By: Fern Sidman
“How can we remain silent when there is the possibility that the Jewish community of Hevron will be uprooted?” queried Rabbi Simcha Hochbaum, Director of Tourism for the community of Hevron on Tuesday evening, April 5th in New York. Several hundred people gathered at the West Side Institutional Synagogue on Manhattan’s upper west side to attend a special presentation on the timeless legacy that Hevron represents for the Jewish people.
Addressing the history of Hevron, Rabbi Hochbaum said that when the Arab legions forcibly seized Hevron in the 1200s, they immediately erected an ominous sign that said, ‘No dogs and No Jews’. “Until 1967,” he said, “Jews were forced to pray outside the Ma’aras HaMachpela (burial place of the patriarchs and matriarchs). We could only ascend to the infamous 7th step, but now, with G-d’s help, and the brave pioneering spirit of those Jews who have settled in Hevron, we can daven at the burial place of our beloved ancestors.”
One of the world’s oldest cities, Hevron commands a unique and central position in Jewish history as it is the place where the founding family of the Jewish people are interred and the place where the eternal bond between the Jewish people and the land of Israel was forged, thus making it a living, perpetual union that has endured for millennia. Having been instructed by G-d to establish his kingdom there some 3000 years ago, King David ruled Judea from Hevron for the first seven years of his reign before ascending to Jerusalem where the Holy Temple was to be built.
Describing the temerity and the tireless dedication of those who live in Hevron, Rabbi Hochbaum recalled the 10th yahrzeit of Shalhevet Techiya Pass, a 10-month old infant that was killed in Hevron by an Arab terrorist sniper who opened fire with a high powered rifle on March 26, 2001 while she sat in her stroller. “Since Shalhevet’s heinous murder, her parents have had five more children and I have a daughter named after Shalhevet. That is the nature of the indefatigable spirit of the Jewish nation. We make it our obligation to re-build, to survive and thrive in spite of those who seek our destruction,” he observed.
The flourishing and burgeoning Jewish community of Hevron is a testament to the indomitable faith of the Jewish people, he said, adding that every year, tens of thousands of Jews from around the world gather in Hevron to celebrate parshas Chaya Sora; (the Torah portion detailing the account of the purchase of Hevron by the patriarch Abraham). In a voice laden with emotion, Rabbi Hochbaum issued an impassioned appeal to his audience; exhorting them to personally engage in concrete advocacy as it pertains to the preservation of this holy city. “In this month of Nissan, our time of geulah (redemption), the gates of Heaven are open, but it is we who must do the work. It is incumbent upon all Jews to rise up and speak out for Hevron, to become a leader in the movement to save this city; to provide generous financial assistance and most importantly to come to Hevron; to be a part of the essence of the Jewish nation.”
Helen Freedman, executive director of Americans For A Safe Israel (AFSI) served as moderator of the colloquium and was presented with a plaque of appreciation for her decades of service to the Jewish community of Hevron by Hebron Fund executive director, Ari Lieberman. “Today, we extend our heartfelt thanks and appreciation to Helen Freedman and the wonderful people in AFSI for all that they have done and all that they continue to do to support the courageous Jews of Hebron. Each and every year, Helen and the people on her AFSI Chizuk mission to Israel visit Hebron and help to inspire each and every one of us and for that we are eternally indebted,” he said.
As tears welled in her eyes and with a voice cracking with emotion, Ms. Freedman recounted her visits to the burial places of the forefathers and mothers of the Jewish people as those of “passion, love and devotion.” She added that “Taking a bus at midnight to visit the burial place of Yosef HaTzaddik (Joseph, the righteous one) in Schechem was a privilege for me and was an experience that will be etched in my heart and soul forever. One cannot help but break down in tears when witnessing what the Arabs have done to the resting places of those whom we revere for all time. Visiting Hevron and praying at the Ma’aras HaMachpela is simply incredible and just the thought of not being allowed to access this site is too unbearable.”
A moving and powerful video presentation of the Jewish community of Hevron was shown; illustrating the substantive growth of Hevron since 1967, when Rabbi Moshe Levinger and his wife Miriam Levinger, who originally hailed from the Bronx, served as the progenitors of the modern community. Audience members sat in rapt attention as they imbibed the inspiring narration and striking images of those who defied all odds to ensure a Jewish presence in the city of their fathers.
Also addressing the assemblage was Rabbi Allan Schwartz of the West Side Institutional Synagogue who said, “Hevron is the center of the world and the root of the word Hevron comes from the word “Chevrei” which means friends. It was King David who wanted to “Hevronize,” the city of Jerusalem and personally reach out in friendship to the tribe of Binyamin who resided in Jerusalem so as not to hurt their feelings that the capital of the Jewish nation was originally established in Hevron.” He praised Rabbi Hochbaum as a “profound inspiration” and credited him with “changing the face of Hevron in the last 20 years.”
“Hevron is an endemic part of each and every Jew,” intoned Ari Lieberman, the executive director of the Hebron Fund. He encouraged his audience to initiate social media campaigns for the future of Hevron and to come and make a personal visit.