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Op-Ed: A Funeral of Heroes in Hevron

Rashi (a famous biblical commentator) points out that when a tzaddik (a righteous man) leaves a place, every one feels it, they feel the loss. However, a roshem, a residue or spiritual impression, is left behind. Rabbi Ben-Amram told us that the courage and self-sacrifice of these three members of our community would leave that impression. We will be stronger because of their strengt
Published: Monday, November 18, 2002 11:51 PM


I walked over to the City Council building this morning (Sunday, Nov. 17). But not as I usually do, to go to the post office, located on the first floor. No, I wasn't sending out mail today, but sending away three Jewish heroes. I wasn't paying a bill today; they had already paid it for me. Yitzhak Bo'anish, Alex Duchan and Alex Tzvitman were killed Friday night. I stood there listening to the eulogies, as I had so many times before. While looking around, I noticed standing just next to me Etta Leibovitz, a glum look on her face. Her daughter came over and handed her a book of Tehilim (Psalms). I had just been to her son's funeral a few months ago (Eleazar Leibovitz , along with the Dickstein family, was gunned down while driving on the road near Hevron-Kiryat Arba). Earlier, as I was arriving, I passed by Tzvi Katzover, the mayor of Kiryat Arba and Yossi Dayan, the deputy mayor. They both looked devastated. Rabbi Lior (the Chief Rabbi of Hevron) talked about gevurah (courage and strength) and how we will continue building Eretz Yisrael.

The next speaker was Rabbi Ben-Amram from Yeshivat Nir (the Kiryat Arba ?hesder? rabbinical school), who spoke of the three men's courage and selfless devotion to Hevron-Kiryat Arba and it's security. He said that we must learn from them. Then he corrected himself; no, we will gain from them. He spoke to us about this past week's Torah reading Vayetze. In it, Yakov leaves Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) to go to his uncle Lavan's house. Rashi (a famous biblical commentator) points out that when a tzaddik (a righteous man) leaves a place, every one feels it, they feel the loss. However, a roshem, a residue or spiritual impression, is left behind. Rabbi Ben-Amram told us that the courage and self-sacrifice of these three members of our community would leave that impression. We will be stronger because of their strength. We will be better, because they were great.

I picked up my head again, and raised my eyes, Aryeh Weiss (a former American) passed by. His son was one of the soldiers killed in Jenin last April, during the so-called 'Jenin Massacre'. Remember? Yes, it was a massacre - a massacre of our soldiers, all 23 of them, sacrificed because we chose to fight house to house, because we didn't want to carpet-bomb the place and just kill everyone inside, because we saw ourselves as more moral than our enemy.

The eulogies went on. A thousand people had gathered in the parking lot of the City Council building and the surrounding roads. Lots and lots of people, young, old, friends of the deceased, people who knew them not, but wanted to show respect, people whose faces told the 'real story'. They had come to gain strength and courage at this dark moment in the noonday sun; it was the strength and courage that the eulogies had referred to earlier.

Member of Knesset Uri Ariel was there. He spoke, but nothing he said could take the gloom away. My knees bothered me, I had to sit down. I walked over to the low stone wall next to the City Council building. I saw Gershon Goldman and Hana Shvili, social workers, whose offices are in the building. These are some of the people who will have to deal with the trauma, the stress, the losses. I passed by, but said nothing. I passed Eliyahu Ackerman, head psychologist in Kiryat Arba's Educational Psychology Department. He said ?Shalom? to me. I didn't reply. It just seemed useless -needless - to respond. We don't have shalom (peace), I thought, we won't have shalom until we absorb the roshem of the three who lie before us. They have 'Peace Now'. Is that what it means? Eliyahu, too, will have to deal with the 'fallout' of this accursed crime, amongst the children of Kiryat Arba and Hevron, in the schools.

I saw Eddie Dribben, (another former American), an 'old-timer' in Kiryat Arba. His son was murdered by terrorists a few years ago in Maon (a small town to the south of Hevron). Maon Farm, David Dribben's Farm, the so-called 'outpost' next to the community of Maon in Har Hevron, was set-up to strengthen Maon's borders (it had been zoned for Maon's use). It's dismantling took place later, with no connection to the Dribben murder.

The eulogies were ending. The head of the Religious Affairs Council, Shmuel Margi, announced the itinerary of the funeral procession over a bullhorn. The army trucks carrying the Israeli flag-draped caskets began their journey (the three, although civilians, had been accorded a military funeral due to their involvement in Hevron security). It was a journey that began in France and the former Soviet Union, passed through Hevron, and would end in a Jerusalem cemetery. They were immigrants in the Promised Land, just as the Patriarch Avraham long before them. I walked toward the trucks, to accompany the dead, Yossi Leibovitz appeared next to me. Just a few months before, I had walked alongside his son's casket. Just a few months before, he had buried his 19-year-old son, a soldier. We are all soldiers here today, I thought.

It reminded me of another funeral about a year and a half ago, of a former neighbor, Yechezkiel 'Chezy' Muallem. He was shot just outside the gates of Kiryat Arba while protesting the murder of someone else earlier in the week. We had lived across the hallway from Chezy. He was always a friendly guy. He always had a good word. He was a former chief engineer for Luz, the now defunct solar energy company. I remember talking with him about America, before he went to California on business. Too many funerals. We left the municipal building, passed the new buildings, where Yitzhak Bo'anish lived. Going down the road, we turned left past Baruch Goldstein's grave. We passed by the shopping center, most of the shops were closed today.

At one point, the army trucks sped up, going down the steep decline of the road. Few of the hundreds of mourners who had been walking alongside the trucks were able to keep up. I rushed, ran, and pushed myself to stay with the dead and not to be left behind as the others were. Only 20-30 of us had that privilege. Though my knee hurt and leg throbbed, I wanted to gain from the strength of the three heroes. It seemed very symbolic that the trucks sped ahead of everyone, just as these men were always ahead of everyone else during emergencies.

We then turned left, up Calev Ben Yefuna St. Calev was one of the 12 spies that Moshe sent to spy out the Land, remember? He and Joshua brought back positive reports of how good the Land was. While the other spies looked only on the tactical level, reporting to Moshe and the people, how well fortified the Canaanite cities were, how strong they looked, how hopeless it was to think we could build a life in this Promised Land. Those same types of people, who kept calling for us to return to Egypt, to that 'wonderful' place of our youth and our slavery, were calling for 'Peace Now', rather than for going to fight for the 'Promised Land'. Joshua and Calev were different. They looked at the strategic level, the inner spiritual level, and reported, it's a good land, and G-d is with us. We can conquer it. We can live here as G-d promised our forefathers (Numbers 13-14). Maybe Joshua was naturally courageous or maybe it came from years of serving as Moshe's assistant. Maybe in the presence of a tzaddik (a righteous man) like Moshe, he absorbed Moshe's faith, Moshe's greatness. As for Calev, we read in the Torah, while he was carrying out his logistical survey, he went to pray at the Ma'arat HaMachpela (Cave of the Patriarchs) in Hevron. He needed to connect to our forefathers, Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yakov, and our Foremothers, Sara, Rivka, and Leah, buried there. He needed, it seems, to draw inspiration from their visions, courage from their lives, strength from the knowledge that generations beforehand they had been promised this Land by G-d, and that the promise was about to be fulfilled. Calev prayed in Kiryat Arba, that is Hevron (Genesis 23:2).

Just as Calev prayed then, so did hundreds of Jews that Friday night (and every Shabbat) in Hevron?s Cave of the Patriarchs. The terrorists planned to attack worshipers returning from Sabbath eve prayers and then enter Kiryat Arba, to continue their murder spree. But with the first shots fired, the emergency call went out, and that's when the soldiers and civilian security personnel came. The fighting lasted over two hours. When it was over, 9 soldiers and 3 civilians were killed and 14 others injured. Along with the infamous 1929 Arab massacre of 69 Jews in Hevron, which led to the British expelling the Jews from the city, the Shabbat massacre of 2002 will be remembered forever. This time, however, many intend to make sure that the Arab murderers will not receive a victory. I later heard that Prime Minister Sharon called for territorial contiguity between the neighborhoods of Kiryat Arba and the Old City in Hevron. Build more Jewish housing; expand the Jewish population; don't give those who want to drive Jews away, their victory - that's the classic Zionist response to Arab terror.

As I walked, my legs bothered me and I thought to myself, Hevron, the old city and the Machpela Cave, the neighborhoods of Kiryat Arba and Givat Haharsina - its not the small enclave that the media portrays it as. The figure of 450 settlers among 100,000 Arabs in Hevron, as the media always repeats, isn't accurate. First, 100,000 Arabs is for all of greater metropolitan Hevron. The 600 Jews of the Old City of Hevron (a truer figure), living near the Machpela Cave, Abner's Tomb, and Ruth and Yishai's Tomb, are only one part of the picture. Those Jews of the Old City, living in Beit Ramano, Beit Shneerson, the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, Beit Hadasah, Admat Yishai, and elsewhere, together with over 6,000 Jews who live in all the other neighborhoods of Hevron - Kiryat Arba, Ramat Mamre-Givat Haharsina, Ashmoret Yitzhak and Givat HaAvot - make the Jewish population of greater metropolitan Hevron about 7,000 Jews, not 450. Why does the media always misrepresent the facts, I often wonder?

Yitzhak (Isaac) Bo'anish (originally from France) had dedicated his life to the security of Hevron-Kiryat Arba, as Chief Security Officer. He was like the Patriarch Isaac (buried in the Machpela cave), who stubbornly refused to let the Philistinians gain a victory over him. Isaac opened up wells that his father Avraham (also buried in the Machpela cave) had dug, but the Philistinians came and filled them up. Isaac kept digging new wells, to provide water, and life itself, to people. But the Philistinians kept blocking them up (Genesis 26). Their 'love' for the land evidently didn't extend to its water supply or its people. But Isaac just kept at it, as did Yitzhak Bonish, right up to the very end, responding to an emergency call and giving his life to save others.

Alex is short for Alexander; a name that Jewish tradition tells us the Jewish people adopted in the Second Temple era, because of Alexander the Great's benevolent rule over the Land of Israel and respectful behavior toward Judaism. Alexander the Great was a leader, a warrior, and so, too, were both Alex Duchan (from France) and Alex Tzvitman (from the former Soviet Union), both members of the Emergency Response Team. Alex Duchan was described by all as a quiet man. He worked in computers and studied Torah on his own. His intellect and quiet demeanor hid the courageous warrior within, but when the time came, he was ready to serve the Jewish people, even with his life.

That Friday night, Alex Tzvitman's wife was having a birthday party; many friends and relatives were over visiting when Alex got the call. In the middle of the party, Alex apologized and said he had to go. That was the last time his wife, friend and family saw him. During the eulogies, one of the speakers, another member of the team, mentioned that Alex was always the first one on any call. Alex would often get there, then call him up and ask, "Where are you? I'm waiting." We learn in the Talmud (Avoda Zara 20B) and later in Mesilat Yesharim (The Path of the Just) by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato (18th c.) that zerizut (zeal) leads to nikayon (cleanliness). Zeal, always rushing to protect the Jewish People, led to cleanliness (clean of sin). That was Alex?s greatness.

What better examples than these could there be for a community?

Ever since the spies reported about the Land, "All the people we saw were giants... we felt like grasshoppers and that's how they saw us..." (Numbers 13:32-33), the Jewish People have hidden from their destiny, have cowered from their potential for greatness. But Hevron has always been the land of giants - giants of spirit, giants of vision, and giants of self-sacrifice for the Jewish People. May the giants of Hevron from the past - Avraham and Sara, Isaac and Rivka, Jacob and Leah, Ruth and Yishai, Avner (General of the Israelite army), who are buried here, along with King David, who lived and ruled in Hevron before Jerusalem, and Calev, who came to pray here - be joined by Yitzhak Bo'anish, Alex Duchan, Alex Tzvitman, and all the others who have lived and died or been killed here. They all left their roshem, their impressions of courage and greatness. And may we, those left behind, absorb those impressions, learn their lessons of life, and in turn become giants, become great, because of them.
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Ariel Natan Pasko is an independent analyst and consultant. He holds a Master's Degree in International Relations and Policy Analysis, as well as degrees in Economics, Politics, and Jewish History and Thought.

Copyright 2002/5763, Pasko.