Another look at the Hebron Peace House

Those struggling to live in Hebron exemplify Jacob's legacy to the Jewish people.

hebron evacuation house 248 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
hebron evacuation house 248 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
I was saddened to hear that many used their pulpits to criticize the brave Jewish heroes whom the government forcefully expelled from The Peace House in Hebron and the hundreds of other Jews who stood with them in support of their right to stay there. Peace House (Beit Hashalom) was bought for them by Morris Abraham, a Syrian Jew living in New York. Mr. Abraham spent close to a million dollars purchasing this building from a local Arab, and the deal was legally consummated some 24 months ago. It was his wish that these families live there, and this wish was legally carried out. Those of us who have had the privilege to visit these folks at the now famous house in Hebron know that it is a stone's throw away from the Tomb of our forefathers and foremothers - Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives Sarah, Rebecca and Leah. The Tomb of the Patriachs and Matriarchs is Judaism's second holiest site after the Temple Mount itself. Under King David, Hebron became the first capital of the Jewish people. There has been a Jewish community in the area for thousands of years. Today, about 8,000 Jews live in Kiryat Arba (City of Four), a ten-minute walk away from Hebron's old city, where 800 Jewish men, women and children live in an enclave protected by the Israel Defense Force. Hebron itself sits about a 30-minute drive from The King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Three weeks from now, the Torah reading portion will be Vayehi. One cannot read this beautiful narrative about Jacob imploring his son to bury him in the Land of Israel and not be moved. More importantly, this is probably the single act in the Bible responsible for planting the seed that has so stubbornly grown into the tree we refer to as the Jewish people. It is my belief that it is this act that has brought back the Jewish people to their homeland after 2,000 years of exile, pogroms and the Holocaust. Because of Jacob's insistence to be brought back to Israel, the Jewish generations after him always felt an inexplicable yearning to come back home; if for nothing else, just to pay their respects to him and their forefathers and mothers. I CAME to learn this through my own personal story. My own father, on his deathbed, made me and my family promise that we would bury him in Israel. Throughout his horrific, 18-month battle with cancer, he would insist that we make him this promise, and it was the last few words he uttered as we were weeping by his bedside that early evening in February, 1988. For years after we buried him in Israel, I kept coming back every year for his memorial, though I had no real prior connection to my Jewish roots or tradition, or for that matter, the state of Israel. There were times when frankly I had no idea what I was doing there, or why he made this request. I asked myself whether all the trouble was even necessary - getting there, arranging for a memorial lunch or dinner, finding people to say Kaddish by his gravesite. Was I being a little nutty? After all, I had never been there with him while he was alive. Nevertheless, I kept coming back year after year, first as a bachelor, and then later as a husband, and now as a father. One Shabbat, many years after the very first trip, I was sitting in our little synagogue in Beverly Hills, and my rabbi gave a most beautiful lesson on the chapter Vayehi. He brought my attention to this beautiful narrative, and all of a sudden, everything became clear to me. Tears rolled down my cheeks. For the first time, I understood my late father's request. For the first time, I realized how much of an impact those trips to Israel had not only over my life, but over that of all my family. I cannot tell you enough about all the profound experiences I had during these yearly trips. I cannot even begin to think of my life today without these visits. My whole family has found a purpose bigger than ourselves because of the experiences that we were blessed to have in Israel. We have grown to love the people and the land. ON ONE such visit last year, an old friend took me and a few of my friends from Los Angeles to Beit Hashalom. We met the families who lived there and spoke to their leader, a lady who had moved to Israel from England. She had been living in Israel for many years and when the house was bought, decided to move in with her husband and many children. My friends and I asked her many questions to try and understand how she could be as brave as she was to live there. She was a sensible, well-educated, and articulate woman in her thirties. She explained that if it was not safe for her to live in her home in Hebron because of the dangers facing her, then it was just as unsafe for anyone to live in Israel because of the dangers facing it. She made a compelling argument that Jews should have a moral and ethical right to live anywhere in Israel, and for that matter anywhere in the world without being persecuted. The idea that Hebron or any other area must be devoid of Jews should be antithetical to modern-day Jewish thinking, she said. After all, this is what Hitler tried to achieve with his Judenrein concept - cleansing Europe and the world of all its Jews. Two weeks ago, this woman and the other families living with her in The Peace House were dragged out of their homes by the Israeli government. Ironically, contrary to conventional knowledge, the courts did NOT order the evacuation of The Peace House. They left it in the hands of the government to decide what to do until the legalities of the case were fully determined. Sadly, the corrupt Olmert/Livni/Barrak government chose the most divisive and provocative option. While these Jews were being expelled, Israel continues to have its southern cities bombed with rockets since the expulsion of the Jews of Gush Katif, Iran persists on its nuclear agenda, and Hizbullah and Hamas continue to arm themselves to the teeth. Episodes like The Peace House expulsion are a deliberate distraction from the real issues and threats which Israel faces. IT IS true that some of the actions of a few hot-headed Jews have crossed the line, and while I might understand their frustrations and pain, I do not condone those actions. But the acts of a handful of hotheads should not poison attitudes towards the folks of Hebron Peace House and all of the 300,000 Jews living in Judea and Samaria, who stand on the frontlines with great sacrifice. Neither should their actions obscure this fact: Just like Arabs have the right to live in Israel among a Jewish majority, Jews should have the right to live in any area they please, even if those areas have an Arab majority. It is not my intention to offend anyone who does not share this perspective. We all know how diverse Jewish opinion can be, and this diversity is one of our strengths. My intention here is to implore all of us to show a little sensitivity and balance before making loud and sweeping condemnations of our fellow Jews. Ultimately, if we can succeed in being sensitive toward each other, we can find our commonalities on our own, rather than have them forced on us by other peoples with evil agendas. This was our fate for 2,000 years before the creation of the state of Israel. It must not be allowed to remain our fate moving forward. The writer is chairman of Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.