The Real Tel Aviv
April 10, 2005
The year was 1979. Ten women and forty children had recently moved into the basement floor of Beit Hadassah in Hebron, and set up house, as best as possible. Sort of like an urban kibbutz. A large eating area and several rooms for the mothers and their children. Swings hanging between tree branches and makeshift see-saws comprised the playground. Showers were a bucket of water poured over the head outside, blocked off from the others by a flimsy curtain. Running water was a luxury not yet available.
One morning Miriam Levinger, waking up her six-year old son, suddenly opened her eyes in shock. A registered nurse, Miriam’s own eyes darkened as she looked into her son’s eyes. What she saw was yellow. Literally. The child wasn’t scared. He was sick. Without any running water, without normal sanitary facilities, living in a filthy building vacant for years, jaundice was a real possibility. Seeing her son’s yellow eyes, Miriam Levinger knew that the disease had arrived. She also knew that jaundice is very contagious and would likely spread quickly from child to child.
As she describes it, Miriam was certain that the Beit Hadassah venture would soon be over. She was sure that as soon as the other women heard that her son was infected with jaundice, they would all leave, immediately. Girding her strength, and ready for the worst, she started making the rounds. “My son has jaundice.” “Oh, really. What else is new this morning?” And that’s the way is was, from one to the other. “O.K. – it will pass – he’ll be healthy soon.” Not one woman left.
One of the women was pregnant, and of course, jaundice and pregnancy are not overly compatible. “Shoshana, you can’t stay here and risk infection.” Shoshana’s reply: If I leave, I won’t be able to return. I’m staying.” (Beit Hadassah was then under siege – anyone who left couldn’t go back, and no one else was allowed in.) “But Shoshana…”. “No buts – I’m not leaving. Miriam will take care of me.”
Shoshana, after receiving special permission to leave Beit Hadassah and return, later gave birth to a little girl, named her Hadassah, and returned to Beit Hadassah.
Almost exactly eleven years ago the Ze’ev family was enjoying their Passover holiday meal at the new home they had just finished building in Shilo, in the Shomron. As is customary, during the meal the younger Ze’ev children ‘stole’ a piece of Matza, needed to later complete the traditional ceremonies. As the time approached to conclude the meal, their father Yisrael, and mother, Miriam, looked at the eight kids and asked them to return the Matza. “What will you give us if we give it back,” they asked. “Well, what do you want?” What do children usually ask for – a basketball, a doll, a book, or maybe a bicycle. But this time the kids had a different idea in mind. Glancing at their sister, Isca, then 18 years old, they took a deep breath and answered.
Watching them closely, Isca smiled to herself. A first-class instigator, Isca had coached her younger siblings well, one by one.
“We want to go live in Hebron. If we can go live in Hebron, we’ll give you the Matza back. Otherwise…”
Yisrael and Miriam looked at each other and shrugged. “O.K.,” Yisrael answered, “if that’s what you want, that’s what you’ll get. Now, go get the Matza.”
And that’s how the Ze’ev family decided to move to Hebron.
Almost exactly a year later, troublemaker Isca received her own personal reward. Isca had already been living and working in Kiryat Arba for a year, performing her national volunteer service at Midreshet Hevron. Now, living in Hebron, not far from Rabbi Moshe and Rebbetzin Miriam Levinger, Isca’s sparkling personality drew the attention of one of the Levinger daughters. She decided to play matchmaker and arranged a meeting between Isca and one of her brothers. Soon after there was an engagement party and then a wedding. Isca Ze’ev married the little boy who came down with jaundice in Beit Hadassah, sixteen years earlier, Shlomo Levinger.
For most of their married life the young Levingers, today parents of four, lived in the same building where Shlomo spent a year of his early childhood. But this time, rather than live in the basement, Shlomo and his family lived on the top floor of Beit Hadassah. I have a personal affinity to the Shlomo, Isca and their children, as we have been neighbors for almost seven years, living across the hall from each other. But a few days ago, on Friday, we bid them farewell.
Early Friday morning the movers arrived, packed up their truck, and chugged up a very steep hill, about 3 minutes away. No, they aren’t leaving Hebron. Rather, the Levingers became the first family to move into Hebron’s newest building in the Admot Ishai (Tel Rumeida) neighborhood. The new building, called “Beit Menachem” in honor of the Lubavitcher Rebbi, Rabbi Menachem M. Shneerson, will house seven families and a Torah study hall. The site’s official dedication will take place during the upcoming Passover festivities [www.hebron.com/pesach2005/pesach2005.htm].
I think it very auspicious that the Levinger family initiate this new apartment building. Directly under their apartment is the Hebron Archeological Park, which contains artifacts from 4,500 to 1,500 years old, including a wall from the days of Abraham and a house from the era of King Hezekiah, some 2,700 years ago.
What could be more fitting than to have a representative of Hebron’s ‘first family,’ a son of Rabbi Moshe and Rebbetzin Miriam Levinger, known as the ‘father and mother’ of Hebron’s modern Jewish community, be the first to move into this new edifice?
To me, this site could be called Tel Aviv. Why? Today’s Israeli metropolis is named after Theodore Herzl’s book, Altneuland., which literally means ‘old – new land,’ with ‘Tel’ representing the old and ‘Aviv’ (which means spring in Hebrew), representing the new. However, the authentic ‘old’ is here in Hebron, the roots of our existence, at the site called Tel Hebron. And the new is directly above the old – a beautiful new apartment complex, the buds of the rebirth of the Jewish People in the City of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.
It won’t be long before “Beit Menachem” will be full of families with many children running around. These families and children are the blossoms on the trees planted by Abraham and Sarah, almost 4,000 years ago, at this very site. We thank G-d for the privilege to follow in the footsteps of such esteemed ancestors, being able to rebuild and live in the real Tel Aviv.
With blessings from Hebron.