Erev Pesach – Passover Eve. In a few hours we will begin the first holiday ever celebrated by Am Yisrael, the Jewish people. As it is known, freedom from the Exile in Egypt. Actually it only began 3328 years ago, and still hasn't concluded.
Many reasons may be given: One - There's a superficial exile and an inner exile – in reality both are still existent. For the main reason for freedom was to receive the Torah and then live that Torah in Eretz Yisrael. At present not all Jews are in Israel and not all fulfill various parts of Torah.
However, according to recent surveys, well over 90% of Jews living in Israel do celebrate the first night of Pesach, conducting some sort of Seder, that is, the reciting of the story of our exile and exodus. Different people may have different versions, but in the end, the nucleolus begins with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel. And later, Moses, Aharon and Miriyam. Beginning as a family and continuing as a People. With Eretz YIsrael as the center – where it began and where it leads to.
So, it can reasonably be said that the Jewish people are quite passionate about their existence, so much so, that many many people change their whole lifestyle for a week, eating no bread or bread products, changing all our dishes, turning our lives upside down, in order to recall what was then and how it still affects us today. Only a passionate people can fulfill such 'extreme' commandments and living conditions.
I use the word passionate intentionally.
A little while ago I spoke by phone with Mrs. Ruth Pechman. Her husband, and my friend, Rabbi Yitzhak Pechman passed away just over a week ago. Rabbi Pechman was one of the founders and first president of the Hebron Fund, founded decades ago. Rabbi Pechman worked tirelessly on behalf of the Fund and the Hebron Jewish community for years and years.
Mrs. Pechman told me that when asked to describe her husband in one word, she said 'Hebron.' However the Rabbi was active for many important causes, so much so that another one word description of him, in her words, was passionate. Everything he did, he was passionate about.
Actually, after he died, thinking about him, my one word description was visionary. When he initiated the Hebron Fund there were few Jews living in the city and the future was still very much a question mark. It takes much vision to see forward, and work to enable a goal, as of then, still a dream.
But that's what he did, and successful he was.
Later in life, with all of his family living in Israel, he and Ruth also made Aliyah, living his dream in Jerusalem, until his passing.
Rabbi Yizhak Pechman was a very humble man, but very great. His passion and vision lives on with his wife, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. And also with us, living in Hebron.
Only a few days after Rabbi Pechman's passing, another great Jew also left us.
Honestly I didn't see Joe Mermelstein for at least a decade. And my friend Dr. Joe Frager wrote a beautiful article depicting this wonderful man.
But I have to add a few words, as, along with all his other activities, Joe was also very close to Hebron.
Many years ago the Hebron Fund sponsored a concert in NYC. I recall spending a month there, working with then Hebron Fund executive director Judy Grossman, in the freezing November cold, trying to sell tickets to the event.
About a week or so before the concert almost no tickets had been sold. We were, to say the least, in panic mode. Joe Mermelstein, hearing about our plight, took out a full page advertisement in the Jewish Press, asking Jews how they could ignore Hebron.
The concert, as a result, was a sellout.
A few years later we conducted an evening for Hebron in the Five-Towns area of New York, After all the speeches and movies and songs (Mordechai ben David appeared for us), the time came to try and fund-raise. See little enthusiasm, Joe stood on the stage and declared, "I had a whole speech prepared, but everything I had to say boils down to a few words. So rather than read the speech, I'm going to tear it up, and in its place give this check to Hebron." Which he did, quite generously.
Another time, before the Hebron dinner, we attended an event with Ariel Sharon. I really wanted to video him saying a few good words about Hebron. But he refused. Until Joe promised him a generous donation to whatever Sharon wanted. Then he agreed to speak in front of the camera.
And last, as Joe's business was with watches, he manufactured a Hebron watch. I may still have one here at home.
We called him Papa Joe. He was a 'Papa' to many organizations, and his presence will too be missed.
Both of these men were passionate visionaries and Papas to Hebron and Eretz Yisrael. Their help and enthusiasm, vision and passion are among the reasons we are able to continue celebrating Pesach in Israel's first Jewish city, Hebron.