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Ten years without Rebbi Shlomo

By David Wilder
8/29/2008, 12:00 AM

Tomorrow, Shabbat, it will be ten years. Ten years ago, Thursday, the eve of the first day of the last month of the Hebrew calendar. Ma'arat HaMachpela, the tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs was fully open to Jewish worship. In early evening Rabbi Ovadiya Yosef arrived in Hebron, the first time he had visited the city and holy site in many years. At about 11:00 PM, as he concluded speaking to the hundreds present, beepers started buzzing. A terrorist had infiltrated the Hebron neighborhood of Tel Rumeida. Very quickly Ma'arat HaMachpela emptied and Hebron residents started making their way to Tel Rumeida. Details started to filter out: the victim was Rabbi Shlomo Ra'anan, sixty three year old grandson of Israel's first chief Rabbi, Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook. The terrorist had stabbed him. Walking/running from the Ma'ara in the direction of the neighborhood I called a friend, a neighbor of the Ra'anans and also a paramedic. "What's his condition? " I asked. David answered me, in a voice barely audible: "There was nothing we could do, we couldn't do anything to save him. He died."

Soldiers at the bottom of the hill leading up to Tel Rumeida attempted to prevent us from climbing the hill but I was not about to give in to their demands. Running, crisscrossing the street, I escaped their outstretched arms and continued to the top. As I arrived Rebbetzin Chaya Ra'anan, Rav Shlomo's widow, was being placed in an ambulance. It wasn't clear if she too had been injured but she surely looked in shock. 

Inside the neighborhood there was a smell of recently extinguished fire. The terrorist, following the murder, tossed a Molotov cocktail inside their caravan home, hoping to burn it to the ground. Fortunately neighbors were able to extinguish the fire before it spread to other caravan homes. Rabbetzin Chaya had managed to pull her dying husband outside before the living room went up in flames.  Only minutes before she had been involved in a tug-of-war with the terrorist, with her fatally injured husband in the middle, being pulled by both of them. However the terrorist had a knife and continued to stab his victim, puncturing his heart, killing him. He then jumped out a window and ran across the street, only meters away, into the Arab-controlled zone of Hebron, abandoned to the PA only a year before. According to the Hebron accords, Israel security forces were forbidden to enter that area and search for the killer. As a result, that same terrorist perpetrated a second attack on Yom Kippur, some six weeks later, injuring over twenty soldiers. Still not apprehended, a few weeks later he made his way to Beer Sheva, hoping to toss some hand grenades at civilians in the city's central bus station. Only then was he captured and eventually imprisoned.

The dead rabbi was lying on the ground outside his home, covered by a blanket. A little while later he was moved into a home, his body surrounded by candles. I spent the night in the office, looking for a photo I'd taken of him not too long before. The next morning the funeral  began there in Tel Rumdeida, and continued to Jerusalem, where he was buried at Har HaZaytim – the Mount of Olives, next to his illustrious grandfather and uncle, Rabbis Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, and Zvi Yehuda Kook.

My reaction was almost instantaneous: I'd been negotiating for an empty apartment in Hebron. No more negotiations, no more demands: a week later my family moved from Kiryat Arba, where we'd lived for 17 years, to Beit Hadassah. I'd already been working here for four years, so it was sort of a closure. I felt like I'd come home.

Why? Very simply: the terrorists use murder and other types of violence in an attempt to force us to leave. The only appropriate reaction is to do the opposite; not to leave, rather to move in. That's exactly what we did.

Yesterday, marking the 10th anniversary of the Rabbi's killing, a large group of people gathered at the Gutnick Center, outside Ma'arat HaMachpela. Only meters away, thousands were visiting that holy site; being the eve of the new month of Elul, the entire building was open to Jewish worshipers.  Exactly as it was that fateful Thursday, ten years ago.

For a few hours several important Rabbis delivered words of comfort and words of Torah to those present, including members of the Kook-Ra'anan-Shlissel families, and many others who came to pay their respects to the Rabbi and family. Those speaking included Rabbi Eliezer Waldman, Rosh Yeshiva of the Kiryat Arba Nir Yeshiva, Rabbi Hananel Etrog, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Shavei Hevron, at Beit Romano in Hebron, Rabbi Doron Avichzar, Dean of the Netivot Dror Torah Academy at the Telem community, and Noam Arnon, who MC'd  and also spoke about the connection between Rabbi Kook and Hebron.

However, the most important speaker, in my opinion, was  Rav Michael Hershkovitz, Rabbi of the community Neria in the Binyamin region, and a teacher at Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav in Jerusalem.  The theme of his dvar Torah was quite fitting: Learning Torah is important, but no less important is doing, implementing what you learn. He spoke at length describing how Rav Shlomo Ra'anan did just this: living in a caravan in the Hadar Adar community and following that, moving to another caravan at the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron. 

For years the Rabbi studied and taught the value of settling the land of Israel, Eretz Yisrael. But realizing that words are not enough he followed in the footsteps of the teachings of his grandfather and uncle, not only talking, but also doing. This is Torah.

It's not easy living in small caravan homes. Tel Rumeida, somewhat isolated from the other neighborhoods of Hebron, is not the easiest place to live. Every morning, rain, snow or shine, the Rabbi would walk down the hill by himself to pray early morning prayers with a 'minion,' a prayer quorum of ten men. Every day he travelled back and forth to the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, where he participated in Torah study and instruction.  Not easy for a man in his late 50s, early 60s. But the Rabbi always had a smile on his face, knowing all of Hebron's children by name, always ready to help, with an easygoing personality humbly concealing his Torah genius.

Concluding his remarks, Rabbi Hershovitz added, "Rebbe Shlomo, I just want to let you know, even though you probably know from where you are, that your extended family has continued in your footsteps, following your example of Torah and deeds, settling the land, Eretz Yisrael Israel, just as you did."

Rebbetzin Chaya, sitting with her daughter Tzippy, both of whom today live in Tel Rumeida, only meters from where the Rabbi  was murdered,  despite the pain, couldn't help but smile, knowing that the direction she and her husband had taken was being continued by their offspring.

The Rabbi's presence could definitely be felt amongst the participants, but for sure, all still feel the pain of his death and the vacuum his murder left, for his family, for his friends and neighbors, and for all of Am Yisrael.  Zechar Tzadik l'vracha  - HaShem Yikom Damo.