Today is, according to the Hebrew calendar, the 17th day of the month of Av. Exactly 85 years ago today, the 1929 (Tarpat-Hebrew year) riots and massacre began. Over 160 people were killed throughout pre-State Israel. Sixty seven were slaughtered in Hebron. This led to the expulsion of the Hebron survivors, and the first time in almost 1,000 years that Hebron was Judenrein.
A couple of weeks ago we were honored to hear a fascinating lecture by Mr. Ya’akov Frank. He is the grandson of the former Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank, who was born in 1873 and died in 1961.
Most of the following is from Ya’akov Frank’s lecture:
In 1920, Rabbi Frank wrote a letter to two important Rabbis, one of them, Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein, the Dean of the Knesset Yisrael Yeshiva, in Slobodka in Lithuania. He invited the Rabbi to bring his Yeshiva to Israel. Rabbi Epstein replied that his Yeshiva included 100 men, that he would try to come to Israel, but not yet.
In 1925, they did leave for Israel. After much discussion it was decided to bring the Yeshiva to Hebron, as Jerusalem was already saturated with important Rabbis and Torah organizations. Hebron was quiet; they didn’t expect any problems. They arrived with 100 students; the number quickly blossomed to 180 pupils.
We jump to the end of 1928. Arabs were making claims to the Western Wall in Jerusalem and trying to prevent Jews from praying there. Trouble was brewing.
1929. Rabbi Tzvi Pesach’s niece, Hannah Slonim, and her husband Eliezer Dan, lived in Hebron. They invited him to participate in a family wedding celebration at their home on Shabbat, the 18th of Av. Rabbi Frank agreed, and planned on arriving in the holy city on Friday, before Shabbat.
But at the last minute, there was a change in plans. Rabbi Frank’s son and daughter in law, who lived in Jerusalem, were blessed by the birth of a baby son. Being born on Saturday, the 11th of Av, the newborn’s Brit, circumcision, eight days later, would be on Saturday, the 18th of Av. The baby’s grandfather, Rabbi Frank, was invited to be the ‘Sandak,’ who is honored to hold the baby during the procedure. As such, Rabbi Frank had to cancel his planned visit to Hebron, that next week.
As such, he wasn’t in Hebron, at the home of Eliezer Dan Slonim, where some 25 people were murdered, that infamous Shabbat day.
And by the way, the little baby who most probably saved Rabbi Frank’s life, is the same Ya’akov Frank, who is relating to us these events.
Ya’akov Frank continued: I (the baby) was at a hospital in Jerusalem, six kilometers away. My father, and grandfather would have to walk there for the Brit. But on Saturday morning Arabs in Jerusalem started shooting at Jews. An Arab taxi would pass by Jews on the street, stop, gunfire would erupt, and the taxi would continue, looking for other victims.
Ya’akov’s father decided that it was much too dangerous to allow his father, Rabbi Frank, to walk with him, and forced him to remain at home. His father, accompanied by two brothers, started walking. It took them hours to arrive, being shot at every few minutes.
When they finally made it to the hospital, the place was almost empty. They didn’t even have ten men for a Minyan (prayer quorum) for the ceremony. However, one person did arrive. The famous holy Rabbi, Rabbi Aryeh Levin. Realizing the problem, and despite the shooting attacks , he went outside and rounded up a few more men, in order to have ten men for the Brit.
Ya’akov Frank related many other stories. Anyone who understands Hebrew is invited to hear the entire lecture here. It would be very worth your while.
The annual memorial will take place tomorrow afternoon at the ancient Hebron cemetery. However, today, a memorial will take place for Hebron resident Elazar Lebovitch, who was killed by terrorists 12 years ago, today, on the eve of his 21st birthday.
Elazar’s father, Rabbi Yosef Lebovitch, was interviewed for last week’s Chabad publication, “Sichat HaShavuah.” The family had, during the Gaza war, five sons in the army, with two of them in combat units in Gaza. Asked about concern for his sons, he answered, “Worry, what will that help? I get up in the morning, pray, say Psalms and later more Psalms, and then some more. Psalms, and faith in G-d, knowing that everything will be OK.”
What did he say to his sons as they left for combat? “The same thing that I was told, during the 1973 Yom Kippur war, before we crossed the Suez Canal. Maimonides writes: When a person becomes engaged in war activities, he should lean on the purity of Israel, which will save him during such a difficult time, that he should know that he is sanctifying the holy Name of G-d, that he should put aside all thoughts of himself, and his life, and shouldn’t fear or be afraid, and shouldn’t think of this wife and children.”
What message does he want to leave to Am Yisrael? “To put our trust in G-d and to strengthen our faith. Whoever does so will not break and will know that G-d is with him.”
This is the message of a bereaved father, with two sons fighting terrorists in Gaza.