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A Shema Story

By David Wilder
4/23/2010, 12:00 AM

You know, I don’t think I’ve said a Shema Yisrael in at least twenty five years...
We’ve concluded the annual threesome – Holocaust Memorial Day, Memorial Day for those in uniform, killed in action, and those murdered in acts of terror, followed by Independence Day. Always a time of introspection, leading to very mixed emotions and thoughts. We live in a very mixed up time.
 
Some of the issues we are dealing with are, on the face of it, absurd.
a)    A young Israeli soldier stealing secret military documents and passing them on to a journalist, to be printed in HaAretz newspaper?
b)    A bookstore, literally giving away a pamphlet which describes residents of Judea and Samaria as "brainwashing, hypnotized zombies…  "Think of gangs of randy youths going to screw the country. The young generation of settlers forgot what it is to be Zionist." http://goo.gl/pyel
c)     The deputy editor of the HaAretz magazine, calling the Peretz family, (whose son/husband/father was killed a week earlier in Gaza, the 2nd son from that family killed in action) ' a family of Jihadist Fascists.' '  I don’t want an army that G-d loves. For that I may as well move to Iran.”'
d)    And perhaps above all, we are witness to a corruption and fraud scandal, allegedly leading to the highest realms of power in Israel, including a former mayor and deputy mayor of Jerusalem, a bank chairman, leading industrialists, and the cherry on the icing, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. (Olmert, it should be remembered, offered the Arabs almost everything they asked for, including over 95% of Judea and Samaria and East Jerusalem. One can only wonder what he was offered in return.)
 
 
Where does this leave us? It can leave one depressed. So I’d like to tell you a few stories which leave me feeling good, even in the midst of such grave moments.
 
Normally I don’t speak, or for that matter, write about money, especially about contributions or contributors. However, sometimes there are exceptions to the rule. A couple of years ago, prior to our expulsion from Beit HaShalom, I was in the US fundraising, and in particular, looking for money to heat that huge building during the freezing cold winter. I appeared on a TV show produced by an Israel-loving non-Jewish couple down in Midland, Texas. During the two hour show, we screened a short video I’d made of one of the families (one of my daughters) living in Beit HaShalom. A few weeks later our New York office received a check for $20,000 from a woman, a widow, who had seen the program.
 
When I called to thank her, she told me that she didn’t want the children in Beit HaShalom to be cold that winter, and sent in the check to help defray heating costs.
 
If that’s not heart-warming, I don’t know what is.
 
A while ago, the same couple who produces the TV show, brought a group into Hebron. One of the women had trouble walking, and we utilized a motorized wheelchair, donated to Hebron for just that purpose, to get her up the multitude of stairs into Ma’arat HaMachpela. A couple of weeks ago I received a letter from that woman, in which she writes:
 
“I wish to let you know that I am thinking of you all there in Hebron as we enter the Holocaust Remembrance Day.  My thoughts and prayers are with you nearly every day.  I pray for your courage, strength, and protection as you continue to stand firm on behalf of Eretz Israel and Hebron.
My the grace and mercy of HaShem be with you all, now and forever.
Signed: The lady with tour in Dec. who rode the motorized wheelchair up to Machpela.  I will ever be grateful for that experience and blessing.”
 
That also makes me feel good.
 
But perhaps I reached the pinnacle of my present thoughts a couple of weeks ago.
 
I’ve given countless tours of Hebron over the past decade and a half. And of course, I’m not the only one showing Hebron to people around the world. Each one of us has a ‘style’ and/or ‘label’ attached to our excursion. My tours are considered ‘political’ as compared to those given by my friend and colleague Rabbi Simcha Hochbaum, who is known for his ‘spiritual tour of Hebron.’
 
But I guess you really never know what’s going to affect a person.
 
A couple of weeks ago I received a call from a fellow living in one of the nearby communities. He had some friends in from the States and wanted to show them Hebron. Fine, no problem. Expect that he told me that these people aren’t of the same political mold as we are; they’re a bit more left of center.
 
OK, that didn’t bother me either.
 
So, they came in and we did the tour. We had interesting discussions; it was clear to me that the gentleman was more ‘left’ than his wife, but not in the traditional sense of the word. He seemed to be very concerned about the future of the Jewish people and feared that the ‘road’ we, the ‘right’ were taking, would lead to catastrophe. We discussed the issue as much as time permitted, but of course, didn’t convince each other. But, clearly they had wanted, and received, and I think enjoyed, the type of ‘political tour’ I present in Hebron.
 
When at our last stop, at Ma’arat HaMachpela, after I’d finished speaking, a Chabad Rabbi from somewhere in the US approached them and started a conversation. At some point he asked them (they’re not orthodox-observant Jews) if they’d yet said Shema Yisrael that day. When they said no, he opened a prayer book and recited the ancient words of faith together with them.
 
Honestly I was very surprised that they agreed to pray with him, but stood from the side and watched. When they’d concluded, we left.
 
On the way down the stairs, my guest and I were talking about the Ma’ara, and he related how it made an impression on him, as, I think he described it as, ‘a historic memory of the Jewish people.’ I added that it is a living memory.
 
Then he exclaimed, ‘you know, I don’t think I’ve said a Shema Yisrael in at least twenty five years.’ I interjected, ‘and you had the privilege to recite it here, at Ma’arat HaMachpela in Hebron.’ And he finished, emanating something of an aura of awe, ‘yes, it really is.’
 
It sort of left me with a feeling that it’s all worthwhile.  That’s what Hebron’s all about – bringing people together, of all faiths and religions, allowing them to return to their roots, bring them closer to their people and true faith.
 
It’s true, there are issues. But the essence, as projected and exemplified by Hebron, will keep us going all the time, even when it’s dark outside.