Miriam Levinger, mother of Hebron’s Jewish community, passes away at 83

She was the kind of leader that comes about once in a hundred years

Portrait of Rabbi Miriam Levinger at her home in Makor Gideon, Hebron, West Bank, on March 8, 2016 (photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)
Portrait of Rabbi Miriam Levinger at her home in Makor Gideon, Hebron, West Bank, on March 8, 2016
(photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)
Miriam Levinger, 83, who, together with her husband, Moshe, personally led the Jews back to Hebron after the 1967 Six Day War, passed away in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur holiday and was buried Tuesday in the biblical city on whose behalf she had battled for most of her adult life.
“I am grieved by the passing of the mother of all those who returned to Hebron, Rabbanit Miriam Levinger of blessed memory,” President Reuven Rivlin said upon hearing of her death.
Along with her husband, Rabbi Moshe Levinger, “she devoted herself to the challenge of returning the Jewish people to Hebron, not as transient guests or visitors, but as those returning to their home,” Rivlin said. “Dear Levinger family, may the building of Hebron and Jerusalem be your consolation.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted, “Miriam dedicated her life, out of great devotion, to the settlement of the Land of Israel and to the love of the people of Israel. We will always remember her as a symbol and example of Zionism and pioneering,”
During the funeral, one of Miriam’s 11 children, Racheli, urged her mother to bring with her to heaven the fight for Jewish control over all of Judea and Samaria, including the Palestinian cities, and to the Land of Israel.
Racheli pleaded with her mother to confront God with the ancient foremothers in tow to protest and demand that the nation of Israel return to Shechem (modern-day Nablus), Jenin, Tulkarm and all of biblical Israel.
“Now you and father, together with the holy [ancestors] are a powerful force,” Racheli said. “A force that has not yet been seen in heaven. Demand this in the name of all of Israel. Make trouble as only the two of you know how to do. Mother, do not rest. Work. Fight. Just like you did here.”
Those who delivered eulogies referred to the history of the couple, their role in the formation of the Gush Emunim movement and their singular impact on the resurrection of the Jewish community in Hebron, where the Jewish biblical forefathers and foremothers are buried in the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
Jews had an almost continuous presence in the city from the Bible to the 1929 Arab riots, in which 67 Jews were murdered by their Arab neighbors.
Under Rabbi Moshe Levinger’s leadership, Jews took rooms in Hebron’s former Park Hotel during Passover 1968 and refused to leave until a compromise was reached, by which Kiryat Arba was created.
But Jews were not allowed to live in the ancient biblical city until Miriam led a group of women to illegally enter Hebron’s formerly Jewish Beit Hadassah building in late 1979, refusing to leave until the government agreed in 1980 to authorize Jewish life in Hebron.
IN AN article Miriam wrote for Torah Tidbits this summer that was republished on hebron.org, she recalled those fateful days.
“A truck was organized to come to Kiryat Arba at three o’clock in the morning to transport us to Beit Hadassah,” she wrote. “Yeshiva students from Mir Yeshiva joined to help. We parked in the street behind Beit Hadassah, we all climbed into the courtyard by ladder and entered the building. We gave cookies and oranges to the children and put them to sleep on mattresses on the floor. That was the beginning. Our conditions were terrible. No running water or electricity. We had only chemical toilets and lots of dirt, dust, and mold.”
“Benjamin ben Eliezer, head officer of Yehuda and Shomron, came and surrounded Beit Hadassah with barbed wire,” Miriam wrote. “He warned us that if anyone left, they would not be allowed back in.”
At Tuesday’s funeral, her blue shroud-covered body, adorned with a Star of David, was first laid out on a gurney in the road by the Tomb of the Patriarchs, where eulogies were delivered under a small white tent.
The numbers were small due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mask-donned mourners then accompanied her body on foot to Hebron’s ancient cemetery, reciting psalms and prayers, including “A Woman of Valor.”
The funeral processions paused briefly by the few Jewish buildings along the way, including Beit Hadassah.
Miriam’s daughter Atiya recalled how just this last week she convinced her mother to be filmed for a documentary on Beit Hadassah. During the filming, Atiya spoke with her mother about how hard life had been those months when they were locked in the building, unable to leave.
“You acknowledged that when one is doing a public act that is so significant, sometimes the private life is harmed. You knew, you said, that at least when we were older we would appreciate it. ‘Will we be happy?’ I asked. You said, ‘I don’t know if you will be happy, but you will appreciate it,’” Atiya said.
Racheli said that her mother had stood at “the breach” for the people of Israel, before she was even called to do so.
“You had no sense of ‘I’, just of what you needed to do,” Racheli said.
She recalled how her mother had left her home in the United States at age 18 to come alone to the State of Israel and study nursing before she even knew Hebrew.
“You knew that this was right,” Racheli said. “You met and chose Father, based on your stories, because you saw he had a true connection to the Torah and was a master of good deeds.”
Her parents, she said, worked ceaselessly for the return of Jews to portions of their homeland.
“At the Park Hotel, you brought the refrigerator and the washing machine, to underscore the fact that here we are staying,” Racheli said. Throughout all her parents’ endeavors, she said, her mother was at her father’s side – and sometimes led the way.
“You brought up a wonderful family filled with the love of Israel,” but “you were happiest when you heard of another home [for Jews in the Land of Israel] that was purchased and redeemed,” Racheli said.
In spite of her mother’s devotion to the public good of the Jewish people, she was also heavily involved in the life of her children and grandchildren, calling and asking about every detail of their lives.
Former Kedumim Council head Daniella Weiss, said she had been inspired by Miriam, who was also true friend.
“I love you so much and I will miss you all of my life,” Weiss said.
With respect to her public persona, Miriam was the kind of leader that comes about once in a hundred years, incredibly smart and knowledgeable, Weiss said, adding that it is hard to imagine how Israel’s story or the narrative of Hebron would have unfolded without Miriam.
The unique combination of her and her husband, created a historic revolution that impacted not just Hebron but all of Israel, Weiss said. “An entire nation must salute Miriam Levinger, the leader.”