A while ago I received an email from a couple wanting to visit Hebron. For some reason they never made it. A few days ago I heard that they were leaving back to the US next week. I found their phone number, gave them a call, and yesterday they came in for a tour. I knew that they couldn't pay the full price for a private tour. But when people want to see Hebron, I try not to let them down.
They were a pleasant young couple, seemingly similar to many others who visit here. In between explanations we chatted. It turns out that, despite their current residency in the US, both hold Israeli citizenship and that they'd been here for over three months.
"So," I asked, "what have you been doing all that time?" "Well," responded the thirty or so year old man, "I spent two months in Han Yunis."
That's when my eyes really opened wide. "Huh?"
"Well I have Israeli citizenship. A few weeks after we arrived, the war started. I immediately received a 'Tzav 8" – that is, emergency IDF order, calling me up to active service. And to Gaza I went."
"Han Yunis – you were in the thick of it – fighting?!"
"Yup, doing what we had to do."
I won't specify here, but needless to say, one of the IDF's most elite sections. Knowing that, I could guess that he really was in the middle of 'the action.' And he showed no regrets, either.
I looked at his young wife, trying to understand what she was thinking. After all, they'd come to 'visit' in Israel, and here, her husband was swiftly drafted into the army, to fight against terrorists, down in Gaza. She sort of smiled shyly, saying that her mom had flown over to be with her. But she didn't imply, in any way shape or form, that she would have had it any other way.
I was very impressed. And I gave them as good a tour as I possibly could have. They deserved it.
The day before, on Shabbat, I spoke to a group here from a nearby Israeli city. They seemed all to be religious, mixed English and Hebrew speaking, After morning prayers they met me at the Avraham Avinu synagogue. After a brief introduction about Hebron today, and more specifically about that particular site, I opened up for questions. Many times I find it preferable to do 'question and answer' sessions, rather than lecture. This enables me to address what people are really interested in hearing about.
A woman asked a question I hear frequently: "Isn't it dangerous to live here in Hebron?"
Honestly, it's difficult for me not to by cynical when addressing this. Sometimes, as I did on Shabbat, I joking answer, "sure it is, for the Arabs around us. When they see you they're afraid."
Actually, this isn't all joke. When our neighbors see tens and hundreds of thousands of people flocking into Hebron, they realize that this isn't a small, unsubstantial community. They realize, as we do too, that Hebron has huge significance to many more than the eighty or so families who live here today.
But then on to a more serious response. "Look, where isn't it dangerous? Rockets were fired at Sderot, Ashkelon, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. A few years ago northern Israeli was attacked by Hezbollah missiles. Syrian tanks are now shooting into the Golan. Unfortunately, buses have exploded all over Israel. So where should I choose to live, where it's not dangerous?"
But that's the secondary response. The primary answer: "Look, this is the first Jewish city in Israel. It's home to the second-holiest place in the world, Ma'arat HaMachpela, the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. That was off-limits to us for 700 years. Our neighbors tell us straight out, that if they ever control it again, they won't allow us entrance, claiming that it's a mosque and only Moslems may worship in a mosque.
This is our home. Either we are here, or we know who is here. If this is our home, than this is where we have to be. True, there may be a price, but isn't that the price we just paid, with over seventy soldiers, officers and civilians dying during the Gaza war? And if we don't fight, then….what?"
A man raised his hand and followed-up. "Is it more dangerous in Hebron than in Borough Park?"
For those unfamiliar, Borough Park is an ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brookly, NY.
I stifled a laugh. "Look, it says in the Gemara that 'Eretz Yisrael Machkim' – meaning that breathing the air of Israel provides wisdom. Here, in Israel, and certainly in Hebron, the air we breathe is holy. In Borough Park, all they breathe is the impure air of Galut (the Diaspora)."
Later, I realized that he already knew the answer, but just wanted to hear what I would say. Because, in discussing the current events in Iraq and Syria, and the contagious continuation into Europe and the Americas, he told me, "I made Aliyah with my suitcases, with my possessions. When, at some point, the Jews won't have any choice to but to leave the States, they'll only be able to bring the clothing they're wearing."
How true. And how sad.
These people, like the young man from the US who fought for Am Yisrael for two months, putting his life on the line, and the other man, who left the spoils of New York for the holiness of Israel. This is what keeps Israel going.
This is what Israel is all about.