Dec. 25, 2002
These days it’s not difficult to be upset. We have a Prime Minister who’s talking about a Palestinian State. The other candidate for Prime Minister is talking about uprooting over 30,000 people the first year of his premiership, including all of the Gaza-Gush Katif communities, as well as Hebron and Kiryat Arba. The killing continues, and, as happened here in Hebron, rather than punish the terrorists, a new neighborhood, the most suitable response to the deaths of 14 people, is destroyed.
But things are not all bad. Sometime perhaps, we put the wrong emphasis on various activities, or even miss what is going on around us. Tonight I’d like to give you one example of what’s good, what can pick our spirits up.
Hebron’s Avraham Avinu neighborhood originated in the middle fifteen hundreds when a group of Jews made their way from Spain and Turkey to Hebron. The Jewish Quarter, as it was known, housed Jews for almost four hundred years, until the 1929 riots and massacre.
The Jewish Quarter was fully destroyed by Hebron Arabs with the assistance of the Jordanians in the late 1950s. When we arrived back in Hebron following the Six Day War, the neighborhood was in total ruins.
Outside the neighborhood, Arabs built a market. Several buildings were constructed on Jewish land, and transformed into the city’s vegetable shuk. And so it remained, even after the Israeli return to Hebron.
For years the market place was a serious thorn in the side of Hebron’s renewed Jewish community. It posed a great security risk, as the area was full of cars and trucks, and a daily mass of Arabs.
About eight years ago the wholesale market was closed for security reasons, but the retail market remained open until about two years ago when Arab terrorists threw a booby-trapped teddy bear into the market, hoping that a child would pick it up to play with. Fortunately soldiers in area discovered it before anyone else. When they saw the wires coming out of the teddy bear they realized it was a bomb and it was soon dismantled. That’s when the army finally closed the market.
To ensure that these buildings, built on Jewish land, would never be returned to our enemy, we began transforming the vegetable stalls into apartments, and over a year ago young couples began moving into these tiny homes. This was true redemption of the land.
In one of the market structures the community decided to build a couple of apartments for larger families. The work took quite a while but slowly the apartments started to take shape. A few weeks ago the Schlissel family, with eight children moved into their new home, in the former Arab market.
Rabbi Yisrael and Tzippy Schlissel are not newcomers to Hebron. Tzippy is the great grand daughter of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, and the daughter of Rabbi Shlomo Ra’anan who was killed by Arab terrorists in his Tel Rumeida home four and a half years ago. His wife Chaya remained in their caravan house, while giving one room of her dwelling for establishment of a Torah Study Center in memory of her murdered husband. The dean of that study center, called “Ohr Shlomo,” or “The Lights of Shlomo” is Tzippy’s husband, Rabbi Yisrael Schlissel.
For several years Rabbi Schlissel drove back and forth from his home in the Horesh community in Binyamin, north of Jerusalem. Not too long ago, on his way to Hebron, an Arab terrorist opened fire on his car. Miraculously one of the bullets ricocheted off the side-view mirror and only scratched him. The fact that he wasn’t badly hurt or even worse was an act of Divine providence.
The Schlissel family waited for a long time to move into their new apartment in Hebron. Rabbi Schlissel was even willing to forgo his position as Rabbi of his community in order to live here. This year one of their daughters began school in Kiryat Arba, living with her grandmother in Tel Rumeida. Finally, even though construction wasn’t 100% complete, they decided that the time had come. During the Hanukkah vacation they moved to their new apartment in the one-time ‘banana market’ outside the Avraham Avinu neighborhood in Hebron. Incidentally, or perhaps not so incidentally, the site of their apartment was once a famous Yeshiva initiated by Hebron Torah scholar, Rabbi Eliyahu Manni.
When it started raining heavily a couple of weeks ago, water started dripping from the Schlissel’s ceiling. The stairs leading from the ground floor to the upstairs bedrooms are still makeshift. When they moved in, the water and electricity had yet to be hooked up. But when I visited their new home, I didn’t find any dejected children. I didn’t find Tzippy or Rabbi Yisrael sitting around griping about the raindrops falling inside their house. Rather, I found a radiating happiness and warmth, the kind of which cannot be counterfeited. I found a family exalting in the joy of living in Hebron.
One might ask, following such tragedy, as was the murder of Tzippy’s father, Rabbi Shlomo Ra’anan, why would the family still want to come live here? Why wouldn’t they take Rebbetzin Chaya and flee? The answer is very simple. The most fitting way to commemorate Rabbi Ra’anan’s memory is to carry on where he left off, to follow in his footsteps. Rabbi Yisrael and Tzippy Schlissel waited over four years to finally have a house to live in, in Hebron, but now, here they are. The Oslo war didn’t scare them away. Two years of shooting at Hebron’s apartments and residents didn’t keep them from fulfilling a dream.
And so, my friends, even when events around us are liable to drag us down into the dumps, it’s important to know that, in reality, the ideals haven’t faded or disappeared. There are those who like us to believe otherwise, but as the saying goes, ‘it just ain’t so.’ And Rabbi Yisrael and Tzippy Schlissel and their eight children and the perfect example.
With blessings from Hebron,
This is David Wilder