Today, when Jews are killed, rather than build, the government decides to flee.
For the past week I've felt haunted. Being very busy with tours and other necessary tasks, I hadn't found time to put down some words on paper. Actually, I began working on a very important document which I didn't even find time to finish.
But something else was eating at me. Friday night. Tomorrow night. The 17th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar. Exactly thirty years ago, the 17th of Iyar was also on a Friday night. I lived then in Mevassert Tzion, just outside Jerusalem. The next night a friend of mine commented, 'I knew something was wrong, seeing helicopters flying into Hadassah hospital.'
And something was very wrong. Friday night, May 12, 1980. It was just a year earlier when a group of about 10 women and 40 children had reentered Beit Hadassah in Hebron. The building, originally built in 1893, and having served as a medical clinic for Jews and Arabs in Hebron prior to the 1929 riots, had been vacant since Israel's return to the city in 1967. A week and a half following the end of Passover in 1979, the group climbed in thru a back window of Beit Hadassah in the middle of the night, reestablishing a Jewish presence in the heart of the city for the first time in 50 years.
Living conditions were non-existent, and the going wasn't easy; to the contrary, it was very difficult. But women such as Rebbetzin Miriam Levinger, Sarah Nachshon, and others were made of platinum. Not necessarily material platinum, rather spiritual platinum. Their faith, and their grasp of the significance of the return to Hebron, overcame all other factors. Together with a large group of children they defied all odds, refused to surrender to pressures, physical and mental, and maintained the Jewish presence in the city of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.
Every Friday night, following Shabbat worship at Ma'arat HaMachpela, a group of men would sing and dance their way down the street to Beit Hadassah, where they continued the festivity, joined by the women and children living in the building, adding to their Shabbat spirit.
Friday night, May 12, the 17th of Iyar, only one day before the Lag B'Omer celebrations. The men arrived as usual and began forming a dance circle…and then it happened. Shots rang out, blasts enveloped the pure Shabbat air. Arab terrorists, hiding on a rooftop across from Beit Hadassah, began 1929, all over again.
The sudden attack on the Jewish men was not the first since the Tarpat massacre. Only three months earlier a young yeshiva student from the Kiryat Arba yeshiva, Yehoshua Saloma, a new immigrant from Denmark, was shot and killed at the entrance to the Kasba while purchasing dried fruit for the upcoming Tu'B'Shvat holiday. Following the murder the Israeli government decided, in theory, to reestablish an official Jewish community in Hebron. But that decision remained theoretical; in practice, nothing was done.
Three short months later, it seemed that history was repeating itself. The terror attack was heard miles away. Even up in Kiryat Arba, residents, hearing the shots, quickly make their way into the city. Something bad was happening.
Six were killed and about 20 injured. Among the killed was a young Torah scholar from the United States studying at Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav in Jerusalem, Tzvi Glatt. Another victim was also a former America, who had fought in Vietnam and converted to Judaism, Eli HaZe'ev. Three others studied in Kiryat Arba and another at Kerem b'Yavneh. The murders left the country in shock.
I remember attending two of the funerals: that of Tzvi Glatt in Jerusalem, outside the Yeshiva. I remember that the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook attended and eulogized the martyred scholar. I don't remember what he said, but his grave presence made a deep impression on me. From there I travelled by bus to Kiryat Arba and Hebron, for the funeral of Eli HaZe'ev. Little did I know that about a year later I would move to Kiryat Arba and later to Hebron. I don't remember too much, except that many many people participated, and all were very very angry.
The day after the attack, on Sunday, the Israeli government finally decided to reestablish a Jewish community in Hebron, and this time, they did do something about it. Families were reunited; husbands were allowed to join their wives and children at Beit Hadassah. And eventually the government approved and assisted in rebuilding Beit Hadassah, adding two floors to the original structure, (and building the apartment I've lived in for the past 11 1/2 years).
That's what happened. But that's not what's bothering me. I've told the story more times than I can begin to count, and have written it a few times too. But still, something's been tugging at me.
Back in those days, even before Oslo, before the first and second intifadas, even then, Arabs killed Jews. But thirty years ago, when an Israeli was murdered, there was some kind of authentic response. Where a Jew died, another Jew would live. This was the rule. Where Jews were murdered, a building, or even a community was founded and established. This was called, 'the Zionist response.' The Arabs don't want us here and will do anything and everything to rid themselves of us, including cold-blooded murder. Normal people understood that the answer to such action was to do the opposite. Wherever they don't want us, that's where we'll be. And that's the way it was in Hebron.
I would guess that you've figured out what's bugging me. Back then, thirty years ago, that was the Zionist response. And today? Today, when Jews are killed, rather than build, the government decides to flee. If the Arabs don't want us 'there' then it's just too dangerous for us to stay 'there.' And we run, in the wrong direction. It's been called Oslo, Hebron, Wye, Gush Katif, and who knows what's next. Jerusalem? More Hebron, more of Oslo? G-d forbid.
We are in Hebron today by the grace of three factors: the grace of G-d, whose Divine Presence and assistance was (and still is) indispensable; by the grace of the women and children whose dedication and determination, whose faith and inner comprehension of Hebron kept them from abandoning their mission; and by the grace of the lives of six men, who gave their bodies for the soul of Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael, for they brought us back to Hebron.
I only hope and pray that those neshamot, those souls, and the thousands who have been killed since, will, wherever they are, never feel abandoned, never feel that their deaths were in vain, that they too, with their lives, brought new life and spirit to the Jewish people in their land.
May their memories be a blessing upon us, forever.
30 years since the murder of 'the Six' at Beit Hadassah
Rebbetzin Miriam Levinger speaking about life in Beit Hadassah
The events of the terror attack from 8:50 min
Beit Hadassah and Beit HaShisha (from the Hebron Web Site, posted following the dedication of Beit HaShisha - the House of the Six, exactly ten years ago.)
Pesach 1968 - Jews return to Hebron to celebrate Pesach.
Erev Rosh HaShana 1971 - Jews move from the Hebron Military Compound to the newly founded Kiryat Arba
Erev Rosh Hodesh Iyar 1979 - Jews Return to the city of Hebron
A week and a half after Pesach a group of 10 women and 40 children left Kiryat Arba in the middle of the night, driven in a truck through the deserted streets of Hebron. They made their way to the abandoned Beit Hadassah building, originally built in the 1870s as a medical clinic for Jews and Arabs in Hebron, abandoned since the 1929 riots.
The women and children, assisted by men, climb into Beit Hadassah through a back window, bringing with them only minimal supplies. They swept some of the decades-old dust from the floor, spread out some mattresses, and went to sleep.
When they awoke in the morning the children began singing: v'shavu banim l'gvulam - the children have returned home. Soldiers guarding on the roof of the building, coming down to investigate, were astounded at the sight of the women and children. Quickly they reported to their superiors, and soon the "Beit Hadassah women" were a national issue.
Prime Minister Menachem Begin was not in favor of Jewish settlement in the heart of the city, but opposed physically expelling the group. He ordered the building surrounded by police and soldiers, and decreed that nothing, including food and water, be allowed into the building. Begin was soon visited by Rabbi Moshe Levinger, whose wife Miriam and many of his children were among those inside Beit Hadassah.
"When the Israeli army surrounded the Egyptian third army in Sinai during the Yom Kippur War, we gave the enemy soldiers food, water and medical supplies. If this is what we supplied Egyptian soldiers who had attacked and killed our soldiers, at the very least allow the women and children in Hebron the same."
Begin had no choice but to agree. The women and children lived like this, under siege, for two months. No one was allowed in and anyone leaving would not be allowed to return.
One day a little boy in Beit Hadassah had a tooth-ache and left for a dentist in Kiryat Arba. When he arrived back at Beit Hadassah the soldier guarding at the entrance refused to allow him back in. The little boy started crying, saying, "I want my Ema (mother)." At that time the Israeli cabinet was in session, and a note was relayed to the Prime Minister that a little boy was crying outside Beit Hadassah because he wasn’t allowed back in. Following a discussion by the cabinet, the little boy was permitted to return to his mother in Beit Hadassah.
After over two months the women and children were allowed to leave and return, but no one else was allowed in. They lived this way for a year.
On Friday nights, following Shabbat prayers at Ma'arat HaMachpela, the worshipers, including students from the Kiryat Arba Nir Yeshiva, would dance to Beit Hadassah, sing and dance in front of the building, recite Kiddush for the women, and then return to Kiryat Arba. In early May of 1980, a year after the women first arrived at Beit Hadassah, the group of men was attacked by terrorists stationed on the roof of a building across from Beit Hadassah. The Arab terrorists, shooting and throwing hand grenades killed six men and wounded twenty. Later that week the Israeli government finally issued official authorization for the renewal of a Jewish community in Hebron.
On June 11 of this year, exactly twenty years after the murder at Beit Hadassah, a new building in memory of those men killed was dedicated in Hebron. Beit HaShisha, the House of the Six, will house six new families. This beautiful structure will eternalize the names of six young men who gave their lives in Hebron, and who deaths led to the return of Jews to the heart of the city. Hebron's Jewish community had to wait twenty years to memorialize these men, but that dream is now a reality.
(please excuse the quality of the video)