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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.hebron.com (English)
      www.hebron.org.il (Hebrew)
      www.ohrshlomo.org (Hebrew)
      www.ohrshalom.net (Hebrew)
      (others to be added)

      Tishrei 18, 5771, 9/26/2010

      PermitsPermitsPermits & Hebron Succot Holiday Schedule

      Hebron Succot Holiday Schedule:
      Breaking the Ice - The Building Freeze is over!

      Permits Permits Permits by David Wilder

      Journalists have asked me 'do you have a permit to build the new kindergarten?' 
      The answer is quite simple. We have had a permit to build in Hebron for the past 3,800 years.
      Did the first Jew in Hebron, Avraham Avinu, have a permit to purchase the caves of Machpela and the surrounding fields? Did he need a Prime Minister, Defense Minister or anyone else to verify and okay the transaction? 

      Two thousand years ago Herod, King of Judea, constructed a magnificent monument to the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, a building still in use, to this very day. Did he ask Barak or Netanyahu to approve this classic structure? 

      In 1929 the age-old Jewish Hebron community was massacred and the survivors expelled. It is time that the nations of the world recognize that the roots of modern civilization are found in Jewish Hebron, the foundations of which commenced almost 4,000 years ago. 

      In 1967 Jews returned to Hebron and Machpela, (which was declared off-limits to Jews and Christians for 700 years). We did not conquer and occupy a foreign city. We returned - we came home.  

      The most normal act of existence is to grow and develop, to expand. To build. That is what we are doing in Hebron. First and foremost, providing a good thorough education for our children, from the very beginning. 

      This is why we are starting with a kindergarten, to be built on Jewish land, in the first Jewish city in Israel, in Hebron. No artificial freeze, no talks of an imaginary peace, can deny the Jews of their most elementary right: to live in city of Abraham, to grow in the city of Abraham, to build, develop and expand in the city of Abraham. This is our G-d - given right; an obligation, ensuring a continued thriving Jewish presence in Hebron for generations to come!
      Breaking the Ice - The Building Freeze is over!
      Hebron celebrates:
      Deputy Education Minister,  Rabbi Meir Porush
      participates in laying the cornerstone for a new 
       Hebron kindergarten
      in the Avraham Avinu neighborhood
      Monday Sept. 27 at 15:00
      followed by a visit and festive speech by
      Deputy Prime Minister Sylvan Shalom at
      Ma'arat HaMachpela
      Special Daily Holiday Tours with Rabbi Simcha Hochbaum
      Registration: www.hebronfund.com
        tour@hebron.com  052-431-7055
      Chol HaMoed  Sunday Sept. 26, Monday, Sept. 27th
      Entire Maara open including Ohel Yitzchak + special children’s activities
      Chol HaMoed Monday, Sept. 27th
      8:45 AM -  Musical Carlebach Shacharit featuring:
      Rav Simcha Hochbaum, Chizki Sofer & musicians
      Followed at 1 PM By....
      Mass Machpela MusicFest ... featuring:
      Adi Ran * Meir Simcha * Rolly Dickman * Chizki Sofer * Yuval Taeib
      Special Guests:
      Vice Prime Minister Sylvan Shalom,
      Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush
      Knesset Members & Community Leaders
      Hoshana Raba, Wednesday Sept. 29th
      Special Machpela services, refreshments

      Tishrei 13, 5771, 9/21/2010

      What’s a Yahrtzeit Candle by Jack Berger

      What, don’t you think I know where Hevron is… you think I’m stupid… you think I’m afraid… you Americans don’t get it

      Almost 40 years ago as I was walking along the beach in Mykonos , I picked up a book titled The Magus. In it an old man tries to help a young man understand the wisdom of age as he reflected on the moral values of the day:

                      We lay on the ground and kissed. Perhaps you smile that we lay on the ground and kissed. You young people can lend your bodies now, play with them, and give them as we could not. But remember that you have paid a price: that of a world rich in mystery and delicate emotion. It is not only species of animal that die out, but whole species of feeling. And if you are wise, you will never pity the past for what it did not know, but pity yourself for what it did. (The Magus, John Fowles, p.134)

      Not long ago, while at a kiddish after a bar mitzvah, I overheard a twenty-something ask someone nearby - “What’s a yahrtzeit candle?” and I was reminded of the words in The Magus. It’s a question both profound and sad. It’s a question that our grandparents could not even have imagined. It’s profound for it tells of where our American Jewish community is and how painfully we have failed the commandment in our Shema to teach our children diligently. Sad because our peoples rich heritage and miraculous history gave in to the gods of assimilation and indifference and our community’s Jewish and Zionist future is in serious trouble…

      In 1950, America had a Jewish population of 5 million and of those 5 million; over 90% had an affiliation with a Jewish institution, whether it was Federation, Bonds, JNF, a synagogue or an organization.  By 2008 America had tripled in size yet in the 2008 demographic survey, there were still about 5 million Jews, but of those 5 million Jews less than 25% had a Jewish affiliation. In the survey the majority of Jews talked of being Jews by heritage or Jews by culture – Jews by observance and affiliation were a shrinking minority. And, painfully, a more recent survey of American Jews responding to the Jewish Agency’s Education Department showed that only 26% of respondents said they were very emotionally attached to Israel . Support and pride in Israel has also been in serious decline.

      As is written in the Torah, “Ask your father and he will tell you. Ask your grandfather and he will explain it.” – The overwhelming majority of today’s fathers have been too busy focusing on their golf handicaps rather than dealing with their Jewish handicaps and Jewish grandfathers are too busy watching the stock market not realizing the real stock losses they are taking is in their grandchildren. 

      In contrast, Israel in 1950 had a Jewish population of fewer than 1 million, yet Israel ’s population today is approaching 6 million and is expected to be close to 8 million by 2040. From an America that in the 1950’s was the center of the Jewish world, it is undeniable that today the center of the Jewish world is Israel . Today the average age of American Jewry is 44.  The average age of Jewish Israel is 28. As the American Jewish population continues to get older with fewer marriages and fewer children, the Jewish population of Israel is growing to where in the last three years it has set records of Jewish baby births and it’s not only the ultra-Orthodox who are having babies. In a 2008 demographic survey in Israel over half the respondents described themselves as traditional and traditional families are having more babies. Today it is in Israel that centers of Jewish learning universities, yeshivas, colleges, hospitals and technical centers are growing… even in Tel Aviv. Mr. Liberal Jewish American, Alan Dershowitz wrote in his book The Vanishing American Jew…  “There may well be fewer than one million Jews in America by the year 2050.”

      As Israel continues to become less secular and American Jewry becomes more indifferent, there are two very different Jewish communities evolving. Some believe that in ten years the Conservative Movement will no longer exist, while the Reform Movement hasn’t really existed Jewishly for a long time. Eric Yoffe, head of the Reform Movement, in watering down its Judaism and in its superficial support of Israel, has realized too late that if you don’t give Jews something of substance and value their congregations will lose interest. Distracting from the abject failure of his leadership, he has realized too late that the Reform Movement and its anything goes overt tolerance has little substance while the Masorti or Conservative Movement has become shriller in its condemnation of the Orthodox in Israel, becoming more irrelevant with each attack. Many Conservative leaders quietly now recognize that in focusing on the academic and too little on Zionism, they have created rabbis that may be scholars but have forgotten how to be Zionists. Famous Israeli writerA.B. Yehoshua, in an article in the left-wing Ha’Aretz called American Jews “Luftmenchen, a people without substance… a people without a land…” 

      One day I met an Israeli cab driver.

      I walked out of the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem to a waiting cab. The cab driver looked like a typical secular Israeli with his shirt unbuttoned half way down his somewhat hairy chest, sun glasses perched on top of his head as he slouched over his shiny Mercedes with his head cradled on his cell phone. He interrupted his conversation to ask me where I wanted to go – I told him to take me to the Jerusalem bus station. No, he asked, where do you want to go – I told him, you’re not going to want to take me where I’m going and raising his voice he demanded, “Just tell me!” I told him I was going to Hevron. He stared at me for a moment, opened the cab door, said get in, and said good-bye to whomever he was talking to. I asked him if he was sure and, with an air of having been insulted, he said “What, don’t you think I know where Hevron is… you think I’m stupid… you think I’m afraid… you Americans don’t get it” –  Caught a bit off guard it was the beginning of another Israel realization, and as we traveled south passed Gilo, I noticed in the mirror he began to button his shirt, he lowered his sunglasses and then as we circled around Bethlehem, he opened his glove box, pulled out a kippah, slapped it on his head, and with a smile, a sparkle in his eyes and wagging his finger he said – “When you go to Hevron you must wear a kippah! It’s out of respect… Hevron is a very great place… You know Hevron? It’s the place where our forefather Avraham bought the cave of Machpelah from Efron the Hittite for the burial place for his wife Sarah…” and as we drove south he told me of how his family made their way to Palestine from Yemen in the 1920’s and we discussed how David began his reign as Melech Yisrael, King of Israel in Hevron. Secular perhaps, proud of his country and knowledgeable of our Torah – No doubt. “And I will gather you from the corners of the earth and I shall bring you back to the land I promised to your forefathers…” and future generations.

      In the last several decades American Jews have become less intrigued with the true wonder and awe of the State of Israel, while Jews in Israel are becoming more traditional and more proud of their country. They have much to be proud of. Perhaps what today shows the greatest divergence between American Jews and Israelis is that 56% of American Jews still support president Obama regarding America ’s relationship with Israel , while only 4% of Israeli Jews support his actions. With only 4% support, even a lot of left leaning Israelis are no longer enamored with the President that 78% of American Jews voted for. Choices have been made and from these choices there will be consequences. The sad reality is that less than 1 in 7 non-Orthodox Jewish Americans have ever traveled to Israel . The vast majority know nothing of Israel except what they might read from the less than sympathetic liberal media, and the drivel they hear on that rare occasion they may wander into a synagogue from rabbis being driven by their personal agendas.  In the latest Spertus Institute brochure for fall classes the word Israel doesn’t even appear!

      Recently I bumped into a former Board member of Anshe Emet Synagogue. Years ago during the summer the rabbis took some time off and members of the synagogue were asked to give sermons on the parasha of the week. In those days Rabbi Michael Siegel often asked me to give a sermon, and the board member told me that by Monday he would get angry voice mails and messages about my sermons from some of the more liberal congregants.  In those days of Oslo euphoria I often focused on the charade and lies of the peace process, the shallowness of American Jewry, or the culpability of American Jewish leadership in the Holocaust. Parasha Shoftim was a favorite with the words “Justice, justice you shall pursue…” and “if you find the body of a murdered Jew in a field…” who is responsible for that Jews death. The writings of Devarim, or Deuteronomy, are as relevant today as they were the day it was written. I always liked Devarim – still do. In those days this board member would call about congregant’s complaints and my reply was always that at least he knew that they were staying awake and they’ll probably forget about it before the High Holidays… but interestingly, he didn’t forget about it.

      He made his way thru the crowd and said when he saw me it reminded him of the sermons I gave in the mid 90’s (almost 15 years ago) and he wanted to apologize for what he had said – “I just wanted to believe in Oslo…I wanted to believe the peace process was real and looking back I thought about it over and over and I finally realized that you were right.” When a senior partner at a big law firm does a mea culpa, it’s a bit like the parting of the sea, but over the years I’ve received dozens of private apologies and even several public apologies. There never was a peace process. There were only Kodak moments and meaningless words that led to 1600 dead Jews, obscenely called sacrifices for peace. My fellow Jews wanted to believe the lie… historically we have been a people who have wanted to be lied to…but the truths of history have always stepped into the breech. The future of Diaspora Jewry, if there is a future, must be tied to our communal pride with eternal love of our homeland Israel .

      I once was told by my Rav z’l – “you must believe in our Jewish people because our G-d believes in our Jewish people… and you must always love them as your Jewish brother!” and so even when I reflect on Moses’ words that “these people are too difficult for me” – I want our people who are with us today and those who are not here yet to appreciate with gratitude the special gift that we were given 3300 years ago at a place called Sinai and to profoundly understand the courage, strength, fortitude and love against adversity that our grandparents had to overcome over the centuries to keep our sacred relationship with the Land that was given to us as an inheritance by our G-d. During these days of awe and reflection, at the end of Yom Kippur our community will stand and make a commitment,“Next Year in Jerusalem .”  I certainly hope so.

      It is time for our community here in the Diaspora to go back to appreciating with understanding our roots if we want our children and grandchildren to be the inheritors of our unique gift of being a Jew or we can look to a future where American Jewry will be left to be studied at institutions of learning perhaps in the anthropology or history departments of schools and universities.

      If that is to come about then the question I overheard - “What’s a Yahrtzeit candle?” may one day be asked on a television game show. Three contestants with names that sound vaguely familiar will hesitate to press their button fearing that a wrong answer might lose some of their winnings… but perhaps one will then remember there was a time when our people knew how to  respect, honor and remember our fathers and mothers.

      “It is not only species of animal that die out, but whole species of feeling.  And if you are wise you will never pity the past for what it did not know, but pity yourself for what it did."

      Tishrei 7, 5771, 9/15/2010

      Short memories

      Rosh HaShana Eve. I was downstairs at Beit Hadassah, where I’d moved with my family from Kiryat Arba two years earlier. A friend of mine was examining emergency medical equipment in special lockers. We were killing time, waiting for the selichot services, special penitential prayers recited prior to the New Year, to begin.

      I must have been about 11:30, when suddenly shots rang out. In Hebron, nothing can be considered strange or unexpected, but the sound of live ammunition being shot was not an everyday affair. And this gunfire was not sporadic or single shots. It was massive.

      As we ran upstairs, the emergency security squad took up positions around the building and in the street. The source of the shooting was from the hills to the north of the building, Harat a’Shech. Clearly the bullets were aimed at us.

      I ran up to my home and found my wife and kids crouched in a corner. Almost all the windows in my apartment face the hills from which the shooting was initiated. They didn’t know where to hide. Finally they went downstairs to an ‘underground apartment’ where one of my daughters’ and her husband were then living.

      Officers and soldiers, taken by surprise, started making the rounds throughout the building. Upon reaching my apartment, and following a quick look around inside, they asked my permission to set up a temporary base in one of the rooms, clearly overlooking the hills. I agreed, and they remained there for over three weeks.

      That was the beginning of what is popularly known as the ‘second intifada.’ I call it the Oslo War.

      Working with journalists for years, I had told just about everyone who interviewed me that the inevitable result of the Oslo Accords would be a war. I didn’t know when it would start, or how it would start, but that eventually it would happen. And I was right.  Much too unfortunately. For this war cost us hundreds of lives and thousands wounded and maimed, both physically and mentally.

      This war continued for almost two and a half years. When Israel, in January of 1997 transferred the hills surrounding the Hebron Jewish Community to Arafat and the PA, Hebron leaders met with then Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, warning him that these hills would be a source of shooting attacks against the community. The Prime Minister responded, “If they shoot one bullet, I’ll send in the tanks.” Of course in September, 2000 Bibi was no longer premier,  and it only took two and a half years for Israel to figuratively ‘send in the tanks,’ that is, order the IDF to retake the hills and stop the shooting once and for all.

      My office walls are filled with photos of friends killed: Col. Dror Weinberg, commander of the Hebron brigade, Rabbi Eli Horowitz and his wife Dina, ten-month old Shalhevet Pas, my fourth grade daughter’s teacher, Rina Didovsky, twenty-one year old Hebron resident Elazar Leibovitch, and on the bulletin board in front of me, a photograph of Gandhi, Minister Rechavam Ze’evi, that I took on the roof of Beit Hadassah a week and a half prior to his assassination.  And that’s only to name a few.

      Why did this war begin? PM Ehud Barak had just returned from Camp David, where Arafat refused his offer of ninety percent of Judea and Samaria. Why the refusal? Arafat witnessed Barak’s orders to flee from Southern Lebanon, as a result of continued Israeli casualties there.  Arafat decided: ‘if Hizballah can cause Jews to flee by killing them, well, I know how to kills Jews too.’ And so he declared war, and was granted a posthumous victory five years ago when Israel relinquished Gush Katif, expelling almost 10,000 people from their homes, to that same PA. Getting back, in return for our generosity, thousands of missiles rocketed into Israel. Missile attacks which continue to this very day.

      This war, the Oslo War, began exactly ten years ago last week, on the eve of the Jewish New Year, the year 2000. Yet Israelis seem to have extremely short memories. Despite the shooting, not only in Hebron but throughout all of Judea and Samaria, despite the drive-by shootings, the suicide attacks, terrorist murder in all parts of Israel, people seem to have forgotten.

      And most absurdly, at present we are on the verge of bringing upon ourselves, G-d forbid, a repeat performance, which began a week and a half ago in the Southern Hebron Hills. This time around it’s not Barak, Arafat and Bill. Rather, it’s Bibi, Mahmud, and Obama. The names have changed, but that’s all. The expectations are identical: Israel must concede all of Judea and Samaria, including East Jerusalem and Temple Mount, allowing the ‘return’ of who knows how many Arab ‘refugees’ while in return we get a piece of paper with adorned photos of handshakes on the White House lawn.
      The current talks are, sooner or later, destined to fail. No one has any doubts about that. The big question mark is the price we’ll have to pay for our short memories. Ten years ago really wasn’t so long ago. Ask the families of those who fell during the war. It was like yesterday. So I ask, why bring this madness upon ourselves, forceing us to go through it again?