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      Blessings from Hebron
      by David Wilder
      Personal Reflections on Hebron, Eretz Yisrael, Friends, Family and anything else that comes to mind.
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      David Wilder was born in New Jersey in the USA in 1954, and graduated from Case Western Reserve University with a BA in History and teacher certification in 1976. He spent 1974-75 in Jerusalem at the Hebrew University and returned to Israel upon graduation.

      For over eighteen years David Wilder has worked with the Jewish Community of Hebron. He is the English spokesman for the community, granting newspaper, television and radio interviews internationally. He initiated the Hebron internet project, including email lists of over 15,000 subscribers who receive regular news and commentaries from Hebron in English and Hebrew. David is responsible and continues to update the Hebron web sites, portraying various facets of Hebron, utilizing text, audio, video and pictures. He conducts tours of Hebron's Jewish Community and occasionally travels abroad, speaking at Hebron functions.

      David Wilder is married to Ora, a 'Sabra,' for 35 years. They lived in Kiryat Arba for 17 years and have resided at Beit Hadassah in Hebron for the past 15 years. They have seven children and many grandchildren.

      Links to sites David recommends:
      www.davidwilder.net
      www.hebron.com (English)
      www.hebron.org.il (Hebrew)
      www.machpela.com
      www.ohrshlomo.org (Hebrew)
      www.ohrshalom.net (Hebrew)
      www.womeningreen.org
      www.zoa.org
      (others to be added)

      Nissan 13, 5774, 4/13/2014

      Seder


      Seder

      Tomorrow night we will mark a holiday Jews have been celebrating for some 3,500 years. That is, the miraculous exodus from Egypt, that is, the birth of the Jewish people, as a nation.  I guess that means we've been around for a long time.

      On the eve of Pesach - that is, Passover, we conduct a Seder, which literally means 'order.' During this festive rite we retell the story of our beginnings, from the days of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, the trials and tribulations of Jacob, and descent to Egypt. From there we repeat the sufferings of the ancient Israelites at the hands of the slave masters, the torturous Egyptians, and finally, the miraculous end, including the 'ten plagues' brought on the Egyptians, culminating with the death of all the first-born males, excepting only first-born Jews. And then, the sudden, massive, glorious, exodus from that cursed land.

      The festivities include the actual recitation of the events, as well as drinking four cups of wine, eating Matzah, the  unleavened bread, and also 'bitter herbs.' Each element of the 'seder' ceremony is marked and the details are scrupulously followed by Jews around the world, year after year.

      The intricacies of the holiday, and the above-described ceremony have been written about in great length. Thousands of books have been authored, each touching upon a different aspect, or approaching an idea from a 'different angle.'

      I would like, for a moment, to add my own small contribution. Not that what I write hasn't been written before; I'm sure it has been, multiple times. But of course, I have my own 'take on things.'

      It's fairly clear why the Exodus story is told again and again, year after year. This event is the very foundation of Jewish faith. The Ten Commandments, as given to us by G-d at Sinai, do not speak of the G-d who created heavens and earth. Rather, they begin with the G-d who took the Jews out of Egypt.  Many reasons are given for this, but one of them is very simply because, who was around to witness the creation of heaven and earth? On the other hand, millions witnessed the miracles and exodus from Egypt.

      That has been passed down from father to son, mother to daughter, grandparents to grandchildren, Rabbis to students, from then on, generation upon generation. We read of the events in the Torah, and keep them alive, in our minds, in our hearts  and in all facets of our lives. The best way to ensure that such a majestic, and central occasion will not ever be forgotten is if it is repeated. Just as people rarely forget the date of their birthday, so too, a people does not fail to remember its origins. And just as important, we mustn't fail to give thanks to He who gave us our life.

      There is no better way to express gratitude than to repeat the event, again and again, giving credit where credit is due.

      Another question asked concerns the evening ritual - the 'seder.' Why is there such a strict 'seder,' that is 'order' to everything that's done. Why can't the story be told, with each person or family expressing it as they like?

      The answer to this question too, is simple.

      A student once brought a beautiful painting to his art teacher.  In reply to the teacher's complements, the student claimed, "I didn't really paint this. My paint spilled on the paper, and this was the result." The teacher, of course, refused  to accept this explanation, saying, "such a work of art cannot be the result of 'chance' spilt paint."

      Such is the world in which we live. Our lives, our private lives, or our national existence, cannot be 'paint spilt on a piece of paper.'  Just as the artist must plan each stroke of the brush, each shade of color, so too, our being is a work of art. A work of Divine art. As the expression says, 'there is a method to the madness.'

      Our birth, with the exodus from Egypt, thousands of years ago, was methodical, beginning hundreds of years before. There was a guiding hand, every step of the way, sometimes visible, other times seemingly invisible. But each and every step was planned out, just as the artist charts his masterpiece, line by line. 

      This is a Divine 'seder,' a Divine order. This is why, on the eve of our national birth, when we literally relive that era, as we repeat the words of our Sages, that we must feel as if we were today actually liberated from Egypt, the 'order' is so central. All that happened was carefully thought out, planned and executed. And this is how we experience again the event, just as it was then.

      Approaching these sacred days of Passover, my mood is, perhaps, overly reflective. Looking back at our birth as a nation, I also reflect upon my own personal narrative.

      Presently I am marking several special life events. Exactly twenty years ago I began working with the Hebron Jewish community. In a few months it will be exactly forty years since I first came to Israel. And last week I celebrated my sixtieth birthday. Twenty, forty, sixty. And of course, I cannot leave out a number in the middle, that being the thirty-fifth anniversary of my marriage to my wonderful wife Ora.

      Looking back to where I started, it really doesn't seem possible. From New Jersey to Hebron might be the kind of material science fiction is made of.  That is, until we reach Pesach - Passover, when we see that my story is nothing more than the story of the Jewish people, throughout history. After all, were did Abraham start?

      My story is that of thousands, and hundreds of thousands, and millions of Jews, who have made their way back home.  We each have our own individual exodus stories, our liberation  from Galut - the Diaspora, and our return home.  Each story contains miracles, and perhaps, even plagues. But there is always a guiding hand,  and in the end, (which is actually the beginning) we make it back home.

      This is what will be roaming my thoughts tomorrow night, sitting with my family - with my children and grandchildren, reflecting on my own wondrous story, while reciting the age-old words of our freedom from bondage in Egypt, of our birth as a people, an eternal people, Am Yisrael.

      Happy Passover - Chag Sameach, from Hebron.







      Adar Bet 14, 5774, 3/16/2014

      Purim in Hebron


      Purim in Hebron
      by David Wilder

      “I yearned and longed for the city of the Forefathers, I will come thru her gates with song and gratitude, Her elders and privileged, her blessed young and busy achievers”

      “To Life to life, called out the townspeople, who greeted the guests. The beadle  led them to the synagogue of the Chief Rabbi, assigned rooms, distributed food and also packages for Purim. The next morning they spread out through the city, drank with the residents, received ‘presents to the poor’ and as the sun turned towards the west, headed back in the direction of Jerusalem, to continue the holiday with their families.


      Such was Purim in Hebron, as described in Sefer Hebron (page 371).


      And today?

      It is customary that on Rosh Hodesh Adar, the first day of the new month of Adar, two weeks prior to the great day, schoolchildren of almost all ages begin dressing up. Little girls with crowns and makeup, and boys looking like clowns.


      Such fun continues, as large signs on sheets announcing the impending coronation of the Rav Purim  (Purim Rabbi) adorn homes and street corners.  That exciting event usually takes place the Saturday night before Purim, in an extravagant ceremony, sometimes with the chosen person brought before the crowds in an ambulance, police car or on a donkey. Or whatever the amazing, imaginative children can think of.


      When Purim evening finally arrives, multitudes fill Ma’arat HaMachpela, some in Shabbat clothing, and others costumed. Serious men wearing orange hair, others masked, with children running between the adults with cap guns and magic wands.


      Megilat Esther is joyously read, with the evil Haman being noisily deleted at every mention of his name.


      The next morning some arise early to fulfill the days’ first mitzvah, again hearing the Megillah, and then preparing to bring food parcels to some, and money to the poor, to others.


      At about eleven o’clock, with tangible electricity in the air, all gather at the top of the hill, at the entrance to the Admot Yishai-Tel Rumeida neighborhood. Children receive helium balloons, waiting for the annual Purim parade, the ‘Adeloyada’ to begin. A large, open wagon, pulled by a tractor invariably driven by Yisrael Zeev, starts to move. Above are huge clown dolls and loudspeakers, playing festive Purim music for the masses who have come to celebrateTraveling down the hill, on to Beit Hadassah and then the Avraham neighborhood, sometimes stopping for a few minutes of dancing and singing. Many dance with soldiers, and children hand out Purim parcels to the men and women in uniform.  Finally, after about two hours, reaching Ma’arat HaMachpela. There, those still sober, and even those not so much, participate in an outdoors Mincha afternoon prayer service, before heading home for the festive Purim feast.  Singing and dancing continue in the neighborhoods thru nightfall.


      However, that is not the end of Purim in Hebron. The first question most people ask about Purim in Hebron is the date. Do we celebrate Purim as most others, on the first day, or as in Jerusalem, on the second day. According to ancient tradition, Hebron is considered to be a ‘city of doubt’ as to whether it was a walled city during the days of Joshua, and therefore, Purim is celebrated twice, and the Megillah is read four times. The first day, with a blessing and the second day, without.


      Actually, at present there is no doubt that Hebron was a walled city during the days of Joshua, but other factors remain which create a doubt as to the day when the holiday should be held. So, two days it is.


      The major difference between the first and second day is that on the second day, rather than have another Purim parade, the children conduct  a ‘Shuk Purim,’ that is an outdoor ‘Purim fair.’  The older children prepare numerous games for the younger children, who can win prizes during outdoor events, when they, for example, throw wet sponges at volunteers’ faces, or try to shave balloons covered with shaving cream, without bursting the balloon.


      This festival is topped off with a huge raffle for toys and games, donated to the community by friends around the world.


      And then home for the another holiday meal, with as much wine as can be imbibed, for the second day in a row.

      Of course, following two days of food, wine and merriment, a third day is necessary to sleep off the holy hangover.


      ----------------------------------
       

      This article does not necessarily represent the views of the Jewish Community of Hebron







      Adar Bet 12, 5774, 3/14/2014

      The Purim of Beit HaShalom


      The Purim of Beit HaShalom

      If searching for one word in the Scroll of Esther which embodies the entire story, it might very well be ‘v’naafochhu’, which means, according to Google, ‘to the contrary,’ or perhaps, ‘it all reversed.’ Turned upside down. ‘An unexpected ending.’

      During the days of Haman and Achashverosh, towards the end of the first exile, following the destruction of the First Temple and the exile to Babylon, many Jews forgot what it was to be Jews. Assimilation was rampant. But for the enemies of the Jews, that wasn’t enough. They had to be eradicated. Physically removed from the face of the earth. Deleted.

      There was no State of Israel, No IDF. No Shabak or Mossad.

      When the decision was made, (a predecessor of the 1942 Wansee Conference), who was there to turn to?

      Two people, and two people alone held the keys to reversing the almost inevitable. Mordechai and Esther. It took much courage. They might not have cared about their own fate, but they knew that continued existence of their people rested in their hands.

      But it took more than courage. It took faith. The most amazing, overwhelming faith a person can have. The State, the IDF, the Shabak, the Mossad, and anyone or anything else that could have saved them was all wrapped up in the Divine, in G-d. They knew and understood that only He, could save the Jews from that planned holocaust.

      The story is well known. No need here to repeat it here.

      But, their faith implanted within the Jewish people, for ages to come, a comprehension, an essence of, look to the Heavens. There is the answer to your woes.

      Of course, our faith started with Abraham. It can be witnessed with Moses. But their predicament was very different from those before, because during their days, G-d was seemingly hidden, had seemingly disappeared. It’s very very hard to plea to a Diety which seemingly has abandoned you, perhaps punishment for your collective sins.

      But Mordechai and Esther knew that G-d would never abandon His people. Some might, due to lack of faith, be blind to His existence. But they were not blind; they knew, felt and saw the truth, and acted accordingly.

      And the Jews were saved.

      Over the years I wrote many articles about Beit HaShalom:

      March 26, 2007: Last week Hebron's Jewish community received a green light from its attorneys…The deal was completed to their satisfaction. We could move in…The community purchased a 4,000 sq. meter structure, overlooking the road between Hebron and Kiryat Arba.

      January 29, 2008: Two soldiers are stationed outside Beit HaShalom for security purposes…the soldiers are ‘cold’ and requested/demanded that people in the building supply them with an electric line for a heater to keep them warm…Defense Minister Ehud Barak had just refused Hebron’s request to allow humanitarian renovations in the building, including instillation of simple windows, electric current, and sealing of the building’s roof to prevent water leakage. The letter received from the Defense ministry stated clearly: If you’re cold, go live somewhere else…  

      February 28, 2008:  "You can install aluminum window frames WITHOUT glass windows."…They finally agreed to installation of windows…   You didn't get a permit to install anything made of plastic – only aluminum frames and glass windows, no shades!"

      October 30, 2008:  Yesterday the Supreme Court discussed Beit HaShalom in Hebron. The discussion focused on the question of purchase and possession. The judges stressed throughout the discussion that even if the building was legally purchased, it is still possible to issue an expulsion order because the building was still in the possession of the Arab seller, Rajbi.

      November 28, 2008: Last week the Supreme Court announced its decision. They gave the people living there 72 hours to leave of their own accord…or else..

      Decemeber 12, 2008: It is unthinkable and intolerable that Israel's top leadership should change the rules in the middle of the game, expecting the other side to play by the old ones, while they play by the new. Peace may breed peace but by the same token, extremism breeds extremism…The true threat to our country is the warping of the fundamental institutions whose presence is supposed to protect the people rather than terrorize them. The decisions made concerning Beit Hashalom were not based upon justice, rather upon pure judicial terror.

      October 11, 2012:
      The new year is starting off on the right …A few weeks ago, an Israeli court ruled that Beit HaShalom, the huge 4,000 square meter building between Hebron and Kiryat Arba, was legally purchased by the Jewish community of Hebron and must be returned to us, the rightful owners of the building.

      March 11, 2014: Beit HaShalom - Victory at last

      WE WON WE WON WE WON 

      I COULD KEEP WRITING THESE WORKS A MILLION TIMES AND IT STILL WOULDN'T BE ENOUGH…This afternoon the Israeli Supreme Court rejected Arab appeals concerning Beit HaShalom in Hebron, thereby paving the way for our return to the building.

      The spirit of Mordechai and Esther continues, thousands of years later. The immense faith of the Abraham family, purchasing Beit HaShalom; the families, with small children and newborn babies who lived in puddles of water, with rain, sleet and snow soaking their freezing rooms, but refusing to leave, under any circumstances; people who supported them, assisting in all ways possible, and so many others, have enabled us, thank G-d, to witness the Purim of Beit HaShalom.

      If this is not 'v'naafochu' I don't know what is.

      Happy Purim from Hebron.

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      This article does not necessarily represent the views of the Jewish Community of Hebron







      Adar Bet 9, 5774, 3/11/2014

      Beit HaShalom - Victory at last!


      BARUCH HASHEM – THANK G-D!

      WE WON WE WON WE WON

      I COULD KEEP WRITING THESE WORKS A MILLION TIMES AND IT STILL WOULDN’T BE ENOUGH.

      This afternoon the Israeli Supreme Court rejected Arab appeals concerning  Beit HaShalom in Hebron, thereby paving the way for our return to the building.

      It might be recalled: Mr. Morris Abraham and his family purchased Beit HaShalom for over a million dollars. The building, between Hebron and Kiryat Arba, was lived in by Jewish families for 22 months, before then Defense Minister Ehud Barak, expelled them, and had the building sealed.

      The Israeli Municipal Court ruled that the building should be returned to its Jewish owners, ruling that the building had been legally sold. The Arabs appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, which today rejected the appeal.

      Presently, in order for us to return to the building, the Defense Minister, Moshe Bugi Yaalon, must sign a ‘permit,’ necessary to complete Jewish purchases in Judea and Samaria. This is a technical issue, and it is expected that the Defense Minister will sign the permits. Former Defense Minister Ehud Barak was quoted as saying that he (as Defense Minister) would sign the permits should the courts decide in our favor.

      This is a huge victory for the Hebron Jewish Community. Innumerable prayers, hours, money, tears, and what not, were invested in this building.  Families with babies and small children lived in rooms without windows, through rain and snowstorms. Puddles of freezing water filled family apartments.

      Yet dedication, determination, and faith, at its highest level were the name of the game. People refused, under any circumstances, to leave. Following a Supreme Court decision allowing the families to be expelled from the building, people’s determination increased.

      Following the expulsion, people never gave up. The court case dragged on, but in the end, justice has prevailed. We will move back into Beit HaShalom.

      And my friends, let it be known, this is just the beginning…..

      All photos: David Wilder, Hebron







      Adar Bet 7, 5774, 3/9/2014

      Authentic Zionism alive and kicking-in Israel-in Hebron


      Inline image 2

      Authentic Zionism – alive and kicking, in Israel, in Hebron

      It happened again.  Every once in a while I meet up with it, and this week, again.

      Many years ago I wrote an article about a young soldier serving in Hebron. I think it was during the ‘Oslo War’ – aka the 2nd Intifada. Arabs were shooting at us day and night. And this guy, just out of high school wasn’t even an Israeli yet. And to top it off, his next stop, in uniform, was Lebanon. 

      Ari Abramowitz successfully finished his army service, graduated from university in the US, and came back to Israel to continue serving Israel in various important positions, including, after founding ‘thelandofisrael.com

      ,’ hosting a fabulously popular international TV show with Jeremy Gimpel, about life in Israel. Today he continues his efforts on behalf of the Jewish people with  Keren HaYesod.

      Well,  I may have met another Ari. Only this fella’s name is, well, let’s call him Pinny.  I met him, where else, on Facebook.  I don’t remember exactly how, but I saw something about a soldier in Hebron from New Jersey. Well, that’s where I grew up.  So I sent him a message, we ‘chatted’ and I invited him for Shabbat. He was able to free himself  and came over. For me it was an uplifting experience.

      Here again, a man not yet twenty. Finishes high school, from a not particularly religious family, but leaning in the direction of observant Judaism. Leaves the US to Israel ‘for a year’ to study in Yeshiva. After a year in an ‘American yeshiva’, he notifies his parents that he wants to stay another year before ‘returning home’ to ‘start university.’ 

      But this next year is spent, not in an all English-speaking yeshiva, rather in an Israeli, high level Torah Academy, located in the Southern Hebron Hills. Why? Well, Pinny is already seriously considering Aliyah, becoming a full-fledged Israeli citizen. Therefore he chooses to attend a yeshiva where they speak Hebrew. His own Hebrew isn’t very good, but that’s the point. To learn. To get prepared for the rest of his life. 

      Now, that’s not easy. I know. I did the same thing. It can be very frustrating. The classes are difficult to understand, especially trying to comprehend pages of the Talmud, many of which are in Aramaic.  But, when you are really determined, and you have a real, idealistically-motivated goal, anything is possible.

      This particular yeshiva is one of the “Hesder” variety, that is, the students, after a year and a half of Torah study, begin active military service for about a year and a half.  Pinny calls home again to tell his folks that now he’s going into the army. 

      Pinny makes his way to the army draft base and tells them, “I’m here, I want to go into the army.”

      Many Israelis, (and I’m not talking about the so-called ‘Haredi religious population), try to avoid the IDF, finding excuses here and there why they cannot serve.  And here pops in an ‘American’ who, they quickly determine, doesn’t even know enough Hebrew to start the elementary Ulpan, Hebrew language instruction program for ‘new immigrants’.  But he stands his ground – ‘I want to be drafted.’

      So, in he goes. I would compare it to throwing a three year old into the pool and saying ‘swim!’

      When the group of young combat trainees begins target shooting practice, the commander screams out ‘Aish.’ Meaning ‘shoot.’ Pinny doesn’t shoot, because he’s not familiar with the word. The commander comes over, looks at Pinny, repeating, ‘Aish’ When Pinny just looks at him, the commander calmly utters, ‘Fire’. “ In English.

      ‘Fire?  Oh, ‘Aish’ is  fire my gun.’ Finally – boom boom boom. 

      I’ve heard of commanders who have almost literally tortured such ‘new immigrants.’ But Pinny fell into good hands. His commanding officers and other members of his battalion were patient and considerate, realizing the precious treasure they had in their company. After all, not every day do such ‘Americans’ volunteer to be drafted and participate in serving the state of Israel.

      Pinny completed his basic training and moved out, with the rest of his crew, to Hebron. Here he is fulfilling most of his service, before heading back to the Yeshiva for another year of Torah study. 

      After dinner, I invited Pinny back for lunch the next day. He was due to begin ‘guard duty’ for a few hours, and then have a nine hour break until the next round of duty. However, that wouldn’t have allowed him to dine with us, as his guard duty would have begun just as we were beginning to eat. So rather than take a nine-hour break, he began guarding only six hours later, (which meant he had less time to sleep), but allowing him to finish and come over to us, just in time for the meal. Why? ‘Because it makes it a better Shabbat for me.’

      Of course, not too long after he left us, he had to start again. 

      It’s not easy to be a soldier in Hebron. There is a degree of tension, with ‘security alerts’ a constant. The orders they receive aren’t always easy to implement. And sometimes the opposite: not being able to do what you think you should do. There can be frequent confrontations. But here’s a young man from New Jersey, on the brink of the beginning of his adult life, putting his life on the line for the Jewish people, for the state of Israel. 

      It never ceases to amaze me. And to instill me with hope and optimism.  I firmly believe that within the coming decades many more Americans and Europeans will be coming to Israel. Some of them, if not most, probably because they will realize that the US and Europe aren’t the havens they thought they were. But there will be others, like Pinny, who come to Israel, not because the US is bad for the Jews, but because Israel is good for the Jews, because this is our home, this is where we should be, this is where we belong. 

      I’m not a prophet or a soothsayer, but if asked to make a prediction, I can easily foresee a brilliant future for Pinny. Because a person with such dedication, to his people, to his country, to his religion, will undoubtedly continue on a path of success. I look forward to Pinny’s  continued achievements, on behalf of his family, his people, his state. And thank him for making my day yesterday. There’s very little that makes me happier than witnessing the Pinnys of the Jewish people, in Israel. 

      This is authentic Zionism – alive and kicking, in Israel, in Hebron.

       ---------------------------------------------------------

      This article does not necessarily represent the views of the Hebron Jewish Community