I didn’t find a stressed or dying community but, rather a young, vibrant and content one. I saw children doing things my sister and I like to do
- And after that, Avrham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah facing Mamre, which is Hebron, in the land of Canaan. (Bereshit Chof Gimmel: Yud Tet)
My name is Robbie Knopf and I am 13 years old. On November 17th 2008, I experienced the greatest honor of my life, so far, when I was honored, along with my dad, by the Hebron Fund with the Lev Avot U’Banim Award. It is a night I will always remember.
My introduction to Hebron began in the classrooms of Yavneh Academy in Paramus, New Jersey. I knew that Hebron was one of the 4 Holy Cities. I also knew that in the Torah, Avraham bought Maa’rat HaMachpelah in Hebron to bury Sarah. I also knew that one of the spies sent out by Moshe, Calev, went to Hebron and davened there and as a reward got the land as his Nachalah- land portion.
This past summer I had the opportunity to travel to Israel with 25 family members and friends for a 12 day trip during which I celebrated my Bar Mitzvah. I had the chance to visit all 4 holy cities. We started up north in the Galil and Golan, and spent a day in Sfat where we visited the shuls of the ARI and Rav Abuhav. We went on to Tevaria where we visited the graves of Rambam and Rabbi Akiva. On a Thursday in Yerushalayim I was called to the Torah and leined at the Kotel among many other Bar Mitzvah celebrations. On our last day in Israel, my family and I went to Hebron where I was called to the Torah for an aliyah in celebration of my Bar Mitzvah.
I wasn’t sure what I was going to find in Hebron. I knew that there was controversy surrounding the city. From my father, who has supported Hebron for as long as I can remember, I heard that it was one of Israel’s most holy cites and land that had been “purchased by Avraham at above market value” so that it was very clearly Jewish property. At some point, I realized that not everyone supported maintaining a Jewish presence in Hebron. The government’s strategy was to give away land to the Arabs to make peace. I knew that there are more Arabs then Jews in Hebron and that there is a large IDF presence there to maintain the safety of the Jewish community. What would we find in Hebron? What would the people be like? Would I feel in danger? Is it a healthy Jewish community? How many people would be davening in Maa’rat HaMachpelah? Do the Jews in Hebron live normal Israeli lives? Is it a sad and stressful existence for the Jew there?
My family was picked up from our hotel in Jerusalem to go to Hebron in what looked like a regular car. My mother seemed a little nervous about that and when she asked, the driver told us that the car had bullet-proof windows. We drove through security, crossing the green line. When we arrived in Hebron, we were greeted and escorted to Maa’rat HaMachpelah by Hebron’s official spokesman, David Wilder.
We went up many stairs where I encountered my first surprise. On our way to the shul we passed room after room of young children being taught by their teachers. When we reached the shul, we found not a handful of people but--approximately 75 people there. There were young and old—but all energetic. They were singing loudly. They were welcoming me and my father. After my aliyah people there danced with my dad and I in a circle. The dancing went on and on. After that, we were taken on a tour by an American born resident of Hebron, Rabbi Simcha Hochbaum, Hebron’s director of tourism. He seemed so familiar as though he could be our next door neighbor back in Teaneck. He gave us a tour of Maa’rat HaMachpelah. Then we got back in the car and were driven up the hill on a winding road past many soldiers. Our guide then showed us the first homes (trailers) in modern Hebron. I saw older kids riding bikes and smaller kids playing on a playground. People looked like they were happily going about the activities of a vital community. We also were shown the Avraham Avinu shul and the gravesite of the people who died during the tragic massacre of the Jewish community in Hebron in the 1920’s. Then The Hebron Fund’s executive director Yossi Baumol took us to the Shalom House which is the most recently acquired building in Hebron. We said hello to the soldier who was guarding the building. We passed bicycles in the corridor and then saw the spaces carved out for individual families to live, often separated only by a shower curtain. We saw how families lived there without certain basic necessities such as electricity. From the rooftop, we could see for miles. Yossi pointed out the excellent view of the road between Kiryat Arba and Hebron. It was easy to see what a critical and strategic location the Shalom House possesses.
Clearly, Hebron isn’t your typical town. The residents contend with day to day problems and obstacles that are so different from anything I have ever experienced. But, there were familiar elements also. I didn’t find a stressed or dying community but, rather a young, vibrant and content one. I saw children doing things my sister and I like to do. I saw families laughing and doing laundry. I saw a community that I felt a great deal of respect for and one which I find so natural to lend my support to. Thank you to the Hebron Fund for giving me this opportunity to join my father in support of Hebron.
The Hebron Fund Dinner at CitiStadium in NY is on Nov. 21 - see www.hebronfund.com or call 718-677-6886 for details and reservations.