Sivan 17, 5769, 6/9/2009
Over the years I’ve authored many different kinds of articles, dealing with various subjects; some political, some personal, some satire, some sad, some happy. Today’s is a real mix.
A few nights ago I attended a special wedding in Kiryat Arba. The chatan, or groom, is the son of a friend, who many of you may know, or have heard of. Gary and Andrea Cooperberg moved to Kiryat Arba in 1981, just a month or so after my wife and I settled there. Andrea is a dedicated nurse in the local medical center. Gary has been working with Yeshivat Nir Kiryat Arba for many years and is well known for his articles, titled: A Voice from Hebron.
The Cooperbergs then lived in an apartment adjacent to ours, and when Andrea left to give birth in Jerusalem on a Shabbat morning, she sent her other children to spend the day with us. That night we received the happy news: a new baby boy now belonged to their family.
Of course, the brit milah, the baby’s circumcision was due to take place eight days later. The eighth day just happened to fall on Shabbat, Chol HaMoed Succot, the Sabbath occurring during the Succot holiday. Gary and Andrea decided that their son’s brit would be at none other than Ma’arat HaMachpela – the Tomb of the Patriarchs, in Hebron. Today, that’s no problem. The Ma’arat HaMachpela Authority is notified and they handle all the necessary details. However back then, 28 years ago, it wasn’t so easy. Not only wasn’t it easy; it was almost impossible. At that time celebrating a brit at the Ma’ara was prohibited. Supposedly, according to Islam, Moslems are forbidden to drink alcohol. Therefore, in order to ‘honor’ (appease) the Arabs, any acts, such as a Brit, which necessitated use of wine, were banned at this holy Jewish site. Of course, grape juice, a permitted substitute for wine, was also forbidden, because it ‘looked like’ wine.
However, this did not deter the Cooperbergs. Due to the fact that the Brit was to take place on Shabbat of Succot, many people were worshiping at Ma’arat HaMachpela. The presence of an unusually large crowd didn’t stir up suspicions. Andrea walked from Kiryat Arba to Hebron with the baby in a carriage, but this too was normal. At the entrance to the building were two soldiers; someone struck up a conversion with one of them, as did someone else with the other, while Andrea, unobtrusively whisked the newborn baby inside, without anyone paying any attention.
A few minutes later, towards the end of the morning prayer service, before anyone had any idea what was happening, the Brit Milah was performed in the largest and most important room at Ma’arat HaMachpela, the Isaac Hall, known in Hebrew as Ohel Yitzhak. This room contains an opening in the floor leading down into the actual caves of Machpela and is called “haPetach l’Gan Eden” – the entrance to Paradise, the passage to the Garden of Eden.
The baby was given a name in accordance with the site: Avi Yitzhak. Avi Yitzhak was probably the first Jew honored to have his brit in Ohel Yitzhak in literally thousands of years.
Today, almost 28 years later, Avi Yitzhak Cooperberg is an ordained Rabbi and continues his Torah studies at one of the finest yeshivas in Jerusalem, located in the Old City, adjacent to the Kotel, the Western Wall. And a few days ago Avi Yitzhak married Ester, a lovely women whose family are friends of mine. Originally from England, Ester too has made her home in the holy land. Their beautiful wedding, overlooking Hebron, seemed to be a wonderful way to end last week.
However, as life is, that joy was soon shattered.
About 16 years ago ago a Yemenite family from the Israeli city of Rehovot, moved to Hebron. The father, Rabbi Inon, is a Torah scholar, who has made study and education his life’s work. Orna, the mother is also a teacher. They too were privileged to raise a large family in Hebron.
But life in Hebron is not without its perils. Some fourteen years ago Arab terrorists shot a missile into their home. Fortunately it didn’t explode and no one was hurt. In later years three of their sons were wounded by terrorists in Hebron; one was seriously stabbed and the other two shot while standing on their apartment balcony. They all recovered. But this past Friday was different.
Chenya Meshulam’s name is very special. Chen means grace or charm. And she certainly was a very charming young woman. The second part of her name hints at the Name of G-d. In other words, she embodied the grace of G-d. And she really did. Just over seventeen years of age, she was on the verge of graduating from a women’s religious high school in Beit El. Next year she planned on participating in a program for women’s volunteer national service. That is, if she didn’t get married first (as do many young women, just out of high school.)
Last weekend all the girls in her class were having a special ‘parents-daughters’ Shabbat at her school. For some reason, Chenya came home to Hebron on Thursday and that night, at about midnight, she invited her friends to a late-night party. She ordered pizza and asked them what they’d like to drink. When the others answered ‘hot chocolate’, she went upstairs to her home and prepared that for them. At one o’clock she gave all the girls a hug and kiss and went home to sleep.
The next day, Friday, Chenya spent about an hour and a half at my apartment with my daughter and another friend, preparing for the upcoming Shabbat. When she left Hebron at about 1:30, catching a ride into Jerusalem, heading back towards her school, she called another friend from her class, also from Hebron, and asked that they give her parents a ride, later on, to her high school for the special Shabbat.
At about 2:15 the car Chenya was in was hit by an Arab vehicle, which refused to yield right-of-way. By the time an emergency crew was able to get Chenya out of the wrecked car, it was too late to save her.
The pain and anguish, hearing of her sudden death was almost unbearable.
A few hours later, just before Shabbat, Chenya Meshulam was brought to rest at the ancient Jewish cemetery in Hebron. It seemed so unreal, that this beautiful young woman was no longer here, was being buried following such a horrible, unnecessary accident. Yet there was nothing left to do but return home and bring in Shabbat.
Saturday night: Shortly after the conclusion of Shabbat, with the pain of Friday still throbbing, we received notification: Please pray for Porat Yosef ben Shunamit.
This four and half year old boy was the son of a couple who grew up in Hebron. The child’s grandparents, Ronen and Anat Cohen, and Yisrael and Miriam Ze’ev still live in Hebron. Their married children live in the mountains of Samaria. That Shabbat, while visiting friends, the child went outside to play. At some point he must have fallen into a pond, where he was later found. Despite attempts to revive him, the child didn’t survive, and he too was buried in Hebron, across the field from Chenya, on Sunday afternoon.
Two funerals in three days, both so heartbreaking, very difficult to emotionally deal with.
But as life will have it, our story does not end here, on such a sad note.
Tonight – Monday night at Ma’arat HaMachpela. A joyous atmosphere, singing and dancing in the air. A marriage canopy – a chuppah, is outlined on the background of the huge ancient building atop the caves of Machpela. The bride and groom – chatan and kallah, standing side-by-side, become man and wife, and the festivity begins.
But this is no ordinary festivity. The Chatan – the groom, Shilo – is one of fourteen children, brought up here in Hebron. He is one of the few people who had the privilege to grow up at Tel Hebron, the home of Abraham and Sarah, Yitzhak and Rivka, Ya’akov and Leah, as well as the sons of Ya’akov, Bnei Yisrael, who became the 12 tribes of Israel.
And the Kallah is also very special. Hadas is the daughter of Gilad Zar, hy”d, security chief of the Shomron, who was killed by Arab terrorists a number of years ago. She is also the niece of Anat and Ronen Cohen, who buried a grandchild yesterday.
How is it possible to dance at such a wedding?
In August of 1929, 67 Jews were murdered by Arabs during a pogrom in Hebron. Over 20 of those killed were yeshiva students, who studied at the famed “Slobodka yeshiva” in the city.
A week after the massacre, one of yeshiva students who survived, was to be married. How would the other students act, still in shock and mourning following the awful events of the previous week?
The Rabbis of the yeshiva decreed: All of the yeshiva’s students would attend the wedding; no excuses would be accepted, no exceptions were to be made. And at the wedding, all the students would dance as they’d never danced before. A wedding is a happy, joyous occasion. There’s a time to mourn and a time to celebrate. At weddings, we all celebrate.
And so it was then. And so it was tonight. Under the stars, next to Ma’arat HaMachpela, all joined hands to sing and dance, to celebrate the festive beginning of a new family, here in Hebron. The chatan and kallah radiated a unique elation saved for newlyweds. All those attending, including most of those who had participated in the two funerals, sang and danced as if they too were not only standing at the entrance to the Garden of Eden, but were actually there, in the Garden itself.
That is Hebron. That is, the cycle of life.