Early this afternoon I had a few minutes before leaving the office to photograph kids planting trees and bushes here in Hebron. An envelope had been sitting on my desk for a couple of days and finally I had a chance to open it.
It contained the monthly edition of OUTPOST, a magazine published by AFSI - Americans for a Safe Israel.
AFSI is one of those rare organizations which I can define as pure. Really pure. Without any hidden agendas, without any need or desire for anything for itself. Their only concern is the welfare of Israel. And AFSI''s Israel includes places like Hebron, Kiryat Arba, Beit El, Shilo and Gush Katif. I''ve had contact with AFSI since beginning work in Hebron, about 17 years.
Seeing OUTPOST''s headline, earlier today, took me back a year or so ago. The organization''s founder and chairman, my friend Herb Zweibon, a true Jewish patriot, decided to boost one of his favorite subjects. Via AFSI, he sponsored a national contest for Israeli school children, dealing with Zeev Jabotinsky.
Being extremely aware of Jabotinsky''s importance and significance, and knowing that certain elements of Jewish history have ways of ''getting lost,'' Herb initiated an essay contest, offering monetary prizes for the best works written about Jabotinsky, who died exactly 70 years ago. A month or so ago the prizes were awarded at a prestigious ceremony in the Knesset, which included participation by Knesset speaker Rubi Rivlin and Education minister Gideon Saar.
Looking at the article I felt a real emotional tug: Here is a man who doesn''t just talk about his beliefs, but actually does something about them. Of course, this is not new to AFSI - this is what they''ve been doing for years. But this event, perhaps more than any other, bringing Jewish heritage to Israeli children and youth, who otherwise might never know who Zeev Jabotinsky was, is more than just impressive. It''s an action worth saluting.
A few hours later, sitting at a friend''s in Kiryat Arba, participating in small celebration, I opened my email to check the latest arrivals. And there, to my shock and surprise, I read an article, just posted, in memory of Herb Zweibon. I sort of had to pinch myself. But there it was. Last night, after a short illness, Herb suddenly passed away. Despite the happiness of where I was, an overwhelming sadness enveloped me. It''s difficult to think of Herb in the past.
Every time he visited Israel, for as many years as I can remember, Herb came into Hebron. He brought friends with him, and insisted on taking a tour of the city, places he''d seen dozens of times. We walked to different sites even though his legs weren''t in great shape; he refused to give it up. We would sit and discuss current events, he praised the good while trying to find solutions to the problems.
Herb was here a couple of months ago. When he called, I already had another group planned for that day, and asked Noam Arnon to spend a couple of hours with him and his friends. I''m very sorry I missed him that day.
Herb was also very generous. When times were difficult and others, facing financial difficulties, had no choice but to cut back, Herb''s generosity continued, as if the monetary problems did not exist.
Herb''s love for Israel, for the state of Israel, for Eretz Yisrael, knew no limits. And he worked tirelessly to help Israel as much as he possibly could. AFSI is the embodiment of his love, concern and action, and as I wrote above, it is truly a ''pure'' organization. Herb looked for nothing for himself, only for Israel.
I don''t think that by chance Herb died on Tu BeShavat, known as the holiday of trees, and also the holiday of Eretz Yisrael. The roots of the trees he planted for Israel run deep into the holy ground he so loved and will undoubtedly bear fruit for decades to come. Herb was a righteous man, and he will be sorely missed. I haven''t met many people like him, and consider it an honor to call him a friend. On behalf of the entire Hebron Jewish Community and the Hebron Fund, I wish to offer condolences to Herb''s wife of 58 years, Sheila, to his children and grandchildren, and to all the AFSI staff, who too, will feel his loss as creating an irreplaceable vacuum.
I''m sure that Herb Zweibon, where he is now, will continue to work for Israel, on a much higher plane. May his memory be blessed.
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