive at an understanding about why things are that way.
Dan says that the difference between Hebron and the other two is physical Jewish presence. The Arabs are extremely careful about limiting Jewish access to Kever Yosef in Shechem and Jewish presence or prayer on the Har HaBayit. The 91 families in Hebron—by virtue of residing in the city—assure our access to the site and our ability to pray there.
So this business of Jewish presence is not to be taken lightly. We are here because we are here. Interestingly, Dan Rosenstein mentions as we drive through nearby Kiryat Arba that this area adjacent to Hebron exists as part of a deal between former Prime Minister Golda Meir and the original settler community in Hebron. The deal, Dan says, was that the government would build Kiryat Arba if the settlers agree to move out of central downtown Hebron, a presence to which the Arab world vociferously objected. Some of the original Jewish settlers took the deal; others refused. And that was a good thing because now both are thriving.
We stopped our car to observe an Arab woman pass through a checkpoint to the Jewish side of Hebron—an example of the imbalance of life around here; except for the security checks, the Arabs can pass through to the Jewish side of the city without restriction. It is forbidden by law for Jews to visit the Arab side. The woman was carrying what looked like a heavy cloth bag and a handbag as well. She passed through the metal detector but now the soldier on duty was tasked with manually searching through both bags.
It is a routine but dangerous task for the young soldier. We sat in our car surveying the situation. Neither of the two said anything. It looked like they both knew the drill. In the past, more than a few times, security forces have found things like makeshift knives in these bags. Most of the inspections are uneventful.
To say that Jewish building in Hebron is restricted is an understatement. It is basically prohibited. The UN has a team of unarmed observers who patrol the city, mostly to make certain Jews do not build. There is a row of brown caravans in Hebron that for years were used for target practice by terrorists in the nearby hills where the Arabs live. Families still live in these homes today. Back then, when terrorists felt at liberty to take potshots, people lived with bullet holes in their walls. When the local authority decided it was time to repair the walls and fill in the holes, a complaint was filed with the UN claiming that the Jews were building in contravention to the commitment to maintain the status quo.
We met with Simcha Hochbaum, who interrupted a tour he was giving to a group of college students on a Birthright trip. Inside the shul named for Joe Ray of Chicago, we eavesdropped on a lecture being delivered by David Wilder, the longtime Hebron spokesman. Wilder explained after they left that it was a pro-Palestinian group of students from California interested in at least hearing the other side of the story, the true story about the history of this city.
Archeologists have uncovered evidence of 4,500 years of Jewish life in Hebron dating back to Abraham’s purchase of the cave as the burial ground for his wife, Sarah. And for us this is not abstract history. It’s right there in the Chumash. We learned it, studied it, and learned it again with our children and grandchildren. It’s not just Jewish history. It is the indisputable definition of our evolution as a people.
The loyalists and guardians of Hebron are not some kind of creatures from outer space. Their presence assures our stake in our future as well as the veracity of our past. For Dan, Simcha, and David, the mission is not just to hold onto Hebron. For now, the apartment buildings and caravans are full. If they could expand building, there would no doubt be many more willing to make Hebron their home. That leaves us with the obligation to provide these men and women with the resources to accomplish exactly this and, when possible, much more.
Shelter From The Storm
On Monday, we were advised that we would be best off leaving Jerusalem and going to Tel Aviv on Wednesday morning before the roads and the city close down in anticipation of a major snowstorm. As we planned our exit from Jerusalem to a hotel in Tel Aviv for one night, I discovered that it is impossible to wrap a New York storm-mindset around a “snowstorm” in Jerusalem or anywhere in Israel.
On Wednesday morning, the word was that the two main arteries from Jerusalem would be closed down at 10:00 a.m. This plan was not about the snow, which had not arrived yet. This was about last year’s snow which paralyzed the capital for a week, leaving homes without electricity and motorists abandoning their cars on the highways, thereby virtually bringing this part of the country to a halt.
At midday on Wednesday, it still was not snowing in Jerusalem. I polled friends who reside in Efrat and Bet Shemesh about what they see out there. The consensus was, as Yossi Baumol in Efrat said, that this was “an overreaction to last year’s under-reaction.” As we go to press, there is snow expected sometime Wednesday and then more snow on Friday. As a result of that meteorological prognostication, the streets of Jerusalem were jammed with shoppers stocking up on food and supplies to get them through the next several days.
It was not unusual to hear storekeepers after processing their sales wishing their customers “Good Shabbos,” even though it was only Tuesday afternoon. Due to the impending storm, the hustle and bustle that usually precedes Shabbos on the streets of Jerusalem was moved up to midweek. It was an only-in-Yerushalayim moment.
The word here is that this is not New York and that neither the people nor the government know how to handle snow. Perhaps it’s not supposed to snow here, but that doesn’t mean anything considering the many other things that happen here that shouldn’t. It’s open season and closed-down roads. People are hunkered down at home waiting for the bad weather to pass. It’s never too early in the week to cook a loaf of gefilte fish and put up a pot of cholent.
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