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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 22, 5774, 4/22/2014

      Bitter Sweet


      Pesach, Passover, is a special holiday. The redemption of our people, Am Yisrael, some 3,500 years ago. It serves as the foundation for our future, that is, the issues, such as being enslaved in Egypt, and the liberation from that bondage.

      It has happened time and time again. Twice we suffered the destruction of our spiritual center, Jerusalem, were exiled from our land. And we returned. Jews lived quite comfortably in Spain for hundreds of years, only to be cruelly exiled, following a brutal inquisition. Ditto France, England and other countries. Ditto plus some, Germany of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

      Oppression and then triumph over seemingly insurmountable odds.

      So too, Hebron, something of a microcosm of Israel, the state of Israel and the history of Israel.

      Moments ago, prior to beginning this article, French and Spanish journalists questioned me about our return to Beit HaShalom. Speaking about our presence in Hebron, they said, 'but this is 'palestinian' land.'

      I stared at them, sort of smiling, not saying anything.

      Then the statement was repeated, as a question.

      "Look, where we are standing, this was bought by Jews in Hebron in 1807. The area behind us was lived on, as a Jewish neighborhood, from the middle of the 1500s by Jews who'd been exiled from Spain in 1492. And Jews lived here for hundreds of years before that. So is it 'palestinian property?' I think not, I think it is Jewish property."

      'But the 'palestinians' and international NGOs claim that the building, Beit HaShalom was stolen - the papers were forged...?'

      "Right, except that two Israeli courts, including the Supreme Court, ruled that the building was legally purchased. If they had ruled against us, you would say they were correct. Now that they've ruled for us, you say they're wrong?!"

      So it goes, on and on.

      Pesach in Hebron is always special. Thousands, no, tens of thousands, flock to the city, visiting Ma'arat HaMachpela, the tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, and other fascinating sites in the city.
      Sweet. The story of redemption.

      But it wasn't entirely sweet.

      About an hour before the Seder, the beginning of the holiday, one of my sons called me, asking very abruptly, 'what's happening at Tarqumia?'

      Tarqumia is a known checkpoint, about 10 kilometers west of Hebron.

      'Don't know, why?'

      'Check it - there was a terror attack. Someone was killed' Others injured.'

      Bitter. Very Bitter.

      I didn't know until the next day who had been killed. I found out, almost a week later that some of my friends from Hebron were at that very site, where the shooting occurred, literally minutes after the attack.

      Such events are never pleasant. But on the eve of a holiday, the celebration of redemption, knowing that a few families were having a very very difficult time rejoicing, knowing that more children were added to the list of orphans, it's not a happy way to start a festival.

      A big dark cloud covered the light of the sun.

      We knew that the attack would influence peoples' decision to visit Hebron in the coming days. Understandably. Yet, some 25,000 people were able to overcome, letting their feet do the talking, saying, as Jews have exclaimed for thousands of years, nothing can stand in our way. This is our home, this is our land, this is our city. Here we are, to prove it.

      It is quite well known that during the Passover Seder we eat Matza, a symbol of our liberation from Egypt. Perhaps it is less known, or perhaps, less understood, that we also eat bitter herbs, in remembrance of the harsh conditions we had to live under in Egypt. Not only do we eat them, but we also say a blessing over them.

      It should be easily comprehended why we bless the consumption of Matza. But bitter herbs?

      Except that the bitterness was part of the redemption. Only after experiencing the bitterness of slavery in Egypt could we appreciate the sweetness of liberation.

      Additionally, the 'bitter herbs' of days gone by were also a preparation, for the acrimony we would continue to experience, throughout the ages. We thank G-d, that He has given us the inner strength, an almost unimaginable faith, allowing us to overcome, to overcome, to overcome.

      Hadas Mizrachi, now the widow, formerly the wife of Chief Superintendent Baruch Mizrachi, a short time after the murder:

      "I'll be strong for the children, because that's what Baruch would have wanted. We should also be thankful for the miracle that my children and I survived. We will stay strong and God willing, my children will grow and succeed, and that will be my victory against the terrorists," said the mother, whose condition is defined as moderate. "I have two bullet wounds and a fractured rib."

      During the Seder, we eat the Matza and the Bitter Herbs separately, and then put them together, sort of a sandwich.

      Oppression and redemption, Bitter and sweet. Tears of festivity, tears of mourning. Baruch Shehechianu, Blessing the good - Baruch Dayan HaEmet, Blessing the bad. Matzah and Bitter Herbs.

      Such was our Passover this year, in Hebron.






      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