A view of Hebron: From a resident and from a visitor
The following interview with me was conducted by a pair of Italian journalists last week.
The following text is a letter written by Dr. Preston Wolin from Chicago, after visiting Hebron. It was authored following a discussion about Hebron in his synagogue.
1. Hebron is undeniably an ancient Jewish city with a history comparable only to Jerusalem among the ones in modern Israel. As I related, my visit was the single greatest religious experience of my life. Sure my first time at the Kotel in 1978 was unbelievable and so too the other visits I have made over the years. But the Kotel is just an outer wall of an area surrounding the place that was once the Beit Hamikdash i.e. it is 'close to the place that was close to the place'. Hebron is the place. There are barriers to visiting the Machpelah. There are restrictions limiting when Jews can have complete access, and it is true that there are only 10 days when Jews get complete access to the entire
If indeed the State of Israel is the Third Temple, surely their must be a room in it for Hebron. What kind of Beit Hamikdash would it be if there were no space for our history? No spot for the blessed that are buried there? No place for the original capital city of David Hamelech?
Machpelah. However, Jews get access to half the complex every day and if they come
back for those ten days no one can stop them. The Arabs erected steps leading up to the entrance. Jews could only go up to the seventh step. For hundreds of years they were humiliated and prevented from visiting Avraham Avinu, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Laeh. Thanks to the IDF and the brave group of Jews living in Hebron and Kiryat Arba:
NO LONGER. When I visited Tel Romeida (where I saw the steps that archaeologists think led to the gates of the city), the rebuilt ancient synagogue, and, of course, the Machpelah, I realized that Hebron is an inseparable part of the Jewish history. Its importance lies within the heart of every Jew who has ever read Tanach, who has ever identified with the matriarchs, patriarchs, David and so many more. That history must be preserved for every Jew who wants or will want to see it. How is that history to be preserved if Jews do not live there? Who will relate its story? Who will show that the generations of Jews who longed to be there did not do so in vain? What are we, as a people, to say to the souls who perished there in the progrom of 1929? If the answer is to depend on the largesse of the Arab community to allow Jews to visit Hebron, we all know how that has worked out in the past. Consider what happened to the Kotel, the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives, and Kever Yosef, to name just a few places. How about the UN? EU? Quartet? US? If history teaches us anything it is that only Jews are committed to Jews.
2. The Jewish Community of Hebron proves that it is a place of the living and not just a museum. They are the best answer to those that prevented us from visiting the Machpelah for so many years. They are the response to the souls of those that died in the pogrom of 1929. It is true that they are a tiny group of 500 surrounded by 20.000 Arabs. In fact they have been accused of 'strangling' their Arab neighbors. Funny, when I looked around and saw all of the houses (built within the last 35 years) on the hills above, it was hard for me to imagine just how a few Jews down below could be choking so many Arabs. What is really strangling them is the fact that the Jews have returned to just a few of the places that they lived in for hundreds of years. Places that they had bought long ago. Places that had been stolen. Places where Jews had been murdered. But unlike Europe this place has been a Jewish place for over 3000 years except for the period between 1929 and 1968. If they are so much of a provocation to the local Arabs, certainly that speaks volumes about the efficacy of making a policy of not wanting to irritate them. Is their self respect so poor that a small band of Jews is a threat to their way of life? Maybe so, but that is their problem and not ours. Not Israel's.
3. Ben Gurion was a great man. The proof is that he had to build a consensus among Jews. Our history is replete with the failure to do so (see below). He knew when to accept what could be done and what could not. He wisely chose to accept the Partition when others called him a coward. That decision led directly to the founding of the Jewish state. But the circumstances were far different then. Ben Gurion did not have a country of nearly 7 million people. He did not have an army rated as one of the elite in the world. Ben Gurion was not the Prime Minister of a country with a vibrant economy. He had faith, but he did not know that the Jewish ethos would prevail and prosper. Simply put the Jews are now in charge. If indeed the State of Israel is the Third Temple, surely their must be a room in it for Hebron. What kind of Beit Hamikdash would it be if there were no space for our history? No spot for the blessed that are buried there? No place for the original capital city of David Hamelech?
4. The Second Temple was indeed destroyed by 'sinat chinam' (baseless hatred). That is well illustrated not only by the tale of Kamtza/Bar Kamtza, but also history. Isaac may well be right that there would be hundreds of millions of Jews today if not for Bar Kochbah (I would assume that he would also indict Rabbi Akivah by extension.) But what does that really have to do with this issue. The Jews of the Second Temple period were beholden to the Roman Empire. If they offended their occupiers they knew they would pay dearly. Whether Bar Kochbah and Rabbi Akivah were right or wrong, the options available were limited. Neither of the choice were good: submit or revolt. In that world the slander of one Jew of another to the Romans could indeed be catastrophic. The Romans would see to it. But in this world the dream of 'Lihiot Am Chofi B'artzenu" (to be a free people in our land) has been realized. In the modern State of Israel Jews interact with each other without outside interference. They can determine their own fate. They can slander each other or they can learn to live together: observant and secular, Sepharadim and Ashkenazim, right and left wing. Is it so much to ask that all acknowledge that Hebron has an ancient and rich Jewish history that has to be preserved for us and for future generations? I think not. We can choose to be Kamtza/Bar Kamtza or we can chose not to be either. We should thank God that we have that choice.