This year’s Shabbat Chaye Sarah, was, thank G-d, very successful, as expected. Despite the rain, somewhere in the vicinity of 15,000 people walked the streets of Hebron, worshiped at Ma’arat HaMachpela, and even tented outside. Lectures and Torah classes to people of all ages were conducted in Kiryat Arba and Hebron. Groups of Americans, visiting Hebron via the New York-based Hebron Fund, and also AFSI, feasted on scrumptious meals at the Gutnick Center, adjacent to Machpela and participated in various Hebron excursions, including the famed Casbah tour, Shabbat afternoon.
I spent a good part of Friday night and Shabbat day with a group of American/Israeli youth, who study in a special Yeshiva High School near the Kinneret in northern Israel. Their Rosh Yeshiva, the dean of the institution, Rabbi Danny, told me that he wanted the guys to have a good time, but also have a meaningful experience. It’s a long drive, to and from Hebron, and he wanted to make sure the Shabbat was a full educational experience.
I set up a Torah class Friday evening, as well as a short discussion with a Hebron resident. We also took a tour of Tel Rumeida in the cold crisp night air. The next day we toured other Hebron sites, and concluded with a discussion, tea, cake and cookies in my apartment in Beit Hadassah. They certainly left Hebron knowing more than they did when they arrived. More importantly, they ‘felt Hebron.’
However, a real highlight of the day took place on Friday afternoon. The Hebron Fund group, together with AFSI, drove in two buses, early Friday afternoon, about 15 minutes south of Hebron, to the Zif junction. There, leaving the buses, we all walked a few minutes to a big tent, where everyone was asked to remove their shoes before entering.
A number of years ago, a group of Arabs, together with Israeli leftists and anarchists, planned on burning down the Hazon David Synagogue, just outside the gates of Kiryat Arba, on the eve of Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year. The event was stopped at the last minute when it came to the attention of Sheikh Jabari, leader of Hebron’s largest clan. He told Hebron Arabs that he didn’t agree to destruction of a ‘holy place,’ especially on a Jewish holiday. He told them that this was a place of prayer, and prevented the destruction.
Following his intervention, a meeting was arranged between several Hebron leaders and the Sheikh, thanking him for his involvement. Since then, the Sheikh and Hebron-Kiryat Arba leaders meet relatively frequently, discussing relevant issues. He has publicly declared his opposition to unilateral declaration of a ‘palestinian state’ in the UN and also acknowledged the right of Jews to live in Hebron. Last summer he met at his Hebron home with Rabbi Shlomo Riskin and Pastor John Hagee.
This past Friday afternoon he met with almost 70 Americans and a few Hebron residents in a large tent, just outside Hebron. Welcoming the group, he asked those attending to be ambassadors to his message of peace ‘in the land of peace.’ He also spoke of Shabbat Chaye Sarah, Abraham and Ma’arat HaMachpela, saying that Machpela should unite all of us together, that we are one family, from one father, Abraham. He blessed the group ‘from all his heart, on this holy Shabbat.’ He thanked the group for visiting him, saying he appreciated that they came from so far away for this holy occasion.
Other members of the group addressed the Sheikh, expressing thanks for his hospitality, commenting and asking questions. The event concluded after the group was given a small cup of traditional Turkish coffee.
The significance of this meeting wasn’t so much the words spoken, rather its actual happening. A decade ago, Jews in Hebron were being shot at by Arabs from the hills surrounding the Jewish community. Years ago meetings between Jews and Arabs were common; yet following Oslo, the Hebron Accords, and the Oslo War – 2nd
intifada, such meetings became a thing of history.
I don’t expect that all of us present agree on all issues. To the contrary, certainly we don’t. But the Sheikh represents an alternative to the palestinian authority, a terrorist organization overtly backing the expulsion of Jews from all Judea and Samaria, while covertly working for the liberation of all ‘palestine’ aka the State of Israel.
I found the meeting with the Sheikh to be a refreshing change from the normal animosity displayed between Jews and Arabs. I’m not living under any illusions. The gaps are very wide and Sheikh Jabari is only one person. However, there aren’t too many Arab leaders who would prevent destruction of a Jewish house of worship, who would publicly declare willingness to live with Jews in Hebron, and who would meet a large group of American Jews in his tent on a Friday. Our past has taught us ‘Chabdahu v’chashdehu’ – meaning, ‘honor them and suspect them.’ But I have a feeling that there are many more Arabs in Judea and Samaria who would prefer living within the state of Israel as opposed to ‘palestine,’ and who could easily identify with Sheikh Jabari as their leader, rather than Arafat, Abu Mazen, or Marwan Barghutti. Of course, most normal Arab people would never say so publicly, fearing for their lives. A fatwa, that is a death warrant, has been issued against the Shekh several times as a result of his meetings and pronouncements concerning Israel and Jews. But he is a brave man, with a large backing, who isn’t scared to say what he believes, even knowing how ‘unpopular’ it will make him with his Arab brethren.
That was Chaye Sarah, 5772 – 2011. A fun, interesting, and enjoyable Shabbat, together with thousands and thousands, here in Hebron. The day will come though, when fifteen or twenty thousand Jews in Hebron for a Shabbat will be normal and regular, when Jews will be able to live, not in small ghetto-like neighborhoods, but rather, throughout the city, as should be. As we say, bimheira b’yamenu – speedily in our days – Amen!