Issue No. 37 – December 30th, 2007
SHABBAT IN HEVRON
Perseverance in the Face of Pain
DECEMBER 28, 2007
by Ashirah Yosefah
Ma’arat Machpela – The Cave of the Patriarchs in Hevron.
3:00 pm, Friday, December 28th. Erev Shabbat.
My husband and I are on Egged bus 160 heading towards Hevron & Kiryat Arba to spend
Shabbat with friends. My husband nods
off to sleep in the heat of the afternoon sun beating in the windows of the
bus. I stay awake. I lived in the Gush Etsion
Bloc south of
Bus 160 turns into Kiryat Arba. We disembark and walk the short distance to the home of our friends. Ilan welcomes us and shows us to our room. Yonah is in the kitchen, but unusually quiet. Leaving our suitcase in the room, I return to the kitchen to talk to Yonah. She turns to me, apologizing in hushed tones that the Shabbat meal is not yet ready, that there had been an emergency requiring her to be out of the home that afternoon. “A pegua?,” I ask. (‘Pegua’ is the Hebrew word for a terror attack.) Yonah nods, her face lined with emotion. “Two boys were killed,” she said, “Two of ours.” She had received a call to comfort the mother of one of the victims.
Three young Jews in their 20’s from Kiryat Arba & Hevron, two men and one woman, had taken advantage of the unusually warm spring-like day to hike to Terem Spring, a popular nature spot in the area. As they walked along the trail, just about the noon hour, an SUV drove up to them and two terrorists inside it opened fire. The two young Jewish males were armed and returned fire, killing one terrorist and wounding the other, but losing their own lives defending themselves. The young woman had managed to hide as gunfire flew. She phoned Kiryat Arba’s Magen David Adom and her traumatized state guided emergency crews and the IDF to their location, but it took considerable time to find her. Meanwhile, the wounded terrorist fled, leaving the body of his comrade in crime behind. It was later reported that Red Crescent emergency services had evacuated the wounded terrorist to a hospital in Hevron.
Back at the house, I helped Yonah finish preparing for Shabbat. “Our Arabs, they know when Shabbat is,” Yonah said, shaking her head. “They always attack us on Erev Shabbat or Leil Shabbat. We have had many peguim, but that’s always when they attack us.”
We had planned to bring in Shabbat by davening at Ma’arat Machpela (the Cave of the Patriarchs where Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Sarah and Leah are buried). As the sun set over the Hevron Hills, we set out for the 15 minute walk to Machpela. We stepped through an opening in the razor-wired topped security fence that encircles Kiryat Arba, greeting the young IDF soldier standing guard beside it. “Shabbat Shalom”, we said. His furrowed young brow relaxed and shining white teeth appeared in a smile that brightened the thickening dusk. “Shabbat Shalom,” he said, nodding.
Walking along the Hevron streets, a minyan of young Jewish men in their teens and twenties had gathered on a dirt mound in a deserted field beside the road, sandwiched between Arab neighborhoods to the left and Jewish and Arab neighborhoods to the right. Two soldiers stood close by, watching carefully, guns pressed to their side. Strains of Lecha Dodi floated on the evening air, laying a carpet of kedushah for the approaching Sabbath and the Kabbalat Shabbat prayers these young men would soon be davening. “They had to have known the pegua victims,” I thought to myself, “How heartbreaking. How poignant their prayers in this unseemly spot.”
Loudspeakers on a nearby mosque crackled and the sound of Moslem prayers penetrated the air. Reflecting on the day’s event, I cringed, thinking how these prayers, so frequently filled with vehement Jew hatred, had to be especially stinging to the hearts of the bereaved families of Hevron and Kiryat Arba that night. As if reading my thoughts, Ilan suddenly speaks softly: “It is our fault the Arabs are our enemies,” he said. “If we were where we should be, the land would not be filled with hatred. The Arabs would understand. The world would understand who we are and why we must be in this Land. We are not where we should be. What do you hear? You hear Arab prayers. Where are our voices? We should be hearing our prayers over the Land.”
Curiously, that morning I had been reading an article on Parshat Shemot by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. He had brought a source in the Zohar which shed light on the Torah’s curious wording that the daughter of Pharaoh, “saw the young lad weeping” when she discovered baby Moshe floating amidst the reeds. How does one “see” weeping? Do we not hear it? In his drasha, Rabbi Riskin reflected on how the events of history, particularly the Shoah, had trained Jews to weep silently, to cry out inwardly, lest our voices be heard and our enemies seek out and carry off our children. He lamented that this tendency to cry inwardly, quietly, had become so engrained in Jewish psyche that our pain and our protests over current events in our Land and our history are not being heard. The results, proven by history, are usually horrific.
We drew nearer to Ma’arat Machpela. The IDF presence had multiplied. Jews streamed through the streets in a quiet pilgrimage, passing by our military escorts, many of them younger than the day’s murder victims. We made our way along the narrow pathways flanked by hundreds of ancient and abandoned homes stacked one upon the roof of another, crumbling with disrepair and cluttered with garbage. So much history; so much pain. The empty arches, a thousand years old or more, wept with loneliness in the dark of the Sabbath evening. Their pain is tangible, their ache for restoration reaches out to plead with passersby.
We turned the corner. Stepping out into the floodlit courtyard of Ma’aret Machpela, we walked past
the glowing flames of Shabbat candles burning within an antique case positioned
near a corner of the building. Ilan noted that the walls of Machpela
provide a commentary on the history of religion in
Small minyans clustered in the courtyard, praying quietly. We climbed the stairs and entered the building. Hundreds of people pressed shoulder to shoulder, in several congregations. The various melodies emanating from each group arose, embraced and mingled between the walls of the ancient structure, while the holy personages within the tombs of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs listened. The day’s losses were tangile. The prayers were especially fervent, painfully sweet, and the dancing that welcomed Shabbat was imbued with a tender holiness defying description. Emotion engulfed the young woman who davened beside me. Her prayers were saturated with intense pain and perplexity. “How close a friend to the victims was she?” I wondered, “Or is she family?”
Shabbat was welcomed with dignity and honor. The Ma’ariv prayers were completed. The hundreds of Jews departed quietly, subdued greetings of Shabbat Shalom resonating, embraces of comfort plentiful. The dark streets filled yet again as we made our way towards awaiting Shabbat dinners, greeting and thanking the young IDF soldiers lining our homeward passage. The ancient buildings of Hevron sighed, remembering the Shabbat meals that once graced their empty spaces, the Sabbath lights that once reflected on their plastered walls. If only… If only someday soon…
The voices of elders and children echo anew in the streets of Hevron and Kiryat Arba these days. They are valiant voices, determined voices, but theirs is a Jewish presence too often fraught with terror, loss and pain. May the day arrive speedily when their voices are heard, their streets and homes are safe, and their ancient buildings fill once again with the sounds, smells and vistas of Sabbath Light. Selah.