Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Thank you, Amir Benayoun

Thank you, Amir Benayoun

An interesting thing happened last night on the way to Ma’arat HaMachpela. I just happened to bump into 2,500 people.

Actually, it wasn’t a chance accident. It was, rather, intentional.

In Hebron we have two annual music festivals: one during the Passover holiday and the other during Succot. Usually we host numerous performers, finishing off the event with a ‘big-name’ singing star. These events can attract from the thousands to the tens of thousands, depending on the show. The crowd is usually ‘chasidic’ – young, religious men and women who come into Hebron for a free, fun day.

A few months ago we decided to add another musical event to our annual agenda. However, rather than cater to the ‘normal’ Hebron crowd, we opted to reach out to others, who don’t necessarily care for ‘chasidic’ religious music. We also decided to charge admission.
There are many people, religious and secular, who live all over Israel, who have, for one reason or another, never been to Hebron. We chose to give them a good reason to visit our holy city.

Amir Benayoun , not yet forty, has released over 12 albums since 1999. A native of Beer Sheva, Benayaoun , today living in Modi’in, started on a path to religious Judaism over ten years ago. His musical style, much closer to ‘Mizrachi’ that is, ‘oriental’ Jewish music, as opposed to Chasidic, Ashkenazi tunes. Over the years he became extremely popular, especially amongst younger audiences, spread out throughout Israel.

When approached to perform in Hebron, Amir became quite excited, saying that he’d never yet been here. A date was set, and a couple of weeks ago, tickets were put on sale.

It was apparent, almost immediately, that the show would be sold out. Many times, tickets go slowly, with a surge towards the last day or so before the show. Not so with these tickets, with this performance. The show was going to be held across the street from Ma’arat HaMachpela, in the area of the ‘Chicago Square’ garden. We figured we’d have room for about 1,700 people. That was our target number. Last night, some 2,500 people viewed the concert.

It really was an amazing show. Amir arrived in Hebron at about six o’clock. After a brief stage rehearsal he visited Ma’arat HaMachpela for the first time in his life. I spoke to him as he was leaving, asking him for his feelings. He had difficulty expressing himself, saying that it would take a few days for him to actually digest the fact that he’d visited the tomb of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs.

The show started at about 8:30, with an opening by Amir’s brother Avi, a talented musician in his own right. After a few songs, Amir came on stage. The entire area crackled with electricity of expectation.

Benayoun didn’t let anyone down. His powerful voice, and even more powerful lyrics, filled the air for well over an hour. As with such performances, the crowd didn’t want to let him go. But this affair was really special, as behind Amir Benayoun, we could see, towering above us all, Ma’arat HaMachpela. The spirituality of that site, combined with the spirituality of many of Amir’s lyrics, filled the air with a unique expression of Jewish faith and music.

The fact that he’d never yet been in Hebron didn’t prevent Amir from producing a special song about Hebron and Ma’arat HaMachpela. Together with Moshe Klughoft , he wrote ‘Mother, look’ – ‘Mother, look, so much time has passed, I’ve returned to you…’.

Truthfully, I didn’t know if I’d really enjoy the evening. Such events are always exciting. Seeing so many people in Hebron, knowing that for many of them this was their ‘first time,’ leaves you with a thrilling sensation. But I wasn’t sure how I’d deal with the music. But, boy, was I in for a surprise. It was out of this world. I guess that’s really not strange, being that we are situated at the entrance to the Garden of Eden.

Amir’s music really is true ‘soul music,’ delving into the deepest layers of a person’s being, his voice soul-piercing, together with words and music, penetrating unfathomable depths. In other words, it was really something else. A night to be remembered.

Well, this was the first of such events. I’m sure they’ll be more. I have a feeling we’re going to have to figure out how to fit more people into the concert area, because, had we had the room, I’m sure we could at least have doubled the number of participants.

Seeing and feeling all those people, singing, and rocking together with Amir Benayoun and his band left us all here uplifted, with a feeling that more people are now connected to Hebron, and Ma’arat HaMachpela.

Thank you, Amir.

Photographs and video: David Wilder

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Hebron and Brussels

Hebron and BrusselsJune 3, 2013

A ‘good friend’ of Israel is doing us a favor. He’s leaving the country. Thank G-d.
Andrew Standley has been the European Union’s ambassador to Israel.  In the past he was quoted
as having stated that Judea and Samaria are ‘occupied territory’ and that Israel is the ‘occupier.’

Today, as he prepares to conclude his term in our holy country, he again spoke of Israel’s presence in our homeland, this time pointing his poison arrows at Hebron:

“You must choose between Haifa and Hebron. I am not a Jew or an Israeli, and I don’t have any historical or  political connection , but it should be remembered that the state of Israel agreed to the 1947 partition plan, and thereby agreed to a partition the significance of is Haifa yes and Hebron no. Can you imagine that your heart which wants Hebron will give up your mind which wants peace?”

Is this really the question, that of heart vs. mind? Our emotions tug at Hebron, while our intellect demands peace? Are these really two opposites? Hebron or Haifa - Hebron or peace?

A few days ago I accompanied a group of Americans and Canadians to visit Sheich Farid Jabari, at a tent where he hosts guests in the southern Hebron Hills. Jabari is the leader of Hebron’s largest clan, and has spoken at meetings of the EU in Brussels. I have met with him numerous times.

Jabari minces no words. He told the group: ‘You hold up the Bible and say that G-d gave you this land. I hold up the Koran and say that Allah gave us this land.’

For this reason Jabari, as opposed to other Arabs, publicly rejects a ‘palestinian state.’ He states equivocally, ‘If this land was G-d-given to me, I cannot give any of it to you.’  Acknowledgement of a ‘palestinian state’ is also direct acceptance of the State of Israel, and Jewish sovereignty in what he refers to, and believes, is his land. That being, Eretz Yisrael. All of it. He personally would prefer to live in the State of Israel, as an Israeli citizen, rather than agree to ‘partition’ of the land and Arab-Muslim recognition of Israel’s right to any of Israel.

For quite some time, speaking with various groups, I’ve expressed my opinion that one of the necessary prerequisites to any ‘solution’ of the Middle East conflict is Jewish acceptance of our legitimate right to live in our land. This is first and foremost. The roots of this legitimacy was expressed by David Ben Gurion: “Testifying before the Peel Commission, the British royal commission sent to Palestine in 1936 in the wake of Arab violence, David Ben-Gurion, head of the de facto Zionist government in Palestine, was asked to identify the basis of the Jewish claim. He replied: ”The Bible is our mandate.’”

Ben Gurion and Jabari would have gotten along well together, as they share an identical premise. 

By the same token, any people willing to abnegate parts of land which are rightfully theirs, actually renounces its claim on the entire area. Because, as Shech Jabari defined, how can anyone forsake any part and parcel of a Divine gift?

This past Shabbat we read, in the weekly Torah portion, how Kalev ben Yefuneh came to pray at the tomb of the Patriarchs, beseeching G-d that he should remain strong, and not fall into the trapping of the 10 spies, who spoke slanderously about Eretz Yisrael. According to the holy Zohar, one of the main reasons for their willingness and desire to relinquish the holy land, preferring to remain in the desert, was because they knew that upon entering the land, their roles as leaders would come to an end, that they would be replaced by a new generation of princes.
Kalev, understanding the significance of Hebron, the first Jewish city in Israel, the roots of humanity, site of the tomb of the Forefathers, chose this place to worship, to request Divine assistance in escaping the emotions of ten of his compatriots.

And his prayer was answered. Only he, together with Joshua, rejected the spies’ denunciation of Eretz Yisrael. Joshua later inherited Moses, while Kalev was granted Hebron.

Love of Hebron has nothing to do with our heart. Our devotion to Hebron stems from our minds, allowing us the intellect to comprehend that the denial of Hebron as an essential element in the State of Israel is a refutation of our legitimacy to any and all of Israel. This has nothing to do with emotion. It is cold, simple brain intelligence.

Clearly, Standley’s conception of Israel’s right to live on our land is founded, not on mind, rather on emotion. His heart-felt passions are identical to those of many prior to him, over many many centuries. That is, rabid, unadulterated anti-Semitism, taking the form of EU anti-Israel policies, such as labeling Israeli products manufactured in Judea and Samaria. We are familiar with such practices, as were implemented in the 1930s and 1940s, when Jews were required to wear yellow Stars of David.

Standley equates Hebron as the opposite peace. Of course, he is wrong. Jewish, Israeli acceptance of Hebron as a Jewish-Israeli city can and will strengthen our hold on our homeland, on our country.  Abandoning Hebron is tantamount to waiving all of our land. Any intelligent person recognizes this as truth.  We have no intentions of committing suicide. We will not now, not ever, cut off our soul from our body.  Mind over heart; truth over lies; fact over fiction;  Hebron over Brussels.