The Jewish connection to Hevron is thriving, reports local resident and former politician Tzvi Katzover. Despite a severe housing shortage and laws that prevent Jewish property purchase, Israelis and Jews worldwide continue to flock to the city, he explains.
This Sabbath, Jews will read the Torah portion “Chayei Sarah,” which describes the biblical patriarch Abraham's purchase of the Machpelah Cave (Tomb of the Patriarchs) following the death of his beloved wife Sarah. The holy site, in Hevron, is now a thriving site of Torah study and prayer that draws visitors from around the world.
Many thousands of visitors began arriving in Hevron and the nearby city of Kiryat Arba on Friday, and plan to spend the Sabbath in the area in honor of Abraham's purchase, which according to Jewish tradition forged an eternal connection to the city of Hevron.
The Tomb of the Patriarchs is now partially open to Jews almost every day of the year, and is fully open to Jews 10 times a year. “Jews can come to the Tomb all day long, which wasn't the case in the past," Katzover said. "Beginning at four in the morning, Jews come from across the country.”
"Last week I went to the vatikin [early morning] service,” Katzover relates. “I realized that there was a Sephardi prayer group of 100, maybe 150 people, and an Ashkenazi group of 100 or 150. I remember the days when we had to go looking for men to complete a minyan [prayer quorum of 10] - but today? People come from all over.”
Gov't Policy Forces Housing Crisis
Jews in Hevron face a housing crisis, a crisis made all the more severe by a government policy that does not allow Jews to purchase property from their Arab neighbors, Katzover noted. Any property sale in the area must be approved by the current military power – in this case, Defense Minister Ehud Barak – as required by Jordanian law. The government “isn't exactly helpful,” he reported.
The purchase of property is also complicated by Palestinian Authority law, which defines the sale of property to Jews as treason, which is a death penalty offense.
The demand for property in both Hevron and Kiryat Arba is “enormous,” Katzover reports. “Prices have doubled and tripled... There are no apartments, not for sale and not for rent.”
Despite the problems facing his community, Katzover expressed confidence. “The nation of Israel is stronger than whatever leaders are in power... The people of Israel are voting with their feet, and are coming by the thousands to Hevron and Kiryat Arba.”