The time-line of recent Jewish history in Hebron over the last one-hundred years is frightening. This is the story of a city whose Jewish population was thriving and growing in the beginning of the twentieth century, and was brutally and cruelly massacred. The efforts to restore Jewish life to the city after the six-day war were also frustrated by government interference, as narrated in the following stories. Today, literally hundreds of Jewish families have signed the list to move into Jewish Hevron, but there isn't enough room to accommodate them all. Another interesting fact is the several of the most important buildings in Hevron actually belong to the Chabad Lubavitch movement. They were acquired by the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe (the "Rebbe Rashab") just before the first world war. Most of the material on this page was culled from the website of www.hebron.org.il Have a look there for more detail!
Final excerpt of a speech by David Ben Gurion, Sdeh boker, 18 Shvat 5730, Jan. 25, 1970:
However, don't forget: the beginnings of Israel's greatest king were in Hebron, the city to which came the first Hebrew about eight hundred years before King David, and we will make a great and awful mistake if we fail to settle Hebron, neighbor and predecessor of Jerusalem, with a large Jewish settlement, constantly growing and expanding, very soon. This will also be a blessing to the Arab neighbors. Hebron is worthy to be Jerusalem's sister.
The Return to Hebron - June, 1967
Who was the first Israeli to return to Hebron in 1967? Who was the first Jew to enter the Cave of the Machpela in over 700 years? (Moslems refused to permit Jews into the Cave of the Machpela. Jews were allowed to pray outside, at the infamous "7th step". Anyone attempting to get any closer to the entrance was beaten by the Arab guards stationed there.) Surprisingly enough, the first Israeli in Hebron and in the Cave of the Machpela was the then Chief Rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, z”l. And here is his story:
Rabbi Goren was present with Israeli forces as the IDF conquered the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Holding the rank of general, Rabbi Goren knew that the army's next mission was Hebron. Wanting to be among the first Israeli's in the ancient City of the Patriarchs, he joined the armed forces stationed at the recently captured Etzion Block, on their way to Hebron. On the night of 28 Iyyar, before retiring for the evening, he requested to be awoken when the soldiers began their march to Hebron the following day.
The next morning he awoke, only to find himself alone with his driver. Realizing that he had been "left behind," he ordered his driver to begin the 20 minute journey to Hebron, expecting to meet the rest of the army, already on their way.
Rabbi Goren thought it pecular that he hadn’t encountered any other Israeli soldiers on the road as he reached Hebron. He thought to himself surely the Israelis had already finished the job of marching on Hebron already. Driving into Hebron, Rabbi Goren was greeted by the sight of white sheets, hung from roof-tops and windows, throughout the city. He was astounded, but understood. In the summer of 1929, Arab residents of Hebron had massacred 67 Jews and wounded many others. The 1967 Arabs of Hebron were, very plainly, scared of Jewish retaliation. So, they did not fire one shot. Instead they hung white sheets from windows and roof-tops.
Rabbi Goren quickly made his way to the Cave of Machpela. Finding the huge doors bolted, he tried breaking in by shooting at the lock, firing his Uzi submachine gun. Finally, after getting into Ma’arat HaMachpela he blew the Shofar, as he had done 24 hours earlier at the Western Wall.
Only afterwards did Rabbi Goren discover that when he left the base at the Etzion Block, the rest of the forces were on the other side of the hill, making plans for the attack on Hebron. They did not know that the Arabs would surrender. In other words, Rabbi Goren, a single Israeli soldier, single-handedly conquered a city of 80,000 Arabs. Jews had returned to Hebron and to Ma’arat HaMachpela!
Rabbi Goren hung an Israeli flag outside the Ma'ara and brought a Sefer Torah inside. The next day he received a telegram from Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan. It read, "Take down the flag, take out the Sefer Torah, and everyone who enters must take off his shoes, because the building is a Mosque!" Rabbi Goren sent back a telegram saying, "The Sefer Torah is Kodesh (holy) - it stays. The flag means to me what it means to you. If you want to remove it, do so. I will not touch it."
Dayan sent an officer into Hebron to remove the flag and Torah. On the way back to Jerusalem, the officer was killed in an automobile accident. Dayan then rescinded his order to remove shoes in the Ma'ara. (This story was told to a group of people by Rabbi Shlomo Goren in Kiryat Arba about 8 months before he passed away.)
The Return to Hevron - Passover, 1968
Wanted: Families or singles to resettle ancient city of Hebron For details contact Rabbi M. Levinger
This unassuming newspaper advertisement captured the attention of many Israelis in 1968. The euphoria of the Six Day War had subsided, Judea and Samaria were in Jewish hands, and yet, no Jews had made their homes this area. Rabbi Moshe Levinger and a group of like-minded individuals determined that the time had come to return home to the newly liberated heartland of Eretz Yisrael.
As their first goal, the group decided to renew the Jewish presence in the the Jewish People’s most ancient city, Hebron. Word of the decision spread quickly and soon a nucleus of families was formed. Their objective: to spend Pessach in Hebron's Park Hotel. Hebron's Arab hotel owners had fallen on hard times. For years they had served the Jordanian aristocracy who would visit regularly to enjoy Hebron's cool dry air. The Six Day War forced the vacationers to change their travel plans. As a result, the Park Hotel's Arab owners were delighted to accept the cash-filled envelope which Rabbi Levinger placed on the front desk. In exchange, they agreed to rent the hotel to an unlimited amount of people for an unspecified period of time.
The morning of Erev Pesach, April, 1968 saw the Levinger family along with families from Israel's north, south and center packed their belongings for Hebron. They quickly cleaned and kashered the half of the hotel's kitchen allotted to them and began to settle in. Women and children slept three to a bed in the hotel rooms, while the men found sleeping space on the lobby floor. At least Ya'akov Avinu had a rock to place under his head, remembered one of the men in dismay.
Eighty-eight people celebrated Pesach Seder that night in the heart of Hebron. “We sensed that we had made an historical breakthrough", recalls Miriam Levinger, and we all felt deeply moved and excited".
Two days later, Rabbi Levinger announced to the media that the group intended to remain in Hebron. Dignitaries, Knesset members and Israelis from far and near streamed to the Park Hotel to encourage the pioneers.
Defense Minister Moshe Dayan was anxious to remove the pioneers from the hotel. He suggested that they move to the military compound overlooking Hebron. A heated debate ensued. There were those who felt that moving to the compound would in effect, strangle the project. Others saw in Dayan's suggestion official recognition, albeit de facto, of their goal.
Six weeks later, the pioneers moved to the military compound. Rabbi Levinger insisted on accommodations for 120 people even though they numbered less than half at that time. Rabbi Levinger was accused of being an unrealistic dreamer. Within a few short weeks however, he was proven correct. The 120 places in the military compound could not accommodate the hundreds of people who wanted to be part of the renewed of Jewish life in Hebron, city of the Patriarchs.
"We received Eretz Yisrael on a silver platter in 1967", explained Miriam Levinger. "It was an honor and a privilege to be among the first people to make the dream of return a reality."
Sarah Nachshon and the Ancient Jewish Cemetary in Hevron
A baby boy was born to Baruch and Sarah Nachshon in 1975. Baruch, a famous Hasidic artist and his wife Sarah were among the first Jews to return to Hebron. Following the establishment of Kiryat Arba the Nachshon's celebrated the birth of a son and decided to perform the brit milah inside the cave of the Machpelah - burial place of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah. The baby was named Avraham Yedidya.
Three months later, Sarah found Avraham Yedidya dead in his crib. The young mother was beside herself. Why should her new son, brought into the covenant of Abraham in Hebron in the most ancient city of the Jewish People in the Land of Israel, be taken from her after only three months. Everything in this world has a purpose. What was the purpose of her three- month old son?
Sarah decides that Avraham Yedidya would be buried in the ancient Jewish cemetery in Hebron. The cemetery had been last used to inter the 67 Jews slaughtered in the 1929 riots in Hebron. It is minutes from the traditional graves of Ruth and Jesse and overlooks the Cave of the Machpelah. Perhaps, Sarah thinks, this was the purpose of the baby, to take part in a sad but vital part of renewing Jewish Hebron. After almost fifty years, the Jewish cemetery of Hebron would again be utilized as a Jew’s last resting place.
Late afternoon: the funeral procession leaves Kiryat Arba for the ancient Jewish cemetery in Hebron. Then, suddenly the mourners encounter soldiers and roadblocks! The cars come to a halt. Soldiers begin scouring the site, opening car doors, searching for something. "No, you may not proceed to the cemetery" the soldiers order the mourners, "the cemetery is off-limits". One of the car-doors opens. A women gets out with a bundle in her arms.
She addresses the soldiers, "Are you looking for me - are you looking for my baby? My name is Sarah Nachshon. Here is my baby, in my arms. If you won't let us drive to the cemetery we will walk!"
Men with shovels and flashlights, and women, Kiryat Arba residents, walk through ancient Hebron as night falls. They pass the Cave of the Machpelah. They pass the 450 year-old Abraham Avinu synagogue, left in ruins, destroyed by the Jordanian conquerors in 1948. Blockades, set up to stop the crowd, are pushed aside. Senior officers give orders over their walkie-talkies: "Stop them - don't let them proceed" - but the soldiers, overcome by the scene, radio back: "We can't stop them. If you want to stop them come down here and do it yourselves".
The procession continues, past Beit Romano, Beit Shneerson, home of Menuchat Rachel Shneerson Slonim, granddaughter of the "Ba'al HaTanya," (the first Chabad Rebbe) up the steep hill to the ancient cemetery.
Moonlight illuminates the field. Sarah Nachshon releases the body of her tiny son, Avraham Yedidya and it is lowered into the freshly dug grave. The grave site is only meters from the mass grave of 1929. Mustering her voice, Sarah utters: "Four thousand years ago our Patriarch Abraham purchased Hebron for the Jewish People by burying his wife Sarah here. Tonight Sarah is repurchasing Hebron for the Jewish People by burying her son Avraham here".
1929 and 1936 - As in Jerusalem, riots and pogroms kill tens of Jews. Just as these riots forced the Jews out of several areas of the old city of Jerusalem at the time, they put an end to the Jewish presence in Hebron, until after the six day war of 1967. But, even then, the going wasn't easy...in roughly 1970, a representative of the Israeli government approached Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Rebbe of Chabad Lubavitch, ztz'l with a "plan" to settle Jews in Hebron. The Rebbe's reply (paraphrase) was "you're not planning on settling Jews in Hebron. You have a plan to create a settlement outside of the city of Hebron, and to call it Kiryat Arba, and you think that with this plan you will acquire my acquiesence and agreement. But we will not accept anything short of the return of Jews to the holy city of Hebron itself."
Pesach 1968 - Jewish families return to spend Pesach in Hebron
Erev Rosh Hashana 1971 - families move from military compound to what will become Kiryat Arba, adjacent to Hebron
Erev Rosh Chodesh 1979 - Jews move into Hebron
A week and a half after Pesach in 1979, a group of ten women and forty children make their way through the deserted streets of Hevron and climb in the back window to the Hadassah medical building, built in the 1870's for both Jews and Arabs, but deserted after the pogroms of 1929. They are discovered only in the morning, when the soldiers guarding the compound hear the voices of children singing "vshavu banim l'gvulam" - the children have returned home. The soldiers quickly report to their superiors and the subject becomes a national issue.
The Prime Minister at the time, Menachem Begin, is not in favor of Jewish settlement in Hebron, but neither does he want to uproot them. He orders the building surrounded, with no water nor rations allowed in. Rabbi Moshe Levinger goes to Begin and tells him, "when we surrounded the Egyptians in '73, we gave them water and food. At the very least we can do the same for our own women and children." Begin has no choice but to agree. For two months, the residents remained under this state of siege. Finally, after two months, the women and children were allowed to leave and return. This situation continued for a full year.
Every Shabbat, students and residents of Kiryat Arba would come and pray at the cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, and a group of men would them come to the Haddassa building and dance and recite Kiddush for the women and children residing there. On one Shabbat in May, 1980, the group of men was fired upon and attacked by a group of terrorists from a building accross the street from the Hadassah building. Six yeshiva students were killed. The army destroyed the building the next day, and official recognition of the Jewish presence in the city of Hebron was finally granted. (This is a pattern that has been followed ever since, throughout the heartland of Yehuda and Shomron - citizens take the initiative to settle, the government resists and even sometimes forcibly evicts the citizens, there is a bloody terrorist attack, and then, and only then, the government decides to grant official recognition).
Twenty years later, in June, 2000, a building was built in memory of the six who were murdered. The new building houses six families.
In the meantime, Jewish settlement has expanded further up the hill, accompanied always by terrorist attacks and new families moving in. In what is the most distant enclave, seven families live in Tel Rumeida, overlooking the ancient cemetary of Hebron. One of the six caravans was burst into in 2000, and a rabbi was murdered. Only then was Tel Rumeida granted official government recognition, together with plans to build housing for several more families.
2004 Recently, the Jewish settlement was extended yet further with the establishment of a kollel at the site of the house of the Rebbetzin Menucha Rachel, daughter of the Mittler Rebbe, second Lubavitcher Rebbe, who was a recognized tzedaket living in Hebron during the nineteenth century. This establishment coincided with the arrival of Rabbi Danny and Mrs. Bat Sheva Cohen as the official Chabad/Lubavitch emissaries in Hebron. They themselves live in the Avrohom Avinu complex in the city of Hebron.