There are a number of places that elicit emotion in Jewish people just by hearing their names. This past shabbos we had the pleasure and great opportunity to visit one of them.
Chevron, or Hebron, the land of our forefathers.
Chevron symbolizes the Jewish connection to the land of Israel. It is the place of our roots, from where Judaism sprouted. This is the place that Avraham Avinu, father Abraham, settled in. The location of the cave of the patriarchs, which Avraham bought for 400 pieces of silver. Chevron was the capital of the King David's kingdom until he moved it to Jerusalem, 7 years after he began his rule.
While we didn't know it when we decided to go, this week was the anniversary of the 1929 Chevron massacre, when centuries of Jewish presence in Chevron was ended. This was indeed a symbolic shabbos to go and experience the renewed Jewish presence that has been facing an enormous uphill battle since we recaptured the city in 1967. We got to see first-hand the struggles that the Jewish residents have to go through on a daily basis.
We left our Galilean village Friday morning at 9:00 AM to head down to jlem where we were meeting the group. Most of the group came from Kochav Yaakov, a settlement between Jlem and Ramallah. We had actually considered moving there when we made aliyah 5 years ago, but for a number of reasons chose our Galilean mountainside instead. We got lost in jlem and showed up 15 minutes late to the spot we were supposed to meet the bus. Fortunately for us (unfortunately for them), their was a problem on the highway and the bus was delayed for about an hour, so we waited for them for 45 minutes. The group was very friendly and we warmed to them immediately. I think all of the other families were at least partly Torontonian (coincidentally), so it gave my in-laws a lantsman connection right away.
The first place we headed to was Kever Rachel, where mother Rachel was buried on the side of the road so that her children could stop by and pray while they were on the road. It used to be a quaint little building at the side of the road where you could pull off, pray and continue on your way. Since the peace process there has been no access for Jews to Bethlehem (because of the peace) and Kever Rachel has become a huge military compound completely surrounded by 30 foot walls. I said a couple chapters of Tehillim and went to deal with the children so my wife could have some quality prayer time. One of the ladies on the group brought a huge length of red string with her. There is a tradition that if you wrap a red string around the kever marker 7 times and then cut it up into little pieces and tie it around people's hands then good things will happen. A lot of people feel that the red strings that are handed out at other locations never actually got the kever rachel treatment and is therefore invalid. This is A1 kosher red string that got the full 7 times around and therefore can be worn by people who are into that sort of thing.
The bus was not ready when we left the building and the soldiers told us to wait in the building. We were a bit concerned at first that the bus got kidnapped, but eventually it returned.
The next stop was at the guest house in the Avraham Avinu neighborhood in Chevron (Hebron). We got our rooms and the kids played barefoot outside. The park next to the guest house was under renovations, so they made do with running around senselessy like kids do. The park that was being renovated was the place where a baby, Shalhevet Pas, was killed by an arab sniper a couple years ago. The rooms were decent, we had 2 bunkbeds and a cot for the kids, the air-conditioning worked well and the bathroom was ok.
I watched the kids play outside while my wife got them ready for shabbos one at a time. It was nice to see that the kids all made friends with the other kids on the trip right away. They were all English/Hebrew speakers and the kids spoke a mixed language amongst themselves.
We went to the Maarat Hamachpela for maariv, the evening prayer. It was done in a Carlebach style, led by Simcha Hochbaum, a local activist.
The Maarat Hamachpela, known as the maara, is not much of a cave. It is a huge building designed like a fortress. I believe it was built in the 1400s by the Turks, but I don't have Internet access at the moment to verify that. There are 3 rooms inside, though it looks much bigger then that. The Abraham room is the smallest and it could hold approximately 30 people. The Yaakov (Jacob) room is where we davened and it could easily hold a couple hundred. The largest room is the Yitzchak room, but at the moment it is only accessible to Muslims who believe that it is the Ishmael room. I don't know if they really believe that or if they just say that to bother the Jews. The Yaakov room is actually outide in the courtyard with a tarp covering. There are tombs with names of the partiarchs
Outside the building, the courtyard was filled with women and children, everyone easily relied on the soldiers standing guard for protection. Our kids were a bit nervous because we had told them that they had to stay near us at all times because it was dangerous if they went to the wrong area. We saw the local kids walking throughout the neighborhood by themselves and that relaxed us a bit. Dinner was excellent, Morrocan food, and we had a chance to relax and meet the other families in the group.
In the morning, I overslept a bit and went to the 9AM tefilla at the maara. This was a mistake, t was the fastest davening I've ever been to. Normally this is not a problem, but they started from áøåê ùàîø and davened sefard (in other words they skipped the entire thing). Davening finished within an hour. When we asked one of the policemen at the gate, where the 9:00 was, he pointed and and said in hebrew, it's full gas. No kidding.
Lunch was good. They put eggs in the chulent, but that's what I would expect from Moroccans. Before dessert we had our first propoganda speech by David Wilder who told us about the community, what they were doing and what the challenges were in trying to convince the government to let them live in homes that belong to Jewish people. In 1929, after the massacre the surviving Jews were expelled from Chevron. But they still kept the deeds to their property. This property is mostly now controlled by the Arabs and even the properties that are controlled by the Jews, the government won't let them enter. It is a fight for every inch of land and for every new family to move in. The expulsion from Gush Katif showed them how successful they can be and they are bringing all their weight and money down against little Chevron.
After lunch we had rest and relaxation time until 4:30, when we went on our tour of the community with Simcha Hochbaum as our guide. We went to first see the graves of Yishai and Ruth. We couldn't see the former Slabodka yeshiva because that is in the 80% of Hebron that Netanyahu gave away to the arabs when he was the prime minister (And tafka pp doesn't like him...)
We saw some excavations of what might have been the gate of the city where Avraham bought the cave from Efron the Hittite. We saw the hospital where the women and children hid during the 1929 massacre and the arabs came and may they all be cursed for eternity for what they did there. A group of women and children took it over in 1979 and it is now a permanent residence. We saw and davened in the Avraham Avinu shul.
It was a great experience for the entire family, and I'm really happy we went. We arrived home at about 1:30 AM, exhausted.