Monday, October 25, 1999

From Hebron to Elon Moreh

October 25, 2004

Next week Hebron will celebrate Shabbat Chaye Sarah – when we read in the Torah about Abraham’s purchase of Ma’arat HaMachpela, some three thousand seven hundred years ago. Tens of thousands of Jews from around the world will arrive in Hebron for this festive event.
However, Hebron is not the only Yesha city to rejoice. This past weekend my family visited the Elon Moreh community in the Shomron. We read in the Torah how Abraham, when he arrived in Eretz Yisrael, stopped first in Elon Moreh, before continuing south to Beit El, and later, Hebron.
Elon Moreh, situated just south of the holy city of Shechem, has a rich biblical history. But its legacy does not end in the Bible. Yehuda, Shomron and Gaza were liberated during the June, 1967 Six-Day War. A few months later the Israeli government officially okayed the renewal of a Jewish community in Gush Etzion, about 15 kilometers south of Jerusalem. Gush Etzion had fallen to the Jordanians on May 14, 1948, the day the State of Israel was declared.

In the spring of 1968 a group of families arrived at hotel in Hebron to celebrate the Passover holiday. That, in turn, led to the founding of Kiryat Arba in the fall of 1971. One of the early settlers was a young man named Benny Katzover. He studied at the new Kiryat Arba yeshiva, and took an active role rebuilding the land.
This past Shabbat I heard Benny Katzover, now a resident of Elon Moreh, speak about those formative years. He stressed that following the establishment of Kiryat Arba, he waited for others to take the initiative to begin resettling and rebuilding Samaria, the Shomron. Years went by and nothing happened.
During the winter of 1974, under the spiritual leadership of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, a group of people, including Rabbi Moshe Levinger, Rabbi Haim Druckman, Hanan Porat, Katzover, and others, founded Gush Emunim, ‘the Block of the Faithful. One of their first challenges was resettlement of the Shomron. Benny Katzover, seeing that no one had taken up the gauntlet, began to work. Plans were made, people were drafted, and then, it was time to move. It took eight attempts over a period of months, until finally, in the winter of 1975, over 2,000 Jews arrived at Sabastia, in the Shomron, and broke the government’s resistance to a Jewish presence in the heartland of Israel.
Benny Katzover later became mayor of the Shomron region, and for many years was a leader in initiating, building and developing the Shomron.
One of Benny’s children, Menora married Ariel Hazani, the son of another Yesha pioneer, the late Yehuda Hazani. Hazani, a Torah scholar and student of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, was one of those rare individuals who knew how to implement spiritual ideas in a worldly manner. He was known for his legendary organizational ability, bringing thousands and thousands of people to rallies, demonstrations, and other such events.

Hazani, a true lover of Eretz Yisrael, was not bound by the borders of cities and neighborhoods, loved to travel the country and was an avid mountain climber. Unfortunately, during one these trips, Yehuda Hazani, while overlooking Eretz Yisrael from the peaks, slipped, fell and was killed. A Gush Katif community, Netzer Hazani, which literally means the stem of Hazani, was named in his memory.
This past Shabbat at Elon Moreh, I was one of the lucky ones who was able to experience a really special event. This past Shabbat we read in the weekly Torah portion how G-d commanded Abraham to walk, to leave his home, his country, and his family, ‘to the land which I will show you.’ This land is, of course, Eretz Yisrael. As I mentioned a few minutes ago, Abraham’s first stop in the Land was Elon Moreh, today a beautiful, thriving community with hundreds of families. We also read about G-d’s commandment to Abraham to circumcise himself, an eternal covenant between himself, his offspring and the Almighty.
A week ago Saturday, Benny Katzover’s daughter, Menorah Hazani, gave birth to their first son. So the ‘brit milah,’ the baby’s circumcision, was to be performed eight days later, in other words, this past Shabbat. At the conclusion of Shabbat morning prayers, after reading in the Torah about Elon Moreh, after hearing of Abraham’s willingness to perform G-d’s commandment to circumcise himself when he was ninety-nine years old, Ariel and Menora Hazani’s son was brought into the covenant of Avraham Avinu there, at Elon Moreh, and was named for his illustrious grandfather, Yehuda Hazani. It was quite an emotional event.
And I must not neglect to mention that Ariel and Menora live, not in Elon Moreh, but at the community of Homesh, in the northern Shomron, one of the four Shomron communities Sharon has threatened to destroy, together with Gush Katif.
People such as Benny Katzover, Yehuda Hazani, and many others, a number of whom participated in the special Elon Moreh Shabbat, were the initiators, founders, the builders. They laid the cornerstone for future generations and paved the path, thereby allowing their offspring to follow in their footsteps. However, as every parent knows, the future is always a question mark. A parent can lay out the roadmap, but whether or not the children will follow the marked route is up them, it’s their choice. Ariel and Menora Hazani are perfect examples of traveling a straight line, following the map in the right direction. From Hebron and Kiryat Arba, to Sebastia and Elon Moreh, following in the footsteps of their father’s and their father’s fathers – all the way back to our Forefathers.
When visitors ask me to explain our faith, to explain our optimism, I can readily point to young couples like the Hazanis, who are carrying the torch, sparks of light amongst many shadows. Such sparks are so important and necessary, especially today, with all that is happening.
This is the trail followed by Abraham, still traveled by his offspring, four thousand years later. From Elon Moreh to Hebron, from Hebron to Elon Moreh – this is the heritage of our people; this is the eternity of our Land; this is the legacy of Elon Moreh.
With blessings from Hebron.

Monday, October 18, 1999

Eretz Yisrael is Not For Sale

So, what’s the answer?
Is the magic solution a national referendum? Can we legitimately decide the fate of Eretz Yisrael in a national election? Who can participate in such a crucial ballot? May ‘leaders’ of Yesha, and more specifically, those people participating in the ‘Yesha Council’ rightfully take responsibility to claim that ‘we will accept the results of a referendum’ dealing with chopping up our land?
The only answer to these questions is an unconditional NO!
Let’s examine these questions, and their possible answers in greater detail.
First: Who has the right to take part in a referendum about Eretz Yisrael. Let’s take into account that we’re not talking about how high taxes should be, who must participate in active army service, or other such mundane issues. We are not even discussing whether or not a Jew has the legitimate right to live in Eretz Yisrael. We are talking about evicting Jews from Eretz Yisrael. We are talking about unilaterally abandoning our land to sworn enemies who have murdered, in cold blood, over 1,500 people in the past ten years, since the “Oslo piece accords” left our land in pieces. We are talking about fleeing a land area bordering Israeli cities, which will be controlled by a ‘palestinian prime minister,’ who said, only a few days ago, "Unfortunately, up to now the Palestinian security forces have not been able to control this situation and we bear a very big responsibility for this," Qurei was quoted as saying in al-Ayyam, a Palestinian daily. "There's still chaos, still killing." (Greg Myre – The New York Times – Friday, Oct. 15, 2004). \
So, who has the right to vote? There has been much talk about who can vote. For example, can hundreds of thousands of Arabs, ‘citizens’ of the State of Israel participate in such an election. Or, what kind of majority is necessary for such an issue to be decided: a regular 50% plus one majority, or sixty percent of the population?
However, I’m not referring to these questions, as legitimate as they are. My sights are set on Jews who live in New York, Buenos Aires, Paris, Johannesburg, or, even in Oslo. Eretz Yisrael belongs to the Jewish people, ALL the Jewish people, wherever they may be. Some live here, in the State of Israel, and many others, (unfortunately), still reside elsewhere. But that does not mean that these millions of people may be silenced, that their voices cannot be heard, when dealing with our land. It is theirs, just as much as it is mine. For many years I have told groups “Hebron belongs to you as much as it does to me. The difference is, we live here, and today, you don’t. We are the keeper of the keys, ensuring that Hebron will always be accessible to whoever wishes to visit here.
So it is too about Gush Katif, so it is too about Homesh and Sanur in the Shomron, so it is too about Tel Aviv and Kiryat Shemona. Citizens of the State of Israel, living in our land, are the keepers of the keys, keeping our Eretz Yisrael Jewish, for the Jewish people. But it is our land, whether we live here or not.
How can we, in Israel, leave our brethren out in the cold? How can it be decided to amputate a living, healthy limb from a healthy living body, without consulting with the patient, whose limb is to be severed? The patient isn’t only Avraham in Hebron, Yitzhak in Jerusalem, and Ya’akov in Eilat. The body, Eretz Yisrael, a G-dly possession, has been delegated to the Jewish people, including the Avrahams, Yitzhaks and Ya’akovs who live in Alaska, Melbourne, and Tokyo. What about them?
Second: Concerning the Yesha council (The Council of Judea, Samaria and Gaza). Yesterday a delegation of Yesha leaders met with Sharon about the planned ‘disengagement.’ Speaking after the meeting they, labeled it a disgrace, calling the Prime Minister ‘unyielding and heartless.’ One of them men was quoted as saying, ‘either someone is controlling Sharon or he is taking Prozac or another tranquilizer.

One of the purported goals of this meeting was to convince Sharon to accept a national referendum to determine the fate of Gush Katif. One of the questions put to these men by various journalists is, “will you accept the results of such a plebiscite?” This morning, the Maariv-NRG web site quoted these men as saying, “we will honor a clear result of a national referendum.” They did not guarantee to end all protest should the referendum pass, but did promise to conduct opposition in a ‘more relaxed atmosphere.’
I have written before, and I reiterate here: Yesha council leaders have no mandate to decide whether or not Yesha residents will ‘accept’ or reject the results of such a referendum. A vast majority of Yesha council leaders are elected mayors of their respective towns or municipal areas. They were elected to provide municipal services to their constituents. They were not elected by the general Yesha population and have no collective power to make such fateful decisions ‘in the name of Yesha citizens.’
Third and most importantly: Can the question of Eretz Yisrael be decided in a national referendum? The obvious answer: Of course not. Why? Very simply, Eretz Yisrael does not belong to us. What about our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc. How can we deny them their land? It belongs to them too. What right do we have to deny them their birthright, especially when the question is not whether or not to ‘conquer the land’ rather, it is to simply stay put. How can we give away what belongs to them too.
But most notably: Eretz Yisrael is a G-d – given land, it belongs to Him, He gave it to us. One does not give away, abandon, or run away from G-d –given gifts. A week ago we began reading the Torah – the Five Books of Moses, from the beginning. The most important Biblical commentator, Rashi – Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzhak, living in France almost a thousand years ago, understood, even then, the controversy surrounding Eretz Yisrael. His first Biblical commentary asks why the Torah beings with “In the beginning” and doesn’t begin with the commencement of the Jewish people, in the days of Moses. His answers concisely, “Thus, should the nations of the world say to Israel, ‘You are robbers, for you have taken by force the lands of the Seven Nations,’ they [Israel] will say to them: "All the earth belongs to G-d. He created it and gave it to whomever He saw fit. It was His will to give it to them and it was His will to take it from them and give it to us." For this reason will read next Shabbat how Abraham was commanded to go – to walk to Eretz Yisrael.
So, what’s the answer? No elections, no referendums, no negotiations. Rather, to know, to understand, to internalize, once and for all, Eretz Yisrael is not for sale, not even to the highest bidder, not at any cost. None of it, not now, not ever.
With blessings from Hebron.

Monday, October 11, 1999

Asher Barah Sasson v’Simcha

October 11, 2004

Last week, during the Succot holiday, Hebron hosted well over 40,000 visitors to the city of Abraham. The streets teemed full of people, women, children, men, walking from neighborhood to neighborhood, from site to site. Special tours of the kasba, usually off-limits to Jews, added an exceptional flavor to the festivities, as well as group visits to the Cave of Otniel ben Knaz, the first judge in Eretz Yisrael, thousands of years ago. And of course, let’s not forget the main attraction, Ma’arat HaMachpela, filled to the brim, with crowds waiting on line outside for a chance to pray inside. Loudspeakers outside the 2,000 year old structure requested that visitors shorten their prayers in order to allow others to worship also, without having to wait hours on line.
In short, it was an amazing week, a true sign of Am Yisrael’s support for Hebron’s Jewish community. And not only that. Without any doubt, all those tens of thousands who visited Hebron, as well as other communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, fully espouse continued Jewish presence in Neve Dekalim, Kfar Darom, Netzarim, and all the other heroic communities in Gush Katif. The over 8,500 people living in Gush Katif should know that Am Yisrael stands with them and behind them, forever.
Following such an uplifting week, you might expect that this week would be something of a letdown, getting back to the normalcy of a regular week. But we are far from that. Hebron’s spirit keeps reaching higher and higher. Last night was one such example of Hebron reaching for the stars.
The evening didn’t begin after sunset. Actually it began early yesterday afternoon, with a large group of people running around outside Ma’arat HaMachpela, in the Machpela gardens. There, tables and chairs were unloaded, and a caterer began practicing his expertise: transforming an outdoors garden-park into an exquisite banquet hall. The tables were adorned, serving areas set up, and after a few hours of hard work, everything was ready.
Next to Ma’arat HaMachpela a Chupa, or bridal canopy, was assembled. And a little ways away, a white chair was placed under a tree on the Machpela lawn. A couple of hours later the young bride sat in that chair, waiting for her soon-to-be husband to come get her.
But this was not to be an ordinary wedding. In truth, I don’t know if there is ever an ‘ordinary wedding.’ Every wedding is special. But sometimes, a wedding represents more than a personal affair between two people, two families. So it was last night.
In truth, last night’s wedding begins, maybe almost a hundred years ago, when Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, later to be Israel’s first Chief Rabbi, arrived in the ‘Holy Land,’ in Eretz Yisrael. But if I begin there, this commentary will stretch out over a few weeks, rather than a few minutes. So I’ll begin over a decade ago, when Rav Kook’s grandson, Rabbi Shlomo Ra’anan and his wife Chaya, came to live in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron. Rabbi Ra’anan, a brilliant Torah scholar in his own right, was a very humble man, lived a very simple life, and traveled daily to study at the Jerusalem Torah center his grandfather founded many years earlier, Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav. The Ra’anan’s lived in an ‘ordinary’ two-room caravan home in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood, with six other families. He was a happy man, a constant smile covering his face, who knew all of the children in Hebron by name, and loved to give them candy, always found in his pockets.
It was just over six years ago, at about eleven o’clock at night. Sixty-three year old Rabbi Ra’anan bade goodnight to his wife, who was sitting in their small living room, and started to get ready for his evening’s rest. Only hours before, having returned from Jerusalem, he participated in a wedding outside Ma’arat HaMachpela. He was photographed there, radiating joy, as always. He was invited to stay for the party, but preferred to go home to be with his wife, and to rest in preparation for the following day’s trip back to Jerusalem.
As he was getting ready for bed, an Arab terrorist suddenly jumped through the room’s open window, and began stabbing the Rabbi. Screaming, Rabbi Ra’anan ran into the living room, with the terrorist following. There, a macabre tug-of-war developed between the terrorist and Chaya Ra’anan, both pulling at the Rabbi, in between them. The terrorist, knife in hand, continued stabbing the Rabbi, until he collapsed. He looked for a moment at Chaya, and then fled through the back window, but not before he ignited and hurled a fire bomb inside the Rabbi’s room.
Chaya quickly pulled her fatally wounded husband outside, to escape the flames of the quickly spreading fire. Others in the neighborhood were able to extinguish the fire before it spread throughout the neighborhood, but they were unable to save their beloved neighbor. Rabbi Shlomo Ra’anan was buried the next day, early Friday afternoon, on the Mount of Olives, overlooking Temple Mount in Jerusalem, next to his grandfather, Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, and his uncle, Rav Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook. Earlier he was eulogized before thousands, outside his grandfather’s yeshiva, Merkaz HaRav.
Chaya Ra’anan continued to live in her caravan home in Tel Rumeida. The room where her husband was killed was transformed into a study center, and her son-in-law, Rabbi Yisrael Shlissel, Rabbi of a small community in the Shomron, began traveling daily to Hebron to teach young married men, preparing for Rabbinic exams. One morning, while driving on the TransJudea road, a few kilometers outside of Hebron, Rabbi Shlissel suddenly saw an armed Arab standing in the road, in front of his car. The terrorist opened fire with his automatic weapon, at the car. Rabbi Shlissel, having no where to go, simply ducked, putting his head down under the dashboard, with his foot still on the gas pedal. Miraculously he was not hit.
You might expect that following such a traumatic event, Rabbi Shlissel would have bid farewell to teaching in Hebron. Perhaps he might even have suggested that his mother-in-law, Rabbi Ra’anan’s widow, join him and his wife elsewhere.
Well, maybe someone else, but not the Shlissels or the Ra’anans. A short time later Rabbi Yisrael Shlissel, together with his wife, the Ra'anan's daughter, Tzippy, and their many children, moved into the Avraham Avinu neighborhood in Hebron. They too had to weather barrages of bullets, shot at their home from the Abu Sheneh hills, less than a kilometer away. But, like the rest of us, their faith carried the day, and they began living regular lives in Hebron.
Last night Rabbi Yisrael and Tzippy Shlissel, together with Chaya Ra’anan, and at least a thousand other people, participated in the wedding of the Shlissel’s oldest son, Shimshon, to a lovely young woman, Miriam Haas, from Beit El. The wedding, in the plaza outside Ma’arat HaMachpela, was a tremendously joyous affair, which included participation of Rabbi Avraham Shapira, former Israeli Chief Rabbi, and one of the undisputed leaders of the nationalist-religious movement today.
The throng sang traditional wedding tunes as the Rabbi married Shimshon and Miriam, only meters from the cave purchased by Abraham, almost 4,000 years ago, here in Hebron. As the ceremony ended, a friend of mine whispered to me, “I get the feeling that the grandfather (Rabbi Ra’anan) is here with them.” I added, “not only is he here, but the great-great grandfather (Rabbi Kook), is certainly here too.”
And as the crowd sang, “Asher Barah Sasson v’Simcha” – (G-d, who created joy and happiness), I could almost see them, Rav Shlomo Ra’anan, together with his grandfather, Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, and his uncle, Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, singing and dancing together, in the shadows of Ma’arat HaMachpela, with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, illuminating the site with an overwhelming sanctity of ‘sasson v’simcha’, joy and happiness, together with the bride and groom, the ‘chatan v’kallah.’
With blessings from Hebron.

Tuesday, October 5, 1999

The Iranian Connection

October 5, 2004

We have all been asking ourselves the same question, over and over again. Why? What happened to Ariel Sharon? Why is he insisting that Israel abandon Gush Katif and evict people from their homes?
The difficulty is compounded following the tragic events at the end of last week: Kasam missiles hitting Sderot, killing two babies, aged two and four. And this on the heels of the terror mortars and missiles in Neve Dekalim, which left a young woman dead, soldiers killed, and a mother of two shot to death by terrorists.
For the past couple of days Israeli troops have, much to the chagrin of the Europeans, moved en masse into several key strategic points in Gaza, including the infamous Jabalia refugee camp. Dozens of terrorists have been wiped out, including major producers of Kassam missiles, and those who operate them. This, in order to prevent further attacks on Sderot.
In a radio interview late Saturday night, Sharon emphasized that all rocket attacks on Sderot and ‘other Israeli communities must be stopped completely, ‘allowing the eviction to take place quietly,’ i.e., not under fire. Of course, it must be asked why Sharon didn’t take major offensive action many months ago, thereby preventing literally thousands of daily attacks on Gush Katif communities. It is quite clear that the State of Israel, according Sharon, is divided into different types of people: there are those who live in cities like Sderot, who have real red blood, and then there are others, like those living in Netzarim, Kfar Darom and Neve Dekelim, whose blood isn’t quite so red. Jewish sacrifices in Sderot are unacceptable; Jewish blood spilled in Gush Katif is another story.
What is imponderable is what exactly Sharon expects will occur following (G-d forbid), the retreat from Gaza. Israeli forces will totally pull out, leaving the entire southern border open to attack. Hamas has promised, time after time, to hit Ashkelon. Does Sharon believe that Hamas terrorists are liars? Hamas doesn’t lie – it tells the truth. They believe in the destruction of the State of Israel and they say it. They promise to kill Jews, and unfortunately, they do it. They guarantee that they will bomb Ashkelon, and I have not doubts that they will do their best to fulfill their pledge. And they have no plans to stop there.
So what does Sharon think – that fleeing from Gaza will solve all our problems, that Hamas will turn into our best friends? Far from it. When you run away from terror, the terror just follows you, like a tail. You cannot escape it or avoid it. The only way to deal with terror is head on – to destroy it. Ariel Sharon is accomplishing exactly the opposite. And it is hard to believe that he doesn’t know it. So, what’s up?
The following thesis is conjecture only. I have no proof of what I am about to say. I don’t have ‘connections’ with ‘higher-ups’ who have ‘leaked’ information to me. Truthfully, it is very difficult, if not down right impossible to accurately analyze the current situation because there is too much that is unknown. You can only analyze a situation based on the data available. When critical data is unavailable, the analysis can only be defined as unreliable.
That having been said, I would like to offer a possible explanation of Ariel Sharon’s escapades. The key is Iran and the magic word is nuclear weapons.
Only a few days ago Iranian foreign minister Kamal Kharrazi said, "Nobody has the right to deny Iran its right to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.” Last week, Iran defied the International Atomic Energy Agency by saying it was resuming the enrichment of uranium. Iranian Vice President Reza Aghazadeh said the country had started converting raw uranium into the gas needed for enrichment, an important step in making a nuclear bomb.
According to the internationally acclaimed security publication Janes, the Iranian reactor is an authentic nuclear threat: “A heavy water reactor is among the most dangerous in existence from a proliferation perspective…According to David Albright, Director of the Institute for Science and International Security, the IR-40 will be able to produce 8-10kg of plutonium per year - approximately one to two bombs' worth of nuclear material. The IAEA holds that 8kg of plutonium constitutes a "significant quantity" - enough to build a nuclear weapon. []
How is Israel reacting to the Iranian threat? Last week Defense Minister Shaul Mufaz stated that Israel has to be prepared to deal with what he called the Iranian “threat”.

“All options have to be taken into account to prevent it,” he was quoted as saying.

Earlier this month, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Israel is “taking measures to defend itself.”
What’s the connection between this and Gush Katif? My guess is this:
Ariel Sharon knows that Israel will have to strike first against the Iranian nuclear reactor, regarding this presently as the gravest strategic threat to Israel’s existence. He also knows that the mission may include preemptive strikes against Hizballah, stationed in Lebanon, and possibly also against Syria. He also knows that the entire world will condemn these actions.
In order to lessen the ‘damage’ as he sees it, before hitting Iran, he pulls Israel out of Gaza, in essence, saying to the world, ‘look, you see, I really want peace. I did what no other Israeli prime minister could do – now leave me alone and let me protect my country.’ Then Israeli warplanes bomb the Iranian reactor. In other words, in Sharon’s eyes, Gush Katif, and four Shomron communities are a necessary sacrifice in order to remove Iran from the nuclear club. He expects that the rest of the world will leave him alone after pulling Israeli families out of the homes.
He couldn’t be more wrong.
  1. Israel doesn’t need any excuses to destroy the Iranian threat. An Iranian nuclear bomb threatens not only Israel, but all of world peace. Where would we all be today if Israel hadn’t destroyed the Iraqi nuclear plant in 1981? Iranian Islamic fundamentalist leadership would have no qualms using the ‘bomb’ against Israel, nor would they hesitate to use it against any western nation, all of whom they view as ‘infidels.’
  2. Sharon’s fleeing from Gaza in order to placate world opinion creates, in itself, an existential threat to our state. True, if your leg is infected and must be amputated to save your life, then there is no choice. But in this case, the infection is left festering and the healthy limb is to be removed.
  3. This also establishes a very dangerous precedent for the future. Israel will be told, in no uncertain terms, ‘if you want to continue to protect yourself from outside threats, without international intervention, chop off another part of your body.'
  4. And perhaps most important, the world will never let us be. They assisted Hitler, actively or passively, sixty years ago. And they haven’t changed.
In other words, we must do whatever is necessary for self-preservation. And we must not play into the hands of our enemies, attempting to cosmetically ‘look good,’ in their eyes.
We must unconditionally guarantee destruction of the Iranian threat, we must stay put in all our land, and we must not allow the Iranian connection to disassemble our state.
With blessings from Hebron.