The Second Matmid
July 29, 2002
Last Thursday night I left for a Shabbat program in New York. Before leaving I asked some friends to left me know immediately, if, G-d forbid, anything happened. Only a few hours after arriving on Friday morning the phones started ringing. The first accounts were of four Israelis killed by Arab terrorists, a few miles south of Hebron. Then we received a name, Elazar Lebovitch, who was, according to the reports, critically wounded. And then, a little while later, the news that he had been killed. The tragedy was compounded by the report that a couple, parents of ten children, and one of their sons, had also been murdered by the same terrorists who killed Elazar.
A few hours later, arriving at our Shabbat destination, the Hamptons on Long Island in New York, I realized that many of those present at the summer resort had very little knowledge of Hebron. Quite a few people asked me “why are you even staying in Hebron – it’s so dangerous, why don’t you leave?” Understanding the questions, I had to find a way to rationally explain the current situation, including the murder of Elazar Lebovitch, as well as an explanation of how we see the future. I’ll try to briefly relate to you a little of what I said to them on Saturday afternoon, in the hope that more people will comprehend.
“Today, the 18th day of Av, is the 73rd anniversary of the 1929 Tarpat massacre, which left 67 dead and over 70 wounded in Hebron. The survivors were evicted from the city by the British three days later.
On Thursday, the day before the riots started, four Jews, three men and a woman, all of whom belonged to the Hagana, the Jewish defense force in Israel, arrived in Hebron. They brought with them weapons and a fateful message. They told Hebron’s Jewish leadership that the Jew-hating mufti, Haj Amin el-Husseini was again inciting, and that a violent outburst was likely. They offered to leave the weapons in Hebron, or even to stay and help protect Hebron’s Jews against Arab aggression. However, the Jews refused, responding that the presence of weapons would be viewed as a provocation by their Arab neighbors. They claimed that the Arabs were their friends who would protect them in any time of need. Hebron’s Jews sent the Hagana representatives back to Jerusalem that same today, together with the weapons.
The next day, Friday, the mufti sent messengers throughout Eretz Yisrael, saying that the Jews were attempting to conquer Temple Mount and that Arab blood was flowing through the streets of Jerusalem. This was, of course, a lie, but it acted as a signal and the Arabs began rioting. The rumors reached Hebron on Friday afternoon. Leaving their afternoon prayers, Hebron’s Arabs began rioting. Their first stop was the famous Hebron Yeshiva, which came to Hebron from Lithuania in 1924. Due to the summer break, many of the students were on vacation. Others were preparing for Shabbat. One man was sitting in the study hall, learning Torah. His name was Shmuel HaLevy Rosenhaltz. He was nicknamed the ‘Matmid’ a person who is diligent and consistent. Shumel HaLevy Rosenhaltz was always studying, never closing his books, constantly learning. The Arab mob discovered him alone in the study hall and killed him. He was the first Jew murdered in Hebron during the riots, on Friday afternoon, only a short time before Shabbat.
Yesterday, Friday, the 17th day of Av, exactly 73 years to the day when Shmuel HaLevy Rosenhaltz was murdered, we lost another Matmid, Elazar Lebovitch, at about the same hour, the exact time that Rosenhaltz was killed. Elazar, killed on the eve of his 21st birthday, a Sergeant serving in the Israeli army for over two years, was also a ‘Matmid.’ He was a ‘Matmid’ for Eretz Yisrael, he was a ‘Matmid’ for Hebron, he was a ‘Matmid’ for everything that was pure and holy.
Elazar Lebovitch was driving a young couple, married only two days before to Hebron, for their first Shabbat together as husband and wife. Neria ben Yitzhak, one of thirteen children, whose family lives in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron, together with his new wife Sarah, from the Shomron community of Itamar, were on their way to Hebron to celebrate their two-day old marriage. When the terrorists attack their car, Elazar was hit, but continued driving. When he collapsed, Neria took the wheel from him and continued until they reached security and rescue forces. But it was too late to save Elazar, one of ten children, who lived in Hebron since the age of two, who was to have celebrated his 21st birthday the next day.
People ask, how can you continue on, how do you not reach despair? Last week we read in the weekly Haftorah, the section of the prophets recited following the Torah reading, from the book of Isaiah. In chapter 40, verse nine, we read, “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain; O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah: 'Behold your G-d!' We read this verse in conjunction with the announcement of imminent redemption and the coming of the Messiah.
Why is it necessary, according to the verse in Isaiah, to stand on a high mountain while hearing of the forthcoming redemption?
If one looks straight ahead while standing on a flat surface, one sees only what is directly in front of him, whatever it may be. The range of vision is severely restricted to an area close to the viewer. However, if one stands high up, as exemplified here by a mountain, one can see for great distances, in all directions.
Today, when we look in front of us, many times, it seems that all we see is darkness, pain and sorrow. That is, however, an optical illusion. For if we stand up high, and look from afar, we see, not only the darkness but much light – the light of Avraham Avinu and of David HaMelech. We see the strength of Am Yisrael through the generations, we see Am Yisrael, leaving the ovens of Aushwitz to fight a war of Independence only three short years later, taking on all the Arab armies of the world and defeating them. We see the light of 1967, of our return to Jerusalem, Hebron and Shechem.
We read these verses from Isaiah on the Shabbat immediately following Tisha b’Av, commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temple in Jerusalem, over two thousand years ago. Tisha b’Av represents, perhaps, the darkest moments of Jewish history, a time that could have easily lead to total despair. That is why we read these verses immediately after Tisha b’Av, in order to restore faith and confidence in the hope for the future.
So it is today, a time of terror and bloodshed. Rather than despair and lose hope, we must see Am Yisrael as it really is, not the darkness of the present, rather the greatness of our people over the centuries. When we understand who we really are and our role in the world through a perspective of history it is much easier to look forward, past the present trials and troubles, to what will undoubtedly be a magnificent future. Just as we have overcome attempts to annihilate us in the past, so too today, we will overcome the terror and warfare declared against our people. Trusting in G-d, and doing what we must, we will be victorious.
To this end Elazar Lebovitch, Hebron’s second ‘Matmid,’ dedicated his short life. It is our obligation to continue in his footsteps, and in the footsteps of the hundreds and thousands of others who have fallen, having sacrificed themselves for Am Yisrael, Eretz Yisrael and Torat Yisrael."
With blessings from Hebron,
This is David Wilder