October 30, 2006
Well, it’s that time of the year again.
“What time?” you ask.
The holidays are over, the rain and cold are starting to move in. Hebron tours continue, but that’s nothing new. So, what time of the year is it?
According to the Hebrew calendar, tomorrow, the ninth day of Heshvan, is a momentous day in the history of Hebron.
Hebron has known many famous residents. Starting with the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, through the days of King David and the Maccabees and Bar Cochva, Hebron’s earth has been covered with many prestigious footsteps. Even today, we are honored by the visits of famous Torah scholars and Rabbis, illustrious guests and entertainers. And perhaps above all, hundreds of thousands of ‘amcha beit Yisrael,’ simply the people of Israel.
However, the anniversary of one of the most esteemed visitors who ever came to Hebron and visited Ma’arat HaMachpela, the tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, was exactly 840 years ago tomorrow. He writes, “On the first day of Shabbat (Sunday) the ninth day of the month (of Heshvan) I left Jerusalem for Hebron to kiss the tombs of our Patriarchs at the Ma’ara. And on that same day I stood at the Ma’ara and worshiped, praise to the L-rd, for all. And these two days, the sixth (having arrived in Jerusalem and visited the Kotel – the Western Wall) and the 9th (having arrived in Hebron and prayed at Ma’arat HaMachpela) of Heshvan, I pledged would be as a festival of prayer and joy, with food and drink. G-d should assist me with everything and to keep my pledge, Amen.”
These words were written by none other than Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, better known as the Rambam, or Maimonides, one of the greatest Jewish Torah scholars and thinkers to ever live. There are few people whose teachings have had such a significant influence on the lives of multitudes of Jews throughout the ages as the Rambam. >From his words, it is clear that this visit to Hebron was one of the highlights of his life. One can only imagine this righteous person, standing by the tomb of the first Jew, Avraham Avinu, our father Abraham, beseeching G-d to bring the final redemption, pleading for the ingathering of the exiled, and the rebuilding of Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem. So it was, in 1166, And it is something of a day of quiet celebration still, in Hebron.
I guess you could say the Rambam was lucky. He had the privilege to be in Hebron (before Ma’arat HaMachpela was declared off-limits in 1267) and to pray at the 2nd holiest site in the world, second only to Temple Mount, which he had visited only a few days earlier. And thank G-d, hundreds of thousands of others make their way to Hebron today, many for the same reasons that Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon came, eight hundred and forty years ago. To pray at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, to identify with their roots, to experience such an experience that can only be experienced in Hebron.
When people ask me why we live here, why reside in Hebron, a city seemingly fraught with dangers, surrounded by adversity, the answer is simple. If we didn’t live in Hebron, no one today would be able to do what the Rambam did eight centuries ago. The Maara was off-limits to us for 700 years – from 1267 until our return in 1967. There is no doubt, as our ‘neighbors’ tell us, that should they control this sacred site, (G-d forbid), it would be totally inaccessible to all non-Moslems. We have to hold tight to our heritage to prevent it from being ‘stolen’ by enemies, some of who desire to wipe us out physically and others, spiritually.
Many, Jews and gentiles, even those who don’t make it for a visit in Hebron, find strength and encouragement in the very fact that Jews have returned home – to our home in Eretz Yisrael, to Jerusalem, to Hebron. The fact that Jews can send prayers directly to the Cave of Machpela, that they can see pictures and movies of our holy sites, the fact that Jews are living on their land, is, in and of itself, a source of pride and of spiritual energy.
It is important to know that those of us living here are, do so, not because we are coerced to do so, rather, because we want to be here, to live in the shadows of our ancestors, to walk in footsteps of our Forefathers, to bring a Jewish city, left in ruins, back to life.
One of the people who has had the privilege to not only live here in Hebron, but to bring Hebron into the lives of thousands, is my friend Simcha Hochbaum. Simcha and his wife Lea made aliyah, that is, they came to live in Israel, about eleven years ago from the Lower East Side in Manhattan, New York. Simcha was ‘shul rebbi’ – a student of R’ Shlomo Carlebach, of blessed memory, and a Rabbi in his own right.
Simcha and Lea didn’t leave New York for Tel Aviv or even Jerusalem. They came straight to Hebron. There aren’t too many people who have done that. Today, with their beautiful family, they are one the pillars upon which Hebron rests.
Simcha has two jobs. Every night be drives from Hebron to Beit Shemesh to teach at the distinguished Yeshiva founded and headed by Rabbi Jay Marcus, Reishit Yerushalayim. Simcha is one of the most popular teachers at this Torah institute, and invests much time and energy with his young students, many of whom remain close to him for years following conclusion of their studies at the Yeshiva.
However, during the day Simcha takes off his Rabbi hat, and puts on a Hebron cap. He is known as Mr. Hebron – the person who introduces hundreds and thousands to Hebron’s sites and sounds. As Hebron’s director of tourism, Simcha leads groups from Jerusalem to the ancient walls in Tel Rumeida, to the Beit Hadassah museum, to the Avraham Avinu synagogue, (which is about 50 meters from his own home), and finally to Ma’arat HaMachpela.
Simcha’s tours aren’t just tours – they are an event – a spiritual event second to none. That fact that many people ‘come back for more,’ returning year after year to again experience another ‘Simcha tour’ speaks for itself.
Next week, Simcha Hochbaum will the recipient of the Rabbinic Leadership Award at the Hebron Fund/Jewish Community of Hebron annual banquet in New York. He is well deserving of this honor. Because even when he isn’t wearing his ‘Rabbi Hat’ he is doing what he does best – educating. Teaching Jews and gentiles about one of the holiest places on the globe.
Simcha would be honored to have you join him, honoring Hebron, honoring others who too have dedicated themselves to helping Am Yisrael get back on its feet in Eretz Yisrael, in Hebron, after 2,000 years of ‘being away from home.’
I too will be in New York, together with my friends and colleagues, Noam Arnon and Rabbi Hillel Horowitz. And of course, Yossi Baumol, executive director of the Hebron Fund will be there to greet you also.
For those of you who have been in Hebron, this is a chance to again participate in keeping Hebron’s thriving Jewish community strong, showing not only us, but people around the world how important Hebron is to you.
For those of you who have never been in Hebron, well, I guess I could say Hebron is coming to you. We’d love to meet you and let you meet us.
You can still make reservations easily at: www.hebronfund.com or call 1-718-677-6886. If you don’t live in the NY metropolitan area you can still show that you care: Dinner Journal Blessings can be sent in via the Hebronfund website or the above-listed phone number. The journal is closing tomorrow so don’t wait too long. Send in your blessings, thanks and best wishes to Simcha Hochbaum and the entire Hebron Jewish community. Show that you too care.
And thanks very much. From all of us
With blessings from Hebron.