Yesterday I witnessed a unique event. Early in the afternoon, following a visit to Hebron by Communications minister Moshe Kachlon, Noam Arnon called and asked if I’d like to take a ride out to Eshel Avraham.
Simple question, right? Well, almost, but not quite. Eshel Avraham, a well known site in Hebron, has been off-limits to Jews for the past 13 years, since implementation of the Hebron accords, dividing our holy city into two sections, with about 80% controlled by the Arabs and off-limits to Jews. Every once in a while we have a chance to ‘take a look on the other side’ but not too often.
Actually we visited Eshel Avraham about a year ago. But never one to pass up an opportunity, I immediately jumped at the chance to participate.
What was the occasion, why now? The answer I can supply while describing the actual event, after our arrival there.
But first, what is Eshel Avraham. The site, really not too far from ‘the Jewish side of Hebron’ is home to a Russian Orthodox monastery. But it is famous for an extremely old tree, probably between 1,000 to 1,500 years old (at least), called Eshel Avraham. The Hebrew word ‘eshel’ means, in English, ‘Tamarisk’ – which is a kind of tree or bush. In reality the tree is not an ‘eshel’ rather it is an ‘alon’ which, in English, is an Oak tree. The reason for the mix-up is rooted in a faulty translation, but the site has been known as Eshel Avraham, and legend has it that the tree has existed since the days of our Forefather Abraham.
Unfortunately not too many years ago the tree dried up, but we still have photos of this magnificent tree while it was still alive.
In any case, we drove out there, together with about two dozen IDF officers, including the commander of the Hebron Brigade, Col. Udi. Next week the Colonel is concluding his two year stint in Hebron, and actually, this was his farewell to his officers. In his words, usually such farewells center around food. But he preferred to do something special, and decided to take a short trip to this site, which is usually not visited by Jews, at least not in the past thirteen years.
The main event was a fascinating explanation given by Noam, describing the history of the area, and its significance over the years. (The explanation will hopefully be posted on our web site (in Hebrew) in the next few days.)
Two things set me off. First, and most importantly, that a high-ranking officer in the IDF, a man who does not walk around with a kippa on his head and is not outwardly religious, decided to bestow, again, in his words, a ‘parting gift’ to his officers’ staff, not by celebrating with wine and whiskey, rather by taking them on an educational jaunt, to a site in Hebron. I must admit, I was very impressed. And also very happy, that after two years of serving in Hebron, he viewed a visit to a special site in Hebron as a ‘treat,’ as a way to celebrate, not only for himself, but for his entire staff. Very special.
I was also taken by the greeting we received by the local Arab caretaker, who’s been there for over 40 years. Noam, in the past, visited this place fairly frequently, and the caretaker knew him very well. When we arrived he was overtly happy, and when Noam stepped out of the car, the Arab man, really thrilled to see him, hugged him. And it wasn’t a show for the camera. He really was happy.
The visit was short – we were there less than an hour, but it was enjoyable, educational, and impressive, none the less.
An interesting prelude to Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day.
A couple of hours later I participated in another event, this time not in Hebron, rather at Bar Ilan University. Last night they awarded honorary doctorates to a long list of people, rewarded for years of service in different fields.
I was there, together with some of my friends and colleagues from Hebron, to honor one woman, who was among the awardees. Actually she was there by herself, but I think it’s fair to say that she represented not only herself, but also her husband, who was not able to attend.
Cherna and Dr. Irving Moskowitz deserve much more than an honorary PH.D. But I don’t know if there’s any reward in this world that can ever pay them their rightful due. Their philanthropy knows no bounds. According to the Bar Ilan web site, she received the award ‘for her unstinting support of educational and medical institutions, synagogues and social programs throughout the Jewish nation.’ At the ceremony , she was noted for contributing to a new university department dealing with nanotechnology.
Dr. Irving and Cherna, ’through the Moskowitz Foundation, have been an anchor in the resettlement of Eretz Yisrael, and most recently, with the creation of the Moskowitz Prize for Zionism, are recognizing individuals whose contributions to Israel are exceptional. Many of these people, who should be recipients of the prestigious “Israel Prize” will never be so honored due to ‘political considerations.’ The Moskowitz’ have rectified this problem and are now awarding people whose efforts for the Jewish people, Eretz Yisrael and Torah are outstanding.
The only problem is, that those people most deserving of the Moskowitz Prize for Zionism are none other than Cherna and Dr. Irving, themselves. But, as written above, there isn’t really any prize that can reward their contributions. I fully believe that these two righteous people will be remembered it the annuls of Jewish history as two others: they will surely be considered the modern day Montefiore, (Moshe Montefiore, whose philanthropy in Israel was second to none).
But I think that this is only the beginning. Dr. Irving and Cherna Moskowitz must be acclaimed as the ‘Nachshon’ of this generation. Nachshon ben Aminadav, it will be remembered, was known to be the first person to jump into the Red Sea during the Jewish exodus from Egypt. Despite the inherent danger, without knowing how he could survive, his faith paramount, he did what had to be done. And as a result of his courage and faith, G-d split the sea and the Jews were saved. His actions have served as an example of faith and action for the past 3,300 years.
So too, the Moskowitz’, following in the footsteps of Nachshon, have tread where others dared not. Their heroism, and heroism is not an exaggeration, is a paradigm of faith and action, no less than that of any before them.
I would, therefore, award them, not the Moskowitz Prize, rather the Nachshon Prize for initiative, faith, courage and action, on behalf of the Jewish people, especially but not exclusively in Eretz Yisrael.
Happy Jerusalem Liberation Day and Happy Hebron Liberation Day!
The annual Bike Hike from Kiryat Arba to Jerusalem on Yom Yerushalayim, in memory of Yitzhak Buanish HY”D