Friday, March 29, 2013

Passover's Eternal Flame

Passover's Eternal Flame

David Wilder
March 29, 2013

This time of the year is always special. Spring is arriving, the weather becoming really beautiful, and lots and lots of people in Hebron.
Hebron’s Passover celebration included, this year, well over 50,000 people. Wednesday and Thursday were the ‘big days’ with all of Ma’arat HaMachpela open to Jewish visitors, including the Isaac Hall, open to us only 10 days a year.
Thursday’s music festival didn’t leave any of the tens of thousands disappointed. The shows began at 12:30 in the afternoon and continued until almost 7:30, when Lipa Schmeltzer put on a show never to be forgotten. First he sang and danced a duet with Chaim Yisrael, and then continued by himself. It was a huge amount of fun.
As were the children’s events, tours, and just seeing so many wonderful people walking the streets of Hebron’s Jewish community, following in the footsteps of Abraham and Sarah, King David, and multitudes of Jews over the centuries.
That having been said, I must admit that, with all its energy and fun, and as much as I look forward to and enjoy these days, this year, my favorite event didn’t occur in Hebron.
Those of you who have read these articles over the years may remember numerous essays about Gush Katif. My favorite place in Gush Katif was, as I described it many times, the Garden of Eden in Gaza, a community called Kfar Darom. My family vacationed there several summers, having befriended a delightful family, who had adopted my oldest daughter, Bat-tzion, when she spent her year of volunteer service there.
Several articles featured the Sudri family, and among others, their oldest daughter, Tamar.
The last time I wrote about her was a few years ago, after her marriage to a wonderful man named Oneg. A couple of years ago they had their first child, a little girl.
Last week, Tamar gave birth to their first boy. Today was his ‘brit’ – circumcision. A few of us from Hebron traveled an hour and a quarter, south, to the festivity.
After the destruction and expulsion from Kfar Darom, the Sudri family was moved to an apartment building in Ashkelon. From a nice house, to an apartment. Not great, but ‘temporary.’
Honestly, I don’t remember how long they were there. Many too many years. The new homes in a new community, as they’d been promised, never materialized. About two years ago they finally received a ‘kara-villa- that is, a so-called fancy mobile home, outside a community called Nir Akiva, east of Gaza, near Netivot and Beer Sheva. The called the new community Shavei Darom, ‘Returning South.’
Speaking to one of the men there this morning, I asked about permanent housing. He pointed in the direction of a big empty area, and said, ‘there.’ “Has anything started, any building?” He shook his head no. “When?” He just shrugged his shoulders.
I get very emotional at Gush Katif – Kfar Darom events. They bring back many many memories. I walked into the small synagogue and immediately noticed the plaque on the wall. I remembered it from the Kfar Darom synagogue. A memorial sign, for those people from the community, killed there by terrorists.
On another wall, letters spelling out ‘Kfar Darom, M’az u’le’tamid’ –‘ Kfar Darom, from then and forever.’ Including, of course, photos of the community sites and people.
The baby’s brit didn’t take too much time. A great grandfather held the infant, who was named Tzvi. Afterwards, we participated in the festive meal, before heading back to Hebron.
Before the meal I asked Tamar’s mother who the baby was named for and she didn’t know. I mentioned, ‘well, Eretz Yisrael is compared to a Tzvi – a deer, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what’s behind the name. That would be fitting of Tamar. Later, when Oneg spoke, he did say that one of the reasons for the name was the idea I’d spoken of.
Actually, as much as I enjoyed seeing my friends, the Sudris, and participating in the celebration, my real focus was on Tamar. I’d known her since she was a little girl and had witnessed her evolvement through the most horrible events that can be imagined. Rocket attacks, terror attacks, culminating in expulsion.
I’ve seen her every once in a while, but this was special, seeing her with her husband and two small children. She glowed, radiating joy.
How? How does one reach such bliss with so many scars?
The answer, I think, is not difficult to fathom. We are in the midst of the Passover holiday, celebrating the exodus from Egypt. Jews had been enslaved for hundreds of years, had almost entirely lost their Jewish identity, having assimilated into the Egyptian culture. Yet they never gave up hope of redemption, and the Divine hand of G-d did redeem them, removing them from foreign bondage with miracles galore.
That is, in brief, the history of the Jewish people, time and time again. Could anyone have imagined that three years after a holocaust, the Jewish people would be able to found a State and victoriously fight a war of independence?
That flow of optimism, being able to see the light, even in the darkest of rooms, keeps us going; that’s what, I believe, keeps Tamar going. We all blessed the family that their next simcha – celebration, should take place back in Kfar Darom, including Tzvi’s Bar Mitzva and wedding.
And it will happen. We will go back to Kfar Darom, and Netzarim, and Neve Dekalim and all the other communities destroyed, they will be rebuilt and repopulated, they will grow and thrive, it will happen. Just as we were redeemed from Egypt – will will go back home to Kfar Darom.
Seeing Tamar, with her husband Oneg and their two small children – this is the eternal flame, this is the result of what happened some 3,300 years ago, that we still celebrate today.
This is what made this year’s Passover special for me.
All photos: David Wilder

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

At any price

Over the past few days I’ve seen numerous articles, effectively open letters to Obama, suggesting courses of action while here in Israel. I believe it much more important, not to advise the President, rather to speak to Israeli leaders, those now holding the reins of power in our country.
Most groups that I guide here in Hebron visit, among other places, the museum in Beit Hadassah. This site allows people to receive, over a few minutes, a comprehensive education about the history of Jewish Hebron, over hundreds of years.

One of the most emotional places in the museum is the memorial room, dedicated to the memory of 67 Jews slaughtered in Hebron during the riots in August, 1929. In words and photos, people can understand, in a relatively short period of time, the background to the atrocities committed by their next door neighbors, and the subsequent consequences.

A day prior to the beginning of the massacre, Thursday, August 22, a group of Jews belonging to the Hagana, the Jewish defense organization, visited Hebron and met with the Jewish community leaders. They offered them weapons, saying that Mufti Haj Amin El Husseini was inciting and trouble was about to erupt. Hebron’s Jews refused to take the weapons, explaining that they would only act as a provocation, that they’d already met with the city’s Arab leadership, who promised to protect them. As a result, when, the next day, the rioting commenced, they had no means of protection. The results are history.

Upon conclusion of this explanation, I express two thoughts to my audience: First, in 1967, during the Six Day War, Israel did not conquer and occupy a foreign city when arriving in Hebron. Rather, they had come home. And second: We must be able to protect ourselves. Not only on an individual basis; rather on a national level. When Israel puts its security in the hands of others, the only thing we receive in return are dead Jews. Oslo left Israeli security with Arafat.
The result: some 2,000 people killed by Arab terror. Israel abandoned Gaza to the Arabs and have paid a price of some 13,000 rockets and missiles shot into Israel from the land we gave them.

These are the same two thoughts which Israeli leaders must recite to themselves, as well as to their guests, in the coming days. Israel is our homeland. Hebron is the heart of Israel. Beit El is the path via which the Patriarch Abraham toured our land, and was literally a stairway to Heaven. Shilo was home to our most sacred sanctuary for hundreds of years. And of course, Jerusalem is our eternal capital.

Israel is facing a seemingly lethal threat from Iran. Syrian weapons of mass destruction may fall into the hands of Hizballah and Hamas. We cannot and must not allow responsibility for our security to be in the hands of anyone else but ourselves. Not at any time. But certainly not when the man who is President of the United States’ middle name is Hussein.

While speaking of ‘settlements’ in Judea and Samaria, while discussing Jerusalem and the other holy cities in our Land, our leaders can pose simple questions to Obama and Kerry: ‘Would you, in return for a peace accord with Al-Qaeda, give them Boston or Philadelphia?” “Would you grant them total autonomy or sovereignty in a section of Washington D.C.?”

And while discussing Syria’s chemical weapons, and Iran’s nuclear weapons program, “would you allow Canada to decide if and when the United States should attack and destroy North Korea’s nuclear weapons’ facilities?

Rafael Medoff, in an op-ed piece titled, Obama, FDR and Zionism in today’s Jerusalem Post, basically expresses the bottom line: “By 1942, FDR was so averse to being seen as pro- Zionist that he rejected even a request to permit the Palestine (Jewish) Symphony Orchestra to name one of its theaters the “Roosevelt Amphitheatre… [We] asked the President about refugees, the White Paper, etc. What he proposed to do about these things. [We] made a number of suggestions to him as to what [we] thought he ought to do and the answer to all of these suggestions was ‘No’… David Niles, a close adviser to FDR, once remarked that if Roosevelt had lived (and thus Harry Truman remained vice president), he probably would not have supported the creation of Israel, and as a result the Jewish state might never have been established.”

This was the ‘almighty FDR,’ who, in 1933 said, 'The German authorities are treating the Jews shamefully and the Jews in this country are greatly excited. But this is also not a governmental affair. We can do nothing except for American citizens who happen to be made victims."

And what about the ‘almighty BHO’. How will he be quoted fifty or sixty years from now?
‘I really was very sorry, but there wasn’t anything we could do, it was too late…’

The answer, clearly, is to make sure he understands, in no uncertain terms, Israel is our country, our land. It’s not for sale, none of it, at any price. And we will make sure it stays that way, that it stays safe, at any price. Period.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Black Smoke

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Black Smoke
Let’s play a little name recognition game: Esther Ochana – ring a bell? Or Yehuda Shoham?
If we move forward in time: Asher Palmer and Yonatan Palmer?
All were killed because of Arabs throwing rocks at Jewish cars. Esther Ochana, in Hebron, in January 1983, Yehuda Shoham, in June, 2001. And the Palmers, September, 2011.
Presently, three year old Adelle Biton is fighting for her life, following a rock attack on her mother’s car last night, near Ariel, in the Shomron. And according to today’s news reports, Arabs are continuing to try to kill people in the same way, from the same place where Adelle was injured, with others, last night.
Over the past few weeks Israeli leaders have been viciously assailing “Jewish nationalist’ attacks against Arabs. A few cases of Jews throwing rocks at Arabs has been reported, including one such incident in Jerusalem. The assault against such episodes reached France, when President Shimon Peres told reporters in Paris, “"Attacking Arab citizens is a terrible thing, done by a handful of people but leaving a very large stain."
I’m not in favor of unprovoked rock-throwing, or any other kind of physical attack, against anyone, Arabs, Jews, or anyone else. But, as long as I can remember, at least since I’ve lived in the Hebron area, that being about 32 years, Jews have been targets of, at the least, rock attacks. On the road going north, between Hebron – Gush Etzion –Jerusalem. And going south, towards, Beer Sheva. And even the short distance between Kiryat Arba and Hebron.
During the ‘first Intifada,’ during the late 1980s, before buses had plastic windows, dozens, if not more, people were wounded when boulders hit glass windows on public transportation between Kiryat Arba and Jerusalem. Over the years these attacks grew, as a malignant cancer, throughout other places in Judea, Binyamin and Samaria. Even road 443, leaving Jerusalem towards Modi’in has become a favorite of attempted murder by rock.
Of course, these rock attacks culminated with massive shooting attacks during the Oslo War, aka the 2nd intifada, in the early 2000s. For the past few years rock aggression has again reared its dangerous head.
I recall, prior to the Palmer killing, being told that a senior officer, (now a very senior officer) instructed his troops not to get overly excited about rock-throwing. “It’s sufferable,” he was quoted as saying. He visited the Palmers during the week of mourning, and I approached him as he left their home, querying him about this. Of course, he denied ever saying such words.
But I didn’t believe him then. And I don’t believe him today.
Rocks heaved at Jewish vehicles has almost become an Arab pastime, like baseball. And virtually nothing, but nothing, is done to stop it. The proof of that statement is that such ambushes continue, non-stop. Were proper action taken, they could be stopped. It’s a question of will. It seems that there are those who aren’t interested in preventing Jews, be they men, women, children or babies, from being injured or killed by projectiles flying through the air at moving vehicles.
Here in Hebron, for the past weeks, Arabs have continued throwing rocks at Beit Hadassah and at security forces, from the border area between the Jewish/Arab parts of the city. Tear gas and stink bomb odors have permeated our homes and streets, whenever the wind changes directions. But the attacks continue, and continue, and continue. And I don’t remember hearing Peres talk about stains on the Arab population in Israel.
This is outrageous.
A couple of nights ago, international excitement seemed to be contagious. White smoke was seen pouring out of the Vatican chimney. Simultaneously, here in Israel, ‘white smoke’ was reported puffing out of the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem, when coalition agreements were being finalized, paving the way to a new government early next week.
But, at the moment, I don’t see any white smoke coming from anywhere. All I see is thick, ugly, smelly, black smoke, seemingly filling our skies. A black smoke, brought on by Jewish incitement, provoking Arabs, such as Peres’ ‘stain’ remarks, and other politician’s comments, people who are quick to the draw when a Jew looks cross-eyed at an Arab, but who remain speechless when Jews come under daily attack. This kind of smoke is poisonous, and must be dispelled prior to its doing too much damage.
The firefighters today, Bibi, Boogie, Avigdor, Naftali, Yair, and the others, must take quick, firm action, leaving no questions in the minds of Arabs trying to kill Jews, that they will get back, in return, what they are attempting to do to us. That’s why there are Israeli security forces. They must be ordered, on all levels, to put out the fire, now.
One of the ways that we can bring back the white smoke is, despite the issues, to continue driving the roads, visiting communities in Judea and Samaria. As Passover approaches, there will be plentiful activities throughout Jewish communities all over Yesha. I call upon all those in Israel during Pesach, to visit and support such communities.
Here in Hebron, our semi-annual music festival will take place on Thursday of Passover. Ma’arat HaMachpela, the tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, will be entirely open, including the Isaac Hall, on both Wednesday and Thursday. Our neighbors around us must see that their attacks will not scare us away; to the contrary, more and more people will visit, and populate these holy places.
And our new government must know that we will not let them sit quietly in their air-conditioned offices in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv while Jews are bombarded by rocks and boulders on the roads.
The time has come to stop this black-smoke rock-terror, for once and for all.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Laughter in the cemetery

Laughter in the cemetery

David Wilder
March 10, 2013

Late this afternoon a small group of people gathered at Hebron’s ancient cemetery, standing adjacent to a small grave stone.
News from Hebron 
The Hebron Press Office 
March 26, 2001 

Terrorist gunfire kills one and injures one in Hebron
At about 5:00 this afternoon an Arab sniper shot and killed a 10 month old baby girl, Shalhevet Techiya Pass, and wounded her father, Yitzhak Pass, with two bullets in the legs. They were shot at the entrance to the Avraham Avinu neighborhood. The baby was in the mother's arms at the time of the shooting and was hit in the head. Emergency medical teams arrived immediately. The father was treated and evacuated to hospital. The doctors were not able to save the baby.
A Hebron spokesman issued the following statement: For seven months the Hebron community has been shot at from Abu Sneneh and Harat a'Shech hills surrounding Hebron. Before the hills were transferred to Arafat, 4 years ago, we warned that the hills would be a source of Arab gunfire, directed at the community. We were laughed at. Following the beginning of the war, seven months ago, we again warned that if the hills were not recaptured by the Israeli army, blood would be spilled. Several times, Arab snipers have barely missed hitting soldiers and civilians in the Avraham Avinu neighborhood. This afternoon the sniper hit two people - a 10 month old baby in her mother's arms, and her father. If Ariel Sharon does not fulfill his promise to provide security for Hebron's residents - if he does not give orders to the army to retake the hills, Hebron's community will have no choice but to take appropriate action. Ariel Sharon promised security. Since he was elected, two innocent people have been killed. If Sharon does not react to today's shooting, why was he elected?
“We walked with Shalhevet in her stroller in the direction of the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, her grandparents, my wife's parents, and when we reached the entrance to the neighborhood, then, I remember the blast I felt in my legs, at the first moment I didn't understand what had happened, and when I turned around and saw that my legs were hit, I realized that I'd been shot. I lay down on the ground behind the soldier's station, my wife took Shalhevet from the stroller in the direction of a wall that could block them from the shooting, and when she held her head, she discovered that Shalhevet had been shot in the head. The soldiers started arriving, there was shooting, until I was evacuated. I remember it like it was yesterday.” (Itzik Pass, two years ago, on the 10th anniversary of the murder).
News from Hebron 
The Hebron Press Office 
March 26, 2001
Terrorist shooting update: 
Hebron's leadership held an emergency meeting tonight following the sniper shooting which left Shalhevet Techiya Pass, 10 months old, dead, and her father, Itzik Pass, wounded. He was hit in the legs and is presently undergoing surgery at Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem. Hebron's leadership has demanded that the hills surrounding Hebron be retaken by the Israel Defense forces. During the meeting is was decided that the Hebron community would stage a 24 hour a day protest in the Arab market, next to the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, until the hills are again under Israeli control.
It was decided to name the hills, (presently called Abu Sneneh), the Shalhevet hills, in memory of the murdered baby. (Shalhevet means "flame" in Hebrew.) Presently several Hebron leaders are meeting with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem, demanding that he fulfill his campaign promise to provide security for Jews in Judea, Samaria and Gazza. Should Sharon refuse, it is expected that massive protest demonstrations against the Sharon administration will begin throughout Israel. Funeral plans are still pending.
Q. Shalhevet was your first born and at that time, only child. Since then your wife has given birth several times.
When Shalhevet was killed she was towards the end of her pregnancy. A few months later she gave birth to another daughter, Renana Nechama, and since then, thank G-d, we have two sons and three daughters, the last one was born two weeks ago and thank G-d, we see comfort in the children. This is one of the things that gives strength. We know that we still have reasons to continue and for what to aspire.
Q. What do you teach them, what do you tell them?
We tell them what happened, without hiding anything. I think that it's important that children, as soon as they are able to comprehend, should understand the reality and know that Hebron isn't like every other place in the world, that there are the complexities here. The children understand it, they live here and they know we're not in Tel Aviv, that here there are soldiers and Arabs, that sometimes we get hit by rocks. Sometimes they feel the realities and complexities, but the bereavement is part of our life. I don't think it should be blurred. It's important that the children should know that, first of all, there is a price for our faith, for what we think and what we do, and that we gave our most valuable possession for the sake of Eretz Yisrael, for the sake of settling the land. (Itzik Pass, two years ago, on the 10th anniversary of the murder).
Before the short memorial service began this afternoon, some of the Pass children were running around in the cemetery. Itzik picked up one of his children, laughing. His father, standing next to him, seemed very surprised to see his son laugh, and so remarked. Itzik replied, ‘a cemetery is a funny place.’
Thinking about this statement, I realized that Itzik has what to laugh about. True, he and his wife Oriya lost their first child. But the sniper’s bullet was not meant to kill only Shalhevet. It was aimed at all Hebron, at all our men, women and children. For some reason, it hit and killed a tiny baby. But, in the end, Itzik and Oriya Pass defeated both the sniper and all those who sent him to perform his evil deed. For they are still here in Hebron, thriving in Hebron, raising their children in Hebron. Their victory is triumphal example to all, of dedication, determination, and self-sacrifice. Sure, tears can still be shed; the feeling of the loss is still tangible. But the Pass’ conquest over evil, over terror, is too, tangible.
Q. Itzik, why did you stay here in Hebron?
First of all, we are stubborn. The Jewish people are stubborn, a stiff-necked people. We are enrooted in this land. Both in our personal family, and in a more general way, this is everything. There is nothing, not murder, not Arabs, which can uproot us from here, because we are a stiff-necked people. Despite what the Jewish people have experienced, we have been able to hold our heads high. We have to understand how they lived in Galut where anyone could do whatever he wanted to Jews, and here, and here, in Eretz Yisrael, we hold our heads high, standing straight and tall, no one will ever get us out of here. (Itzik Pass, two years ago, on the 10th anniversary of the murder).
Entire interview here

All photos and video: David Wilder