Another hour and a half and it will be Shabbat. The Sabbath starts early this time of the year.
I’ve been thinking back. A week ago today I was in New York, staying with friends in Queens, getting ready for our annual Hebron Fund dinner. Shabbat there was very pleasant; a quiet and holy atmosphere, nice people, and of course, great food.
Saturday morning I spoke in a neighborhood synagogue. The people were very warm and the Rabbi’s introduction almost left me with little to say. But, spokespeople, as it goes, always have something to say, and so I did. But the ‘interesting’ part of the prayer service, as far as I was concerned, wasn’t my speech. Rather it was what the wise Rabbi mentioned to me after my ‘aliyah,’ making the blessings over a portion of the Torah reading.
According to Jewish law, when a person has survived a ‘dangerous event’ he or she recites a special blessing of thanksgiving, called “HaGomel.” Plane trips, being over a great distance, also require recitation of this blessing, upon arrival at one’s destination, when receiving an ‘aliyah.’ So following the final blessing over the Torah portion, I dutifully repeated that particular blessing, thanking G-d for my safe arrival in New York.
When I returned to my seat and shook hands with the Rabbi, smiling he said: “you, who live in Hebron, and walk the streets of Hebron every day – here in New York you have to give thanks to G-d for your safety!?
That certainly is an interesting way to view our lives, and in truth, we don’t even pay attention to that thought of ‘walking the streets of Hebron’ and the seeming ‘dangers’ involved. After all, that’s our life.
Last week in New York, and yesterday, ‘covering’ a terrorist attack at the entrance to Kiryat Arba, at the gas station where I fill up every time my tank gets thirsty. An Arab stepped out of a taxi, holding a knife, and according to some reports, also an axe, starting screaming, not ‘HaGomel,’ rather Allah HuAkbar – and started slashing. Only true Divine miracle prevented anyone from being killed.
That kind of event brings a person back to ‘everyday reality’ very quickly.
But, thinking back is not only yesterday or last week. This Shabbat, exactly seven years ago, three terrorists attacked Jews outside the south gate of Kiryat Arba, leaving 12 dead, including 3 civilians from Kiryat Arba’s emergency squad, and nine officers and soldiers, among them, Col. Dror Weinberg, commander of the Judea Brigade, the highest ranking officer killed during the “Oslo War,” aka the 2nd intifada. Thinking about, not only those men we lost, but the bravery of those who stood and fought, and finally killed the terrorists, still sends chills down my spine.
Several of those heroes are from Hebron, but the person I remember most was a Druze officer name Siach, who drove over two and a half hours from his home in the north of Israel to Hebron to take part in the mission. Arriving and hearing that the last terrorist was still hiding on the roof of a house, he climbed up by himself, all alone, and faced off with the terrorist, killing him before the Arab killed him. Courage and faith so strong; it’s beyond my human comprehension.
And yet, with the terror, past and present, we continue to live ‘normal lives.’ The dinner last week on Saturday night at Citi Field in Flushing Meadows was a tremendous success, and in some ways, even an answer to terror. How so?
I don’t just measure the success only in terms of dollars and cents, or number of people attending. Of course, both are important; that cannot be denied. And in these respects I think the event was also successful. However, at least this year, success had another aspect – that being, the very fact that dinner took place, where it took place. American and Israel left wing organizations, Jewish and Arab, worked very hard to have the event cancelled. They wrote letters to the NY Mets, owners of Citi Field, initiated media events and protests, demanding that the event not take place, at least not at the home of the Mets. Newspaper and internet accounts, in Israel and in New York, were publicized.
To no avail. The Mets and the major league baseball commissioner refused to kowtow to these cowardly demands, and this is, in my opinion, part of the overwhelming success of the event.
It would be nice to see others, especially here in Israel, learn from the Mets, and refuse to accede to these types of terror. Like maybe our own Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu?! Last night minister Limor Livnat stated in no uncertain terms that the Israeli government has fallen on ‘an awful American administration’ and that the Prime Minister is going through heavy hardships and is ‘under a lot of pressure’ from the Obama administration.
So, what to do? To stand up, as did a soldier yesterday who shot the axe-wielding terrorist, and as did Siach 7 years ago and say “NO” – we will not accept this, and do something about it, or to cave in, to surrender, to declare a ‘construction freeze’ and again acquiesce to diplomatic terror?
I know what the answer is, as did those 12 men seven years ago, who gave their lives for Am Yisrael, for the people of Israel. As did all the people who today filled up their tanks at that same gas station where yesterday an Arab wounded two, attempting to murder them. You cannot run away, you cannot hide your head in the sand, you cannot make believe that ignoring it will only make things better. As someone said to me today, it’s like feeding the crocodile, hoping that if you feed him long enough he won’t eat you.
It doesn’t work that way because in the end, you wind up being the crocodile’s dessert.
Advice to Bibi: take note of Obama’s big teeth and hearty appetite.
In 1165 Moshe ben Maimon, known as Maimonides or the Rambam, visited Eretz Yisrael. In the preface to his commentary on the Talmudic tractate of Rosh Hashana he writes of his visit to Hebron.
"And on the first day of the week, the ninth day of the month of MarCheshvan, I left Jerusalem for Hebron to kiss the graves of my forefathers in the Cave of Machpela. And on that very day I stood in the Cave and I prayed, praised be G-d for everything. And these two days, the sixth (when he prayed on Temple Mount in Jerusalem) and the ninth of Mar-Cheshvan I vowed to make as a special holiday and in which I will rejoice with prayer, food and drink. May the Lord help me to keep my vows…At the edge of the field is the house of Abraham, And it is forbidden to build a home there, in respect to Abraham."
Eight hundred and forty four years ago today, one of Judaism's greatest scholars arrived in Hebron, following his visit to Jerusalem. One can only imagine his excitement, standing next to the caves of Machpela, worshiping adjacent to the graves of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. Perhaps we can sense a little of his exhilaration through his words, by vowing to mark his visit to Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and Ma'arat HaMachpela in Hebron, as an eternal, personal holiday.
Reading the Rambam's account, and feeling some of his awe, I ask myself, do people today, eight and half centuries later, still experience the same wonder when visiting such holy sites such as Temple Mount and Ma'arat HaMachpela.
A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine told me the following story:
Several years ago a famous Rabbi visited Hebron with many of his disciples. Upon arriving, he told his Hebron host, "I almost didn't come." When asked why, what was the problem, the Rabbi answered: "When the famous holy Rabbi Chaim ben Atar (known as the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh) traveled to the city of Meron (in the Galil) to the tomb of Rashbi (Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, renowned Jewish scholar and mystic who lived during the Talmudic era, author of the Zohar), he first imposed upon himself many hardships and suffering, by fasting, by rolling in the snow, and other physical afflictions, in order to purify himself before approaching the holy Rashbi's cave. Then, when he reached Meron, he crawled on his hands and legs to the site itself, out of fear and awe."
The Rabbi continued: Knowing this, how could I dare allow myself to visit the caves of Machpela, the tomb of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs?!"
His host looked at him and asked, "but you are here – you came anyhow."
The Rabbi answered, "Yes, I did come. I decided that it is permissible to visit your father and mother, even if your clothes are stained and dirty."
A poignant story, but with a very profound message. Ma'arat HaMachpela - Hebron, is not only the home the founders of our people, the roots of Judaism and all monotheism, the beginning of modern 'civilized' civilization. Hebron is the home of our mothers and fathers, Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa – that simple, that deep. Mommy and Daddy will always welcome their children home, notwithstanding anything!
I have the honor and privilege to work with many different people and groups, Jews and gentiles, youth and the elderly, people from all over the globe. My tours are fairly standard; I try to express the same values and information to everyone; it makes little difference to me who they are or what the represent. The material to be imparted is not only 'information' – it is much more that that – it is the essence of our very existence.
There are those people have heard some of it before. Others know almost nothing. But when they leave, almost undoubtedly, their lives have changed.
Not too long ago an Israeli man in his 40s visited here. He came in with a friend, and told me that he'd never been to Hebron, despite it only being an hour and a half from Tel Aviv. He also admitted that he didn't know why he had bothered to come. But, after two and a half hours of touring, he told me, 'now I'm starting to understand what's going on. I'd never understood it before.'
What did he understand? I'm sure some of the 'political issues' that always make the news had suddenly come alive. But his words didn't just reflect politics; they reflected an inner spiritual awakening: Hebron- this is me!
Earlier today I toured with a group of teenagers from a youth organization. About 18 years old, these kids all knew they were Jewish. But most of them didn't know a whole lot more that that, especially about Hebron. As we starting touring it was very difficult for them to listen to me; they were more interested in talking to each other. I found it frustrating and irritating, and numerous times asked them to either stop their private conversations or leave the group.
But by the time we'd reached the Avraham Avinu neighborhood they were starting to pay attention. And when we arrived at Ma'arat HaMachpela, our last stop, they were listening. I knew that something had clicked when, telling the story of how, in 1981, a group of Jewish men were able to actually enter the authentic Machpela caves themselves, one of the young women, her mouth open and her eyes sparkling, mouthed, 'wow!'
I don't know how much she knew about Hebron and Machpela before this trip, but I have no doubt whatsoever that the few hours here left an indelible mark on her soul.
That is, I think, what the Rambam so succinctly expressed in the paragraph quoted at the beginning of this article.
This is one of our major goals in Hebron – to bring Hebron alive and to the masses, to make this holy city and these holy sites accessible to all people. Many are able to actually visit these sites; others can 'virtually attend,' via our website. This is one of our goals: to bring Hebron and Ma'arat HaMachpela to as many people as possible throughout the world, to bring everyone home to Mom and Dad!
People frequently ask how they can be a part of our mission. Presently, I have two answers: We've begun a project allowing people to become honorary citizens of Hebron. We request a minimum donation of $50. All new citizens will receive a beautiful personal certificate and updated information about Hebron. Details can be seen at http://www.hebron.com/english/article.php?id=564.
In addition, in less than one month the New York-based Hebron Fund will host its annual Dinner. The funds raised at this event allow Hebron's Jewish community to continue to work on behalf of the Jewish people, keeping Hebron and Ma'arat HaMachpela accessible to anyone and everyone. Details can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/yjvb95o. If you can attend, great! If not, you can still select a 'Scroll of Honor Dedication" and contribute to the continued growth and development of the Jewish Community of Hebron.
Kol HaKavod to the IDF's Healthy soldiers October 23, 2009
Arutz 7 in Hebrew [http://www.inn.co.il/News/News.aspx/195691] screened a short video showing yesterday's swearing-in ceremony of soldiers from the Kfir infantry brigade at the Kotel in Jerusalem. Such ceremonies are usually very emotional, with family members and friends attending, as the new soldiers complete their basic training.
Such a ceremony is very symbolic, with the new soldiers proclaiming their willingness to give their lives for their people and for their country. However, in recent years soldiers have been called on to betray their land, Eretz Yisrael. Such orders given to expel Jews from their homes and their land are still being issued and implemented. Recently soldiers from the Shimshon unit of Kfir have been ordered to expel Jews from Homesh 10 times, including on Shabbat, Rosh HaShana Eve, and Yom Kippur Eve.
Yesterday, the newly inducted warriors declared their allegiance, not only to the State of Israel, but also the Eretz Yisrael and to G-d, by waving banners, during the ceremony, which read, "No to expulsions from Homesh." Family members and friends in the attending audience also waved such banners, which were forcibly taken by police and security forces at the site.
Thank G-d for such brave, healthy young men, who understand the value of Eretz Yisrael and the value of saying 'no' to such illegal commands, ordering expulsion of Jews from their land and home. Yesterday's act was particularly significant, taking place at the Kotel, adjacent the the holiest place in the world, Har HaBayit - Temple Mount and the Holy-of-Holies.
It's no secret the previous Prime Ministers have offered this very site to our enemies, who claim it as their own. These soldiers have made it clear: We will not have any part of expulsions, evictions, or other such immoral actions, in Homesh, Jerusalem or anywhere else.
The army is threatening to dismiss these soldiers from the IDF following 'suitable punishment.' What a waste! These are our true fighters, motivated and talented, willing to give their lives for their land, their people and their G-d. This is the real IDF.