The Human Spirit: Je suis Hebron

Surely even those who fault families like the Ariels for living in the biblical hills of Hebron can see where the evil lies in this story.

Mourners gather at the home of the Ariel family, whose daughter Hallel Yaffa (inset) was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist on June 30 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Mourners gather at the home of the Ariel family, whose daughter Hallel Yaffa (inset) was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist on June 30
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The night before her death, Hallel Yaffa Ariel danced at my granddaughters’ elementary school in Jerusalem.
Not that Halleli, as she is lovingly called by her parents, went to school in Jerusalem. Harikud, the Center for Dance in Kiryat Arba/Hebron, directed by Esther Marom, is so good that it exports teachers to larger cities, even those like Jerusalem with music academies and other vaunted dance programs. To upgrade the final-year performances of the elementary-school dancers, the local dance troupe comes for the end-of-the-year gala. The older girls serve as role models, showing just how good you can be if you practice.
They delight the mothers and grandmothers who come to applaud their small offspring and get to see the adept and intriguing performance of the Hebron dancers.
From Kiryat Arba/Hebron? Surely war dances with scenes of uprooting olive trees? Not at all. Edgy, spare, emotional. Deliberate lifts and drops of the arms. Tilts of the head. Spare with emotional intensity, exploring the darks and lights, the tug between earthiness and spirituality.
Assertive and modest. Accomplished and empowering.
The morning after the performance Hallel slept in. Who of us doesn’t remember the deep sleep with the summer vacation still ahead? She had promised to help her dad, a vintner, later in the morning.
Her parents were out driving Hallel’s younger sisters to their day’s activities.
Muhammad Nasser Tarayrah, 17, woke up early in the neighboring town of Bani Naim. Larger than Kiryat Arba/ Jewish Hebron, Bani Naim has 20,000 residents, most of whom moved there under the British Mandate. It’s a commercial trading center, and the biblical Lot is supposedly buried there. The teens have cellphones and computers.
The municipality has a Facebook page.
There’s no electrified security fence around Bani Naim. Muhammad scales the one protecting Kiryat Arba and sets off the alarm. The closest home is part of a small winery complex. Muhammad enters. He locks himself in.
The only sound is the gentle breathing of a 13-year-old. What is Hallel dreaming of? For her bat-mitzva year, every month she met with a woman who her mother thought had significant impact on the world, to broaden her horizons. Some say she wants to be a dancer, others a doctor, still others a zoologist when she grows up.
Hallel will never grow up. That’s because her dreams conflict with Muhammad’s.
His dream, from his Facebook page, “It concerns a hospital + a bed and a doctor saying we have lost the patient.”
His posts express his admiration for his friend and cousin Yousef who was shot to death when he tried but failed to run over soldiers with his car.
He follows the sound of the breathing, finds Hallel Yaffa alone and asleep.
He plunges his knife into her over and over.
The security brigade, including her father, Amichai, arrives minutes later.
Muhammad struggles with the men, but they overcome him. Muhammad is killed, the bloody knife in his hand. He will be declared a hallowed martyr like his cousin.
Hallel is rushed to the hospital. The doctors shake their heads. They have lost their patient.
Surely even those who fault families like the Ariels for living in the biblical hills of Hebron can see where the evil lies in this story. Even those who easily wave away the radical Islamic terrorism we Israelis face for staking our Jewish claim to this land must feel something for the petite teenager, her brown hair on the pillow, waking to the horror of the first knife wound.
Je suis Hebron.
Most of us Jews are indeed from Hebron.
After the defeat of Shimon Bar Kochba in 135, we were forced to leave, sold into slavery at Hebron’s slave market, exported by the Romans to serve and humor Europeans.
Writes Heinrich Graetz in History of the Jews, “From among the youths above 17 years of age, the tallest and handsomest were selected for the Roman triumphs, while others were sent to labor in the mines for the rest of their lives, or were relegated to the Roman provinces to take their part in the fights of the arena.
Youths under the age of 16 and most of the female captives were sold into slavery at an incredibly low price, for the market was glutted. How many scenes of horror must have been witnessed and enacted by those unfortunate ones.”
There was a source of hope: the support of the Jewish community in the Diaspora. “They had, it is true, one ray of comfort left: Possibly they might be carried to some Roman town where a Judean community existed; their own people would assuredly give any sum to purchase their freedom and would then treat them with brotherly sympathy.”
Today we, too, call out to our brethren.
But we have an additional source.
In 1893 Graetz wrote: “Under the ruins of Jerusalem and her Temple lay buried the last remnant of Judean independence.”
We maintained our dream of coming back. We have unearthed our independence and built a state to be proud of.
It’s not the reason for terrorism.
The next time you may be tempted to wave away the terrorism we face as a natural by-product of our existence, or to condemn big bad Israelis wherever we may live, think of Halleli.
Not all dreams are equal.
Je suis Hebron.
The author is a Jerusalem writer who focuses on the wondrous stories of modern Israel. She serves as the Israel director of public relations for Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. The views in her columns are her own.