This past week, shuls across the world read parshat Chayei Sara which includes the episode of Avraham's purchase of Maarat Hamachpelah, the cave of the patriarchs, found in the city of Hebron.
From the time of the Bible there was always a Jewish community in Hebron until the Jews were massacred there and then expelled in 1929. Thankfully, in 1967 Israel liberated Hebron and soon after Jews were able to return once again to this historical and religiously significant city. Today Jews are able to visit Hebron and pray in the spot that according to unbroken Jewish (as well as Muslim) tradition is the same spot mentioned in the Bible.
Today I spoke with my friend Yisrael who was born, raised, and currently lives in Hebron. For me it has always been an honor to know him and his family. It is because of them and the other brave families who choose to live in Hebron that the rest of the Jewish world has access to maarat hamachpelah today. The Arabs in the area have been extremely hostile to the Jewish community there, but the strong and heroic Jewish community refuses to be intimidated and they continue to assert the right of all Jews in Israel to live in Hebron and visit the Jewish holy site.
Unfortunately not everyone sees Yisrael and his family as heroes. There are many Jews who believe that the Jewish presence in Hebron is an obstacle to peace with the Arabs. They view the Jewish community in Hebron as religious extremists and fanatics.
Yisrael is a veteran of the IDF and periodically has served as a guard on American tours to Israel. A few months ago he served as a guard on a tour of Reform and Conservative Rabbis from all over the United States. The purpose of the tour was to take Rabbis to view and meet with Palestinian Arabs living on the West Bank. For a week Yisrael listened to left wing Israeli tour guides speak about the plight of the Arabs in the occupied territories, and about the crimes committed by the Israeli "settlers."
As hard as it was for him, Yisrael kept quiet and concentrated on the job he was hired for, to protect the Rabbis from the Arabs. During the long bus rides, one of the younger Rabbis in his 30s sat with Yisrael and they became friends.
Yisrael told him that he was from Hebron. The Rabbi said that he had been to Israel over a dozen times, and many times to visit Arab villages on the West Bank, but he had never been to Hebron. Amazing. A Rabbi. He had been to Israel many times. But he had never once visited the site that is most prominently mentioned in the Torah!
Yisrael told him that there is a whole other perspective than the one presented on the tour and if the Rabbi would only spend a Shabbat in Hebron with Yisrael it would open his eyes to a whole new world. The Rabbi said that he was staying a few extra days after the tour and would be delighted if he could take Yisrael up on his Shabbat invitation.
So Yisrael and the Rabbi spent Shabbat together in Hebron. They did not discuss politics even one time over Shabbat. Yisrael brought the Rabbi to pray for his first time at the cave of the patriarchs. He introduced the Rabbi to his neighbors and friends who live in Hebron. And the Rabbi for the first time learned about the history of the Jews in Hebron, including the massacre and expulsion of 1929.
There was a time in Jewish history when "The Other Side of the Conflict" meant meeting Arabs and hearing their story. It seems today that to American Jews the Arab narrative is ubiquitous while the Jewish narrative - even the Biblical narrative - has become obscured to the point that even Rabbis are grossly ignorant.
After years of hearing the Arab side of the conflict, this young Rabbi was for the first time exposed to his own heritage and roots in Israel. Undoubtedly he returned to the states with a heightened sensitivity to the rights of Jews to live and visit Hebron and the other Jewish sites in Judea and Samaria. Yisrael was inspired and since then has started working as a tour guide, trying to connect American Jews with Jewish places like Hebron.
Perhaps the pendulum has swung so far to the left that it may actually swing back to normalcy. Maybe Jewish groups that have concentrated heavily on the Arab side may open up to hearing the Jewish side of the story. Maybe this signifies a return back to the days when Jews used to advocate for the rights of the Jewish people to live and be free in the land of Israel.