October 25, 2004
Next week Hebron will celebrate Shabbat Chaye Sarah – when we read in the Torah about Abraham’s purchase of Ma’arat HaMachpela, some three thousand seven hundred years ago. Tens of thousands of Jews from around the world will arrive in Hebron for this festive event.
However, Hebron is not the only Yesha city to rejoice. This past weekend my family visited the Elon Moreh community in the Shomron. We read in the Torah how Abraham, when he arrived in Eretz Yisrael, stopped first in Elon Moreh, before continuing south to Beit El, and later, Hebron.
Elon Moreh, situated just south of the holy city of Shechem, has a rich biblical history. But its legacy does not end in the Bible. Yehuda, Shomron and Gaza were liberated during the June, 1967 Six-Day War. A few months later the Israeli government officially okayed the renewal of a Jewish community in Gush Etzion, about 15 kilometers south of Jerusalem. Gush Etzion had fallen to the Jordanians on May 14, 1948, the day the State of Israel was declared.
In the spring of 1968 a group of families arrived at hotel in Hebron to celebrate the Passover holiday. That, in turn, led to the founding of Kiryat Arba in the fall of 1971. One of the early settlers was a young man named Benny Katzover. He studied at the new Kiryat Arba yeshiva, and took an active role rebuilding the land.
This past Shabbat I heard Benny Katzover, now a resident of Elon Moreh, speak about those formative years. He stressed that following the establishment of Kiryat Arba, he waited for others to take the initiative to begin resettling and rebuilding Samaria, the Shomron. Years went by and nothing happened.
During the winter of 1974, under the spiritual leadership of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, a group of people, including Rabbi Moshe Levinger, Rabbi Haim Druckman, Hanan Porat, Katzover, and others, founded Gush Emunim, ‘the Block of the Faithful. One of their first challenges was resettlement of the Shomron. Benny Katzover, seeing that no one had taken up the gauntlet, began to work. Plans were made, people were drafted, and then, it was time to move. It took eight attempts over a period of months, until finally, in the winter of 1975, over 2,000 Jews arrived at Sabastia, in the Shomron, and broke the government’s resistance to a Jewish presence in the heartland of Israel.
Benny Katzover later became mayor of the Shomron region, and for many years was a leader in initiating, building and developing the Shomron.
One of Benny’s children, Menora married Ariel Hazani, the son of another Yesha pioneer, the late Yehuda Hazani. Hazani, a Torah scholar and student of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, was one of those rare individuals who knew how to implement spiritual ideas in a worldly manner. He was known for his legendary organizational ability, bringing thousands and thousands of people to rallies, demonstrations, and other such events.
Hazani, a true lover of Eretz Yisrael, was not bound by the borders of cities and neighborhoods, loved to travel the country and was an avid mountain climber. Unfortunately, during one these trips, Yehuda Hazani, while overlooking Eretz Yisrael from the peaks, slipped, fell and was killed. A Gush Katif community, Netzer Hazani, which literally means the stem of Hazani, was named in his memory.
This past Shabbat at Elon Moreh, I was one of the lucky ones who was able to experience a really special event. This past Shabbat we read in the weekly Torah portion how G-d commanded Abraham to walk, to leave his home, his country, and his family, ‘to the land which I will show you.’ This land is, of course, Eretz Yisrael. As I mentioned a few minutes ago, Abraham’s first stop in the Land was Elon Moreh, today a beautiful, thriving community with hundreds of families. We also read about G-d’s commandment to Abraham to circumcise himself, an eternal covenant between himself, his offspring and the Almighty.
A week ago Saturday, Benny Katzover’s daughter, Menorah Hazani, gave birth to their first son. So the ‘brit milah,’ the baby’s circumcision, was to be performed eight days later, in other words, this past Shabbat. At the conclusion of Shabbat morning prayers, after reading in the Torah about Elon Moreh, after hearing of Abraham’s willingness to perform G-d’s commandment to circumcise himself when he was ninety-nine years old, Ariel and Menora Hazani’s son was brought into the covenant of Avraham Avinu there, at Elon Moreh, and was named for his illustrious grandfather, Yehuda Hazani. It was quite an emotional event.
And I must not neglect to mention that Ariel and Menora live, not in Elon Moreh, but at the community of Homesh, in the northern Shomron, one of the four Shomron communities Sharon has threatened to destroy, together with Gush Katif.
People such as Benny Katzover, Yehuda Hazani, and many others, a number of whom participated in the special Elon Moreh Shabbat, were the initiators, founders, the builders. They laid the cornerstone for future generations and paved the path, thereby allowing their offspring to follow in their footsteps. However, as every parent knows, the future is always a question mark. A parent can lay out the roadmap, but whether or not the children will follow the marked route is up them, it’s their choice. Ariel and Menora Hazani are perfect examples of traveling a straight line, following the map in the right direction. From Hebron and Kiryat Arba, to Sebastia and Elon Moreh, following in the footsteps of their father’s and their father’s fathers – all the way back to our Forefathers.
When visitors ask me to explain our faith, to explain our optimism, I can readily point to young couples like the Hazanis, who are carrying the torch, sparks of light amongst many shadows. Such sparks are so important and necessary, especially today, with all that is happening.
This is the trail followed by Abraham, still traveled by his offspring, four thousand years later. From Elon Moreh to Hebron, from Hebron to Elon Moreh – this is the heritage of our people; this is the eternity of our Land; this is the legacy of Elon Moreh.
With blessings from Hebron.