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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)

      Sivan 26, 5773, 6/4/2013

      Hebron and Brussels

      A ‘good friend’ of Israel is doing us a favor. He’s leaving the country. Thank G-d.

      Andrew Standley has been the European Union’s ambassador to Israel.  In the past he was quoted

      as having stated that Judea and Samaria are ‘occupied territory’ and that Israel is the ‘occupier.’

      Today, as he prepares to conclude his term in our holy country, he again spoke of Israel’s presence in our homeland, this time pointing his poison arrows at Hebron:

      “You must choose between Haifa and Hebron. I am not a Jew or an Israeli, and I don’t have any historical or  political connection , but it should be remembered that the state of Israel agreed to the 1947 partition plan, and thereby agreed to a partition the significance of is Haifa yes and Hebron no. Can you imagine that your heart which wants Hebron will give up your mind which wants peace?”

      Is this really the question, that of heart vs. mind? Our emotions tug at Hebron, while our intellect demands peace? Are these really two opposites? Hebron or Haifa - Hebron or peace?

      A few days ago I accompanied a group of Americans and Canadians to visit Sheich Farid Jabari, at a tent where he hosts guests in the southern Hebron Hills. Jabari is the leader of Hebron’s largest clan, and has spoken at meetings of the EU in Brussels. I have met with him numerous times.

      Jabari minces no words. He told the group: ‘You hold up the Bible and say that G-d gave you this land. I hold up the Koran and say that Allah gave us this land.’

      For this reason Jabari, as opposed to other Arabs, publicly rejects a ‘palestinian state.’ He states equivocally, ‘If this land was G-d-given to me, I cannot give any of it to you.’  Acknowledgement of a ‘palestinian state’ is also direct acceptance of the State of Israel, and Jewish sovereignty in what he refers to, and believes, is his land. That being, Eretz Yisrael. All of it. He personally would prefer to live in the State of Israel, as an Israeli citizen, rather than agree to ‘partition’ of the land and Arab-Muslim recognition of Israel’s right to any of Israel.

      For quite some time, speaking with various groups, I’ve expressed my opinion that one of the necessary prerequisites to any ‘solution’ of the Middle East conflict is Jewish acceptance of our legitimate right to live in our land. This is first and foremost. The roots of this legitimacy was expressed by David Ben Gurion: “Testifying before the Peel Commission, the British royal commission sent to Palestine in 1936 in the wake of Arab violence, David Ben-Gurion, head of the de facto Zionist government in Palestine, was asked to identify the basis of the Jewish claim. He replied: ”The Bible is our mandate.’”

      Ben Gurion and Jabari would have gotten along well together, as they share an identical premise. 

      By the same token, any people willing to abnegate parts of land which are rightfully theirs, actually renounces its claim on the entire area. Because, as Shech Jabari defined, how can anyone forsake any part and parcel of a Divine gift?

      This past Shabbat we read, in the weekly Torah portion, how Kalev ben Yefuneh came to pray at the tomb of the Patriarchs, beseeching G-d that he should remain strong, and not fall into the trapping of the 10 spies, who spoke slanderously about Eretz Yisrael. According to the holy Zohar, one of the main reasons for their willingness and desire to relinquish the holy land, preferring to remain in the desert, was because they knew that upon entering the land, their roles as leaders would come to an end, that they would be replaced by a new generation of princes.

      Kalev, understanding the significance of Hebron, the first Jewish city in Israel, the roots of humanity, site of the tomb of the Forefathers, chose this place to worship, to request Divine assistance in escaping the emotions of ten of his compatriots.

      And his prayer was answered. Only he, together with Joshua, rejected the spies’ denunciation of Eretz Yisrael. Joshua later inherited Moses, while Kalev was granted Hebron.

      Love of Hebron has nothing to do with our heart. Our devotion to Hebron stems from our minds, allowing us the intellect to comprehend that the denial of Hebron as an essential element in the State of Israel is a refutation of our legitimacy to any and all of Israel. This has nothing to do with emotion. It is cold, simple brain intelligence.

      Clearly, Standley’s conception of Israel’s right to live on our land is founded, not on mind, rather on emotion. His heart-felt passions are identical to those of many prior to him, over many many centuries. That is, rabid, unadulterated anti-Semitism, taking the form of EU anti-Israel policies, such as labeling Israeli products manufactured in Judea and Samaria. We are familiar with such practices, as were implemented in the 1930s and 1940s, when Jews were required to wear yellow Stars of David.

      Standley equates Hebron as the opposite peace. Of course, he is wrong. Jewish, Israeli acceptance of Hebron as a Jewish-Israeli city can and will strengthen our hold on our homeland, on our country.  Abandoning Hebron is tantamount to waiving all of our land. Any intelligent person recognizes this as truth.  We have no intentions of committing suicide. We will not now, not ever, cut off our soul from our body.  Mind over heart; truth over lies; fact over fiction;  Hebron over Brussels.

      Iyar 16, 5773, 4/26/2013

      Rabbi Moshe&Miriam Levinger-All that is ours, is theirs

      Yesterday I heard a radio program about the upcoming holiday, on Saturday night and Sunday, Lag B’Omer. Part of the traditional celebration includes singing and Torah-talk around large bonfires. A question was posed as to why we light these bonfires.

      Again, traditionally, this is supposedly the day that the great Rabbi, Shimon Bar Yochai died, some 2,000 years ago. He is buried in the northern city of Meron, and tens and hundreds of thousands of people flock to that site for this event.

      Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, or Rashbi, as he is known, was the author of the Zohar, the source of what is called ‘Jewish mysticism.’ Actually, the word is misleading. People don’t learn this, wiggle their noses and make people disappear. These teachings deal with the inner workings of Torah, and includes very holy thoughts and ideas. There are those who think that ‘Kabbalah’ as it is called, is very easy and an open subject to study. In reality, it is very deep and very sacred, and also very difficult to comprehend, in an authentic manner.

      Rashbi was a very holy man, and the revelations he brought to us, thousands of years ago, are still studied today. On Lag B’Omer, we celebrate Rashbi and his teachings.

      However, there are those who say that this day is not when Rashbi died. Rather, the story is more like this.

      His primary teacher was perhaps the greatest scholar who lived, that being Rabbi Akiva. He is well-known as a person, who, up to the age of 40 did not know how to read or write. Only after marrying did he leave to study Torah, and after 24 years, was known as a Torah sage par excellence. He lived during the time of the Roman conquest, and was a primary backer of the Bar Kochva revolt, which failed, and left tens of thousands dead. Rabbi Akiva himself was put to death for teaching Torah to the masses.

      It’s written that Rabbi Akiva had 24,000 students, all of whom were killed during the revolt. Only five remained. One of them was the renowned Rashbi, who was ordained by Rabbi Akiva. That ordination took place, most likely, on Lag B’Omer. In other words, on this day, we celebrate the continuation of Torah, the flame which the Romans tried to extinguish, but were not able to.

      In other words, actually Lag b’Omer is a celebration of light, a celebration of Torah, of renewal, of continuation, of success against all odds, a celebration of sanctity.

      This is why, I believe, we light bonfires on this special day, to radiate light.

      In a week and a half, Hebron will celebrate another festive event, very much related to all of the above. On Thursday, the 29th day of Iyar (9/5) Rabbi Moshe Levinger will be presented with the Lion of Zion Moskowitz Prize for life achievement.

      Rabbi Moshe Levinger fits all of the expressions of celebration just conveyed.

      First, and foremost, Rav Levinger is a true Torah scholar. As a principal student of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook zt”l, Rav Levinger studied and later disseminated the teachings of this teachers’ father, Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook, one of the most profound and important teachers of the past century.

      Following the Six-Day War, Rabbi Levinger was sent to undertake a project only dreamt about, that being the renewal of a Jewish community in Hebron. Together with his wife Miriam, who has stood by him as his ‘right-hand man’ for decades, the Levingers arrived in Hebron for Passover in 1968. And they’ve been here ever since.

      At the forefront of the ‘settlement movement’ Gush Emunim, bringing Jews back to Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, and the undisputed leader of the newly established Kiryat Arba, and later in the city of Hebron itself, Rabbi Levinger succeeded against all odds. The 1979 move of women and children into Beit Hadassah was led by the Levingers, and together with other very courageous and holy souls, brought Jews back to the city of Abraham.

      In the space of a short article, it isn’t possible to enumerate all the trials and tribulations, as well as all the accomplishments of Rabbi Moshe and Miriam Levinger. But what is overtly clear is that their fortitude, their faith, and their actions, have unalterably changed Jewish history. Their unadulterated love for Israel, all facets of Israel: Torah, the people of Israel, and perhaps first and foremost, Eretz Yisrael, can only be described as a beacon, not of light, but of a laser beam, penetrating the hearts and souls of millions around the world, and bringing people back home, to the heartland of our nation, to Hebron.

      In recent years Rabbi Levinger’s health hasn’t been great. A stroke left him partially paralyzed. But, the giant that he is, such medical issues do not prevent him from continuing to study and teach Torah. Every day, despite the difficulty, he walks up the long stairs to pray morning prayers at Ma’arat HaMachpela, the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.

      When Rabbi Akiva came home, after 24 years of Torah study, his wife Rachel ran to him and fell at his feet. The Rabbi’s students, seeing an impoverished woman at their master’s feet, tried to move her away. Rabbi Akiva stopped them, saying to them, ‘this is Rachel, my wife. All that is mine and yours, is hers.

      So too we can say about Rabbi Moshe and Miriam Levinger: Without their dedication, example, and dauntless endurance, where would we be today?

      All that is ours, is theirs.

      Iyar 13, 5773, 4/23/2013

      Beit Ezra: The government's second test?

      Last December I wrote an article about Beit Ezra – the Ezra House – here in Hebron.

      “Presently, there is no doubt whatsoever that this is Jewish land, and that there are no real, justifiable, legal Arab claims to this property. However, the State Attorney General’s office has decided that Arabs who lived on this land which they stolen from Jews have ‘protected resident status’ and refuse to allow Hebron’s Jewish community to utilize the property. This, despite a ruling by an Israeli military judicial panel of three judges which concluded that there is a firm legal basis to allow the Hebron Jewish Community to utilize this land.”

      A few days ago, one family moved out. Another family sealed off two rooms of their home.  The Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the buildings be emptied by April 24. They did not require the government to fulfill the other half of the original commission’s conclusions: that the buildings be transferred to Hebron’s Jewish community for public use, such as a nursery school or kindergarten.

      So, as with other Jewish property in Hebron, these structures remain vacant. They can be added to a long list: Beit HaShalom, Beit HaMachpela, Beit Shapira, ‘the Shuk,’ aka, the Shalhevet neighborhood, to start with.

      There are a number of points which must be stressed:

      1. The reason the buildings were evacuated quietly is because the community agreed to accept the verdict of the original panel. In other words, despite all labels attached to us, we are law-abiding citizens, and despite the government’s continued refusal to adhere to its own agreements and obligations, we do.
      2. We fully expect the original commission’s conclusions to be implemented. We fully expect to receive total license to utilize these buildings, as was specified in the panel’s report. We expect the government to fulfill its obligations immediately, as we have fulfilled ours.
      3. The present government and Knesset includes many of Hebron’s staunchest friends. Ministers, deputy ministers, and MKs, in the Likud, the Jewish Home party and even in Yesh Atid, must now come through. They were not elected just to occupy a comfortable chair, a big office and drive around in a state-financed car. Their job is to accomplish what we’ve all set out to do: that is, to continue Jewish dominion in Judea and Samaria. Our presence must include all facets of every day, normal life. We cannot be excluded from our land and our property because we are Jews living in Eretz Yisrael, in the State of Israel. To the contrary, because we are Jews in Israel we must be encouraged to settle our land. That is why Jews came back to Israel – to live here.
      4. This is a classic example of left-wing, political agendas attempting to prevent Jewish residency on our land, here in Hebron. Our representatives, in the government and in the Knesset must take affirmative action to ensure, not only that Jews won’t be expelled from their land and property, but rather will be persuaded to continue moving into such areas, as Hebron and other places throughout Judea and Samaria.
      5. MK Orit Struk, from Hebron, whose own apartment is adjacent to Beit Ezra, said: "The government is determined to carry out the judicial recommendation of former Deputy Attorney-General Mike Blass while ignoring the decision of the Settlement Ministerial Committee to allocate Ezra House to the Jews of Hebron, in addition to the ruling of the Supreme Court to decide the issue before evacuation."
      6. While these words are one hundred percent correct, they are not enough. This government must end continued expulsion of Jews from their homes, and perhaps, first and foremost in Hebron, the first Jewish city in Israel. We expect our friends and representatives to use their democratically-obtained authority to put an end to these disgraces. They are nothing less than an abomination, and desecration of the God’s sanctity. He didn’t give us Eretz Yisrael in order to have Jews expel Jews from their land. 

      We hope and pray that Beit Ezra will not remain an empty shell for very long, and that soon we will celebrate it redemption, here in Hebron. A few days ago Minister Naftali Bennett, following government approval of the ‘Open Skies’ program, was quoted as saying that the government had ‘passed its first test.’ So perhaps Beit Ezra is its second test?

      Iyar 4, 5773, 4/14/2013

      Essence, Remembrance and Independence

      Late last week my wonderful wife of almost 34 years attended a mini-high school reunion.  

      Ora grew up in Givatayim, on the border of Tel Aviv, in a ‘traditional’ Jewish family. Many Jewish customs were followed, but they weren’t religiously observant, or Orthodox. She attended regular public school.

      Last week she traveled to Tel Aviv to visit with her class, together with their 10th-11th-12th grade teacher. She hadn’t been in touch with most of these people over the years, but had spent much time with them as a teenager.

      She hasn’t stopped speaking about this reunion since. Unfortunately, her reflections aren’t overly positive.  Most of the 20 or so people who were present were either never married, or are divorced, and many have ‘partners.’ I’m not sure if all of them people together have the number of children and grandchildren we have.

      One of the woman told how she lived with a man for a number of years, but never married. When he became very ill, they ‘decided’ to split up. Another woman told how, after she became ill with cancer, her husband decided enough was enough, and left her.

      The group sat in a living room, each person giving an account of their lives over the past decades, with children married to non-Jews, etc. etc. This was all accepted without any side comments, or exclamations.

      Until my wife said that she lives in Hebron. Whoop. Everyone woke up. The ‘teacher’ remarked how ‘settlers were taking over a hill-top here and a hill-top there.’ Ora put an end to the snide observations, saying she’d come to hear what everyone was up to and to participate, without getting into political discussions. Then she went on to give them a lesson in Jewish heritage in Hebron, and later invited them to come visit.  She was also the only religious person in the group.

      It wasn’t all bad. One man told how he was dedicating his life to a son injured very badly in an auto accident.

      But all-in-all, Ora wasn’t impressed.

      The teacher was, writing a letter to the class after the event, telling them how proud she was of them, how they’d been a great class way back when, and how they were still wonderful.

      I asked Ora what she was talking about, and she answered that they’d succeeded in business, had a good life style, etc.


      Last Saturday night I attended a class given by a very well-known Rabbi, a learned scholar. I’d heard about him and seen some of his writings, but had never attended a class with him.

      Wow! Was I in for a shock. 

      The class was broken into three parts. The middle section dealt with the intricacies of Jewish law and the Passover sacrifice on Temple Mount. I found that very interesting. But the beginning and end of the class dealt with a humongous battering of Zionism, the creation of the State of Israel and Israeli independence.  I was stunned. The Rabbi’s attack, which I can almost classify as vicious, attempted to obliterate the ideology by which I’ve lived for almost four decades. This being that the State of Israel is, as of yet, far from perfect, but is, most definitely, a Divine gift, after a 2,000 year exile from our land. These teachings are primarily expressed in the works of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook and his son, Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook.

      The Rabbi, in other words, if I understood him correctly, basically supports a total dismantling of the State and its rebuilding. He stated, again, according to my understanding, that the framework of the State is unimportant; only the substance or essence is of any significance.

      I haven’t yet had a chance to discuss this with the Rabbi. But by my way of thinking, of course the core of all bodies is the spirit. But a soul without a body is, (at least in this world) indefinable. So too, a body without a soul. They need one another. A candle unlit shines no light. A flame, without a wick, extinguishes and too, shines no light. The flame needs the wick, the candle, and the candle too, needs the flame.

      So too, Israel. Without a framework, without a sovereign element, we have no way to express our unique identity as a people, as a culture. And without that tradition, what are we? Are we different from anyone else?

      These two elements, as I’ve tried to articulate, seemed to be missing in the two programs outlined above. A group of sixty year old people, who have what to show for their lives? A good salary? True, money usually helps, as does a good job, but what about the essence. Where is the family, the children, the grandchildren? When my wife mentioned our kids and grandkids (in double digits plus), the group was stunned. What about other values? How can a person leave their ‘spouse’ because they are sick, at a time when they are most in need?

      With all the problems and issues we have today in Israel, and that we’ve had over the years, (and who knows what the future will bring), how can we not thank G-d for the unbelievable miracle called Israel? We are commanded to express gratitude for the good granted to us, individually, and as a people. The state of Israel, after 2,000 years of exile, after a holocaust which annihilated over six million of our people, how can anyone be so blind as to not see the Divine phenomenon of our existence, in our land.

      True, there is still much to fix. We are far from finished. But come Memorial day, when we reflect on what we’ve lost in order to achieve what we’ve achieved, and when we celebrate Independence Day, we must examine our values.

      Independence Day is called, in Hebrew, Yom HaAtzmaut. Atzmaut, meaning independence, is also very similar to the word Azmut, which means essence. It also is very similar to the word, Atzamot, meaning bones. Bones are a framework. Like the candle. Atzmut, essence, like the flame. Together they are Atzmaut – Independence. Both are essential.

      Happy Independence Day!

      Nisan 20, 5773, 3/31/2013

      Passover's eternal flame

      Passover's Eternal Flame

      This time of the year is always special. Spring is arriving, the weather becoming really beautiful, and lots and lots of people in Hebron.

      Hebron’s Passover celebration included, this year, well over 50,000 people. Wednesday and Thursday were the ‘big days’ with all of Ma’arat HaMachpela open to Jewish visitors, including the Isaac Hall, open to us only 10 days a year.

      Thursday’s music festival didn’t leave any of the tens of thousands disappointed. The shows began at 12:30 in the afternoon and continued until almost 7:30, when Lipa Schmeltzer put on a show never to be forgotten. First he sang and danced a duet with Chaim Yisrael, and then continued by himself. It was a huge amount of fun.

      As were the children’s events, tours, and just seeing so many wonderful people walking the streets of Hebron’s Jewish community, following in the footsteps of Abraham and Sarah, King David, and multitudes of Jews over the centuries.

      That having been said, I must admit that, with all its energy and fun, and as much as I look forward to and enjoy these days, this year, my favorite event didn’t occur in Hebron.

      Those of you who have read these articles over the years may remember numerous essays about Gush Katif. My favorite place in Gush Katif was, as I described it many times, the Garden of Eden in Gaza, a community called Kfar Darom. My family vacationed there several summers, having befriended a delightful family, who had adopted my oldest daughter, Bat-tzion, when she spent her year of volunteer service there.

      Several articles featured the Sudri family, and among others, their oldest daughter, Tamar.

      The last time I wrote about her was a few years ago, after her marriage to a wonderful man named Oneg. A couple of years ago they had their first child, a little girl.

      Last week, Tamar gave birth to their first boy. Today was his ‘brit’ – circumcision. A few of us from Hebron traveled an hour and a quarter, south, to the festivity.

      After the destruction and expulsion from Kfar Darom, the Sudri family was moved to an apartment building in Ashkelon. From a nice house, to an apartment. Not great, but ‘temporary.’

      Honestly, I don’t remember how long they were there. Many too many years. The new homes in a new community, as they’d been promised, never materialized. About two years ago they finally received a ‘kara-villa- that is, a so-called fancy mobile home, outside a community called Nir Akiva, east of Gaza, near Netivot and Beer Sheva. The called the new community Shavei Darom, ‘Returning South.’

      Speaking to one of the men there this morning, I asked about permanent housing. He pointed in the direction of a big empty area, and said, ‘there.’ “Has anything started, any building?” He shook his head no. “When?” He just shrugged his shoulders.

      I get very emotional at Gush Katif – Kfar Darom events. They bring back many many memories. I walked into the small synagogue and immediately noticed the plaque on the wall. I remembered it from the Kfar Darom synagogue. A memorial sign, for those people from the community, killed there by terrorists.

      On another wall, letters spelling out ‘Kfar Darom, M’az u’le’tamid’ –‘ Kfar Darom, from then and forever.’ Including, of course, photos of the community sites and people.

      The baby’s brit didn’t take too much time. A great grandfather held the infant, who was named Tzvi. Afterwards, we participated in the festive meal, before heading back to Hebron.

      Before the meal I asked Tamar’s mother who the baby was named for and she didn’t know. I mentioned, ‘well, Eretz Yisrael is compared to a Tzvi – a deer, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what’s behind the name. That would be fitting of Tamar. Later, when Oneg spoke, he did say that one of the reasons for the name was the idea I’d spoken of.

      Actually, as much as I enjoyed seeing my friends, the Sudris, and participating in the celebration, my real focus was on Tamar. I’d known her since she was a little girl and had witnessed her evolvement through the most horrible events that can be imagined. Rocket attacks, terror attacks, culminating in expulsion.

      I’ve seen her every once in a while, but this was special, seeing her with her husband and two small children. She glowed, radiating joy.

      How? How does one reach such bliss with so many scars?

      The answer, I think, is not difficult to fathom. We are in the midst of the Passover holiday, celebrating the exodus from Egypt. Jews had been enslaved for hundreds of years, had almost entirely lost their Jewish identity, having assimilated into the Egyptian culture. Yet they never gave up hope of redemption, and the Divine hand of G-d did redeem them, removing them from foreign bondage with miracles galore.

      That is, in brief, the history of the Jewish people, time and time again. Could anyone have imagined that three years after a holocaust, the Jewish people would be able to found a State and victoriously fight a war of independence?

      That flow of optimism, being able to see the light, even in the darkest of rooms, keeps us going; that’s what, I believe, keeps Tamar going. We all blessed the family that their next simcha – celebration, should take place back in Kfar Darom, including Tzvi’s Bar Mitzva and wedding.

      And it will happen. We will go back to Kfar Darom, and Netzarim, and Neve Dekalim and all the other communities destroyed, they will be rebuilt and repopulated, they will grow and thrive, it will happen. Just as we were redeemed from Egypt – will will go back home to Kfar Darom.

      Seeing Tamar, with her husband Oneg and their two small children – this is the eternal flame, this is the result of what happened some 3,300 years ago, that we still celebrate today.

      This is what made this year’s Passover special for me.