September 29, 2003
The Jewish New Year, Rosh HaShana, is marked quite differently from January first. Whereas the latter is celebrated in Times Square, at gala parties, and the like, most of Rosh HaShana is spend in the synagogue. According to the Jewish calendar, a new ‘day’ begins at sunset, and so it is that we commenced our year on Friday night with evening prayers. Following the short service, each family returned to its home and began the first festive meal of 5764 (counting from the creation of the world), with the traditional ‘signs’ or symbols of the New Year, beginning with an apple and honey, while reciting the prayer ‘May it be G-d’s will that we should have a good and sweet year.’ The next morning, (and the following day too) many Jews spend between five to six hours at the synagogue, reciting numerous prayers, while looking back at the past year in retrospect and looking ahead to the new year with expectation.
I participated in early morning prayers at Ma’arat HaMachpela, the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. It’s difficult to characterize one’s own prayer, but I found my worship to be troubled. Reflecting on the past year was very painful. For many years, while living in Kiryat Arba before moving to Hebron, I prayed at the same synagogue with my friend Rabbi Eli Horowitz, sitting one row behind him. Year after year I would not only see his prayer, but in many cases actually sense it, especially during the High Holy days of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur. I was only a few months ago that Rabbi Eli Horowitz and his dear wife Dina were cut down in their apartment, murdered while eating their Sabbath meal on a Friday night. On Friday night and Saturday morning his image seemed to be constantly before my eyes.
One Saturday morning, during prayers, a friend of mine said something to me about the year starting off with a ‘bang.’ When I asked him what he was talking about he looked at me with surprise and asked, ‘what, you don’t know?” When I shrugged he added, ‘Negahot – a terrorist infiltrated last night, started shooting, and killed two people.”
Just as we were sitting down to eat on Friday night, so too, Eyal and Sarah Iberbaum, together with neighbors Shai and Shira Abraham, with some other guests, were dipping an apple in honey. The Iberbaums and Abrahams live in Negahot, about ten miles south-west of Hebron. A community of over thirty families, Negahot faced tremendous hurdles in the past few years as a result of the Oslo Accords because the main approach road to the community was transferred to Arafat and the PA. When the Oslo War began three years ago that road was cut off to Negahot’s families, who could then enter and leave their community only from the west. Hebron’s archivist, Shlomit Gadot could get to her office here in Hebron only after a two hour drive, as opposed to the twenty minutes it would take before the main road was closed.
Yet, despite the difficulties and terrorist activity in the area, the community continued to thrive. Not only didn’t people leave, rather, new families moved in. Negahot families began building permanent houses, allowing them to move out of temporary ‘caravan’ homes.
Eyal Iberbaum, 27 years old, had served in Negahot while still in the army, and after marrying a year ago, brought his bride to live in this beautifully scenic community. The Iberbaums, together with his neighbors, the Abrahams and some other guests, welcomed the New Year with hope and expectation for a happy, sweet, and good year.
It was just after nine o’clock when their dinner was interrupted by sharp knocking at the door. Eyal asked twice, ‘who’s there’ but received only a garbled, unclear answer. When he slowly opened the door, weapon in hand, a twenty-one year old terrorist from a nearby Arab village opened fire with an automatic rifle, killing Iberbaum. A guest in the house quickly shot at the terrorist, preventing him from entering the home. The terrorist, standing outside, started blasting his rifle at the ‘caravan’ home, whose walls are constructed of plasterboard. As a result of this shooting, seven month old Shaked Abraham, infant daughter of Shai and Shira, was hit in the chest. Her father, an ambulance driver, together with his wife attempted to resuscitate their daughter, to no avail. She died in their arms. Two other guests were slightly wounded.
Soldiers serving in Negahot quickly arrived at the site and within two minutes killed the Arab attacker. It was later learned that the murderer, Mahmoud Hamdan, was recently released from an Israeli prison after serving thirteen months because he planned to blow himself up in a suicide attack against Israelis. An Arab gets a year in jail for attempted murder, is released, and then fulfills his wish by killing a baby and a 27 year old man on the eve of the New Year.
At the end of every year, it is customary in certain circles to crown a ‘person of the year.’ I spent some time thinking about who is my ‘person of the year.’ In the end, I decided that my choice is not one particular person - rather it is a collective – Am Yisrael, living in Eretz Yisrael – the people of Israel, living in the Land of Israel – they are my ‘person of the year.’ Sure, people like Rabbi Eli and Dina Horowitz, Shaked Abraham and Eyal Iberbaum. Not only them though – but also Eli and Dina’s children, Shaked’s parents, and so many others, who have been afflicted by Arab terror which has left hundreds and thousands of dead and wounded. These are the people who are continuing to live – who are not giving up, are not leaving their homes, and have not despaired of their dream. These are the people of the year – and they are not just in Yesha, - Judea, Samaria and Gaza. They are from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and Hadera and Haifa, Eilat and Shlomi – continuing to live – to dip an apple in honey, wishing each other a happy, sweet and good New Year, despite the difficulties, despite the pain. This is the real Am Yisrael which has returned home – to our eternal home, our only home, Eretz Yisrael.
With blessings from Hebron, with blessings for a happy and better New Year, from all of Hebron’s men, women and children.