No holds barred: Finding inner peace in Hebron

We American Jews live with so many infantile fears, ancing in Hebron I felt liberated, free of fear and deeply grateful to the residents.

By
October 4, 2010 21:42
4 minute read.
Shmuley Boteach

Shmuley Boteach 58. (photo credit: d)

Israel is a magical country, but to experience one of its greatest wonders you have to travel to what the world calls the West Bank and the Bible calls Judea and Samaria. Its crown jewel is the city of Hebron, first capital of the Jewish people, and where its patriarchs and matriarchs are buried.

Many tourists skip Hebron, declaring it too dangerous, and indeed four Israelis were killed near there last month, and another two shot last week. But terrorists dare not determine whether me and my children make pilgrimages to Judaism’s holiest sites.

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The first thing you discover about the residents of Hebron, whom the world derisively describes as settlers – as if Jews living in their own ancient capital are newcomers – is their warmth and hospitality. I arrived with 20 guests and our host, a wise and dedicated communal activist named Yigal, prepared a feast. We ate in his succa, surrounded by a tranquility and quiet that I rarely experience. The night air was cool and enervating.

All around us children were playing, carefree, on pristine playgrounds. So many Jews in Hebron have been killed in terror attacks over the years, yet the residents in general, and the children in particular, live unafraid. They are also free from hatred. Even when their friends die, they mourn them, bury them, commemorate them but get on with their lives.

There are no calls for revenge, no mass demonstrations braying for Arab blood. Their response, rather, is to demonstrate, in the most peaceful manner, that they are there to stay. (And yes, I know all about Baruch Goldstein. My house in Oxford was firebombed with my children sleeping inside, just a few hours after he perpetrated his mass-murder. But his criminal abomination was committed alone, 17 years ago).

For nearly 1,000 years, the Islamic rulers of the Holy Land forbade Jews to enter the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, allowing them to climb only seven steps but beating them mercilessly if they rose any higher.

When Israel captured the tomb in 1967, Jewish pilgrims came swearing never again to be separated from their origins. Even amid the worst terror attacks, property values in Hebron and Kiryat Arba never decline. There are no fluctuations in the commitment to pray by the graves of those who gave the world monotheism.

Yet these residents have been demonized by the world. They face daily character assassination in the media by those who would decry their simple desire to walk in the footsteps of Abraham. World leaders regularly engage in defaming families whose only wish is to raise their children in the Judean hills of King David.

President Barack Obama rises at the UN and calls for a further moratorium on building in the settlements, as if it’s a crime for peaceful people to have children and add rooms to warm and hospitable homes.

Worse, my close friends in Tel Aviv tell me they hate the “settlers” because their children are forced to “defend a bunch of fanatics who live surrounded by 100,000 Arabs.”

I quickly remind them that, first, the residents of Hebron also serve in elite combat units; second, if a nation can’t hold fast to the tombs of its ancestors (and remember that the tomb in its present form was constructed by King Herod 2,000 years ago from the very same stone as the Western Wall), then it scarcely deserves to call itself a people; three, I know many Jews, particularly in Britain, who wonder why they should have to raise money for the six million Jews who have “settled” in Israel, surrounded as they are by half a billion Arabs; and finally, give up Hebron and, as we discovered with Gush Katif and Sderot, you bring hostile forces to bear directly on Jerusalem.

ABRAHAM, at whose tomb I prayed with my children, is the father of all peoples, and so Arabs and Jews, who thus share both a celestial and a terrestrial father, must learn to live peacefully together. Neither group should be asked to abide a moratorium that stifles natural expansion. It is not the spiritual seekers of Hebron who threaten peace, but the death groupies of Hizbullah and Hamas, who seek to make Israel judenrein.

Just a few yards from where Shalhevet Pass, a 10-month-old infant, was shot and killed by a Palestinian sniper in March 2001, I danced with my children to celebrate Succot.

The streets of Hebron were alive with joyous residents dancing to the music of a mystical hippie band whose flowing locks and mesmerizing music set my soul alight.

I was electrified to be dancing in a city that in 1929 saw the savage massacre of 67 Jews and the destruction of nearly all the Jewish buildings.


We American Jews live with so many infantile fears, like the fear of not being able to keep up with the Joneses or suffering a decline in standards of living.

But dancing in Hebron I felt liberated, free of fear and deeply grateful to the residents who live without material extravagance, and who taught me that even in a place of stress and danger one can find inner tranquility.

The writer has just published Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.


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