The Zionist Response
For the past week I’ve felt haunted. Being very busy with tours and other necessary tasks, I hadn’t found time to put down some words on paper. Actually, I began working on a very important document which I didn’t even find time to finish.
But something else was eating at me. Friday night. Tomorrow night. The 17th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar. Exactly thirty years ago, the 17th of Iyar was also on a Friday night. I lived then in Mevassert Tzion, just outside Jerusalem. The next night a friend of mine commented, ‘I knew something was wrong, seeing helicopters flying into Hadassah hospital.’
And something was very wrong. Friday night, May 12, 1980. It was just a year earlier when a group of about 10 women and 40 children had reentered Beit Hadassah in Hebron. The building, originally built in 1893, and having served as a medical clinic for Jews and Arabs in Hebron prior to the 1929 riots, had been vacant since Israel’s return to the city in 1967. A week and a half following the end of Passover in 1979, the group climbed in thru a back window of Beit Hadassah in the middle of the night, reestablishing a Jewish presence in the heart of the city for the first time in 50 years.
Living conditions were non-existent, and the going wasn’t easy; to the contrary, it was very difficult. But women such as Rebbetzin Miriam Levinger, Sarah Nachshon, and others were made of platinum. Not necessarily material platinum, rather spiritual platinum. Their faith, and their grasp of the significance of the return to Hebron, overcame all other factors. Together with a large group of children they defied all odds, refused to surrender to pressures, physical and mental, and maintained the Jewish presence in the city of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.
Every Friday night, following Shabbat worship at Ma’arat HaMachpela, a group of men would sing and dance their way down the street to Beit Hadassah, where they continued the festivity, joined by the women and children living in the building, adding to their Shabbat spirit.
Friday night, May 12, the 17th of Iyar, only one day before the Lag B’Omer celebrations. The men arrived as usual and began forming a dance circle…and then it happened. Shots rang out, blasts enveloped the pure Shabbat air. Arab terrorists, hiding on a rooftop across from Beit Hadassah, began 1929, all over again.
The sudden attack on the Jewish men was not the first since the Tarpat massacre. Only three months earlier a young yeshiva student from the Kiryat Arba yeshiva, Yehoshua Saloma, a new immigrant from Denmark, was shot and killed at the entrance to the Kasba while purchasing dried fruit for the upcoming Tu’B’Shvat holiday. Following the murder the Israeli government decided, in theory, to reestablish an official Jewish community in Hebron. But that decision remained theoretical; in practice, nothing was done.
Three short months later, it seemed that history was repeating itself. The terror attack was heard miles away. Even up in Kiryat Arba, residents, hearing the shots, quickly make their way into the city. Something bad was happening.
Six were killed and about 20 injured. Among the killed was a young Torah scholar from the United States studying at Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav in Jerusalem, Tzvi Glatt. Another victim was also a former America, who had fought in Vietnam and converted to Judaism, Eli HaZe’ev. Three others studied in Kiryat Arba and another at Kerem b’Yavneh. The murders left the country in shock.
I remember attending two of the funerals: that of Tzvi Glatt in Jerusalem, outside the Yeshiva. I remember that the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook attended and eulogized the martyred scholar. I don’t remember what he said, but his grave presence made a deep impression on me. From there I travelled by bus to Kiryat Arba and Hebron, for the funeral of Eli HaZe’ev. Little did I know that about a year later I would move to Kiryat Arba and later to Hebron. I don’t remember too much, except that many many people participated, and all were very very angry.
The day after the attack, on Sunday, the Israeli government finally decided to reestablish a Jewish community in Hebron, and this time, they did do something about it. Families were reunited; husbands were allowed to join their wives and children at Beit Hadassah. And eventually the government approved and assisted in rebuilding Beit Hadassah, adding two floors to the original structure, (and building the apartment I’ve lived in for the past 11 1/2 years).
That’s what happened. But that’s not what’s bothering me. I’ve told the story more times than I can begin to count, and have written it a few times too. But still, something’s been tugging at me.
Back in those days, even before Oslo, before the first and second intifadas, even then, Arabs killed Jews. But thirty years ago, when an Israeli was murdered, there was some kind of authentic response. Where a Jew died, another Jew would live. This was the rule. Where Jews were murdered, a building, or even a community was founded and established. This was called, ‘the Zionist response.’ The Arabs don’t want us here and will do anything and everything to rid themselves of us, including cold-blooded murder. Normal people understood that the answer to such action was to do the opposite. Wherever they don’t want us, that’s where we’ll be. And that’s the way it was in Hebron.
I would guess that you’ve figured out what’s bugging me. Back then, thirty years ago, that was the Zionist response. And today? Today, when Jews are killed, rather than build, the government decides to flee. If the Arabs don’t want us ‘there’ then it’s just too dangerous for us to stay ‘there.’ And we run, in the wrong direction. It’s been called Oslo, Hebron, Wye, Gush Katif, and who knows what’s next. Jerusalem? More Hebron, more of Oslo? G-d forbid.
We are in Hebron today by the grace of three factors: the grace of G-d, whose Divine Presence and assistance was (and still is) indispensable; by the grace of the women and children whose dedication and determination, whose faith and inner comprehension of Hebron kept them from abandoning their mission; and by the grace of the lives of six men, who gave their bodies for the soul of Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael, for they brought us back to Hebron.
I only hope and pray that those neshamot, those souls, and the thousands who have been killed since, will, wherever they are, never feel abandoned, never feel that their deaths were in vain, that they too, with their lives, brought new life and spirit to the Jewish people in their land.
May their memories be a blessing upon us, forever.