Monday, December 23, 2002

A Perfect Example

A Perfect Example
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

Wednesday, December 4, 2002

Illuminating the Truth

Illuminating the Truth
December 4, 2002

Hanukkah is known as the festival of lights. A little illumination certainly wouldn?t hurt. 

Recent headlines told us that Israel?s UN ambassador, Yehuda Lancry, expressed Israel?s willingness to accept a ?two states for two people? policy. Prime Minister Sharon and Foreign Minister Netanyahu quickly repudiated the statement. It was also publicized that Defense Minister Mofaz was considering again withdrawing Israeli security forces from Bethlehem, in honor of Christmas. Mofaz denied this. Hebron?s Jewish community issued a letter saying, ?during the funeral of Colonel Dror Weinberg, we heard statements from the head?s of Israel?s security forces to the effect that there is no longer any reason to trust Palestinian security forces, and there is no longer any reason to place the security of Israeli citizens in their hands. After the last withdrawal from Bethlehem, a bus blew up in Jerusalem, killing and wounding dozens. The price we paid for the withdrawal from Hebron was catastrophic. Any decision to again withdraw will be a security fiasco and undoubtedly lead to further Jewish bloodshed.?

Subsequent headlines announced that Israeli Army Chief of Staff, Moshe ?Bugi? Ya?alon, speaking to a think-tank forum in Washington, admitted that ?a majority of the settlements would have be evacuated.? Ya?alon denied the remarks, explaining that he had said that ?the Palestinians thought that Israel would be willing to evacuate most of the settlements, but still refused to reach a peaceful solution with us.? And again, in the next day?s newspapers we were graced with the good news that the IDF is planning on destroying ?15 palestinian houses? between Kiryat Arba and Ma?arat HaMachpela in Hebron, in order to provide protection for those walking back and forth on the road. Of course, the objective is not only to pull down ruins that have lined the pathway for years, but also to build a so-called protective wall, all the way from Kiryat Arba to Hebron.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has labeled this latest plan for Hebron a sharvul, a sleeve. For the Jewish community in Hebron, the word "sleeve" has dire connotations. In Sharonolgy, "sleeve" means "wall." Loosely translated into everyman's lingo, "wall" means ghetto. Simply put, Sharon plans on reinventing an 800-year-old creation. The last official western European ghetto, in Rome, was abolished in 1870. Hebron, too, knew a ghetto. The Jewish Quarter, today called the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, was established in 1540 when Rabbi Malchiel Ashkenazi led Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 from their temporary residence in Turkey to the center of Hebron. That neighborhood, surrounded by a high wall, was essentially a ghetto. At that time, Hebron, as well as all of Eretz Yisrael, was governed by the Ottoman Empire. However, for all intents and purposes, the city was ruled by Arab sheikhs. The Jews were greatly outnumbered. There was no State of Israel. There was no Israeli army. There weren't any Jewish security forces. The community was at the mercy of the city's strong man. Thus the necessity of a protective ghetto.

Hebron's Jews started moving out of the ghetto in the early 1800s, spreading out throughout the city, living with, and among, their Arab neighbors. The relationship had its ups and downs, but for the most part, they lived peacefully together. Until the bubble burst during the 1929 riots and massacre, leaving 67 dead and 70 wounded. The Jewish survivors were expelled by the British military government.

When the Hebron Accords were signed and implemented almost six years ago, the concept of Hebron walls was revived. Politicians, military leaders and the Israeli civil administration cooked up numerous plans for a renewed ghetto. Hebron leaders asked the initiators of various proposals why walls were necessary. After all, Israel had just signed a "peace accord" with the "chosen partner," promising peace, quiet, and normalcy in Hebron. What they received by way of response was questioning looks, bordering on disbelief. The proposals were rejected out of hand by the Hebron leaders. Jews did not come back to Hebron to live in a ghetto, they reasoned. Jews left eastern Europe to escape the ghetto, to live in Israel as "a free people in our land", to quote the national anthem,Hatikva.

During the past two years, Hebron's neighborhoods have been attacked by terrorist gunfire from the surrounding hills. Virtually every day, for more than a year and a half, Jewish homes were the target of murderous attacks from the Abu Snena and Harat a-Sheikh hills. Ten-month-old Shalhevet Pass was one victim of Arafat-initiated terror. Others were injured, including children. The near misses are too numerous to count. But Hebron remained open - no walls, no fences, and no artificial boundaries. The result of the Hebron community policy was not an abandonment of the city. This past Succot, more than 40,000 Jews visited Hebron. Thirty thousand flocked to the city following the murder of Shlomo Yitzhak Shapiro. A few weeks ago, some 25,000 Jews participated in theShabbat reading of the weekly Torah portion describing Abraham's purchase of the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, at that very site. How many of these Jews would have dared visit Hebron knowing that the city's permanent residents lived only behind walls?

A wall symbolizes fear. A wall in Hebron, constructed in the midst of a war, signifies a terrorist victory, showing our enemies that they have instilled panic. The implications are clear: Continued terror will increase fear and eventually lead to the evacuation of the city. When has a wall ever been proven to be an effective deterrent to terror? Furthermore, today is not 1540. The State of Israel exists. It has an army. It has security forces. Why punish the victim of terrorism by ghettoizing him, while leaving the aggressor free?

Following the recent Hebron massacre, in which 12 soldiers and civilians were ambushed and killed, Sharon is recommending a "solution" to terror in Hebron. However, a walled-in Hebron is effectively a "short sleeve" - a short-term solution. What is needed is a "long sleeve," a long-term response to Arafat's declaration of war. A ghetto is not the answer.