Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Note: Because I visited on Shabbat, I was unable to take photographs. most are lifted from the web.

"I remember when they transferred control," Yitzchak tells waving at the motorized gate, "back in 1997. Arabs started coming out of Hebron and gathering outside the gate. Tens, later hundreds, standing outside the gate, weeping, begging to be let in. They were terrified of living under an terrorist government. They offered us anything, they offered to convert to Judaism. We had to send them away."

Since then, walking the mile or so from Kiryat Arba to Hebron by foot has been too dangerous, most trips being made by car. But not today. The army has deployed on major thoroughfares and street corners, making the trip safe for the thousands of visitors, and giving the city a much lighter feeling, at least for the Jews. Their uniforms may erase the distinction between secular and religious, political and apathetic, right and left, but it's written on their faces. Some tip their helmets and wish a "Shabbat Shalom" to every passing visitor, offering directions and advice. A few wear bitter expressions, a mixture of disgust at being here and incomprehension as to what would drive tens of thousands of people to come to a site like this. Most just focus on their jobs, keeping alert, watching the alleyways and rooftops, looking forward to getting home. The road we are walking on was cut straight through the rubble in the ruins of the old Jewish quarter, ducking under archways and slipping between jagged corners.
Yitzchak has left us to return to his wife and four children, so Sasha and I continue alone, through the ruins of the Jewish quarter, destroyed in the anti-Jewish pogrom of 1929.
"Here," Sasha says, pulling me over to what used to be a doorway, "you can still see the outline of a mezuzzah (Jewish doorpost scroll.)"
The rubble looks like something out of a post-World War II movie. Walls crumbling away, sprouting shrubbery. Some homes have been broken in half, revealing a diorama-like perspective inside.
"They left this area in ruins since 1929. The Arabs are afraid to move in here, afraid of the ghosts."
But it hasn't stopped them from plastering the area with the posters of suicide bombers and Hamas politicians.

Top two photos: the old Jewish Quarter, Pre-1929
Bottom Three: Ruins of the Jewish Quarter, Present

Turning the corner from the landscape of death, we are confronted with the Ma'arat Hamachpelah, the burial place of the biblical Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaaak and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah, one of Judaism's holiest sites.

Maarat Hamachpelah, The Cave of the Couples
The term Machpelah is rooted in the Hebrew letters "Caf-Pay-Lamed", which means "Pair", in that four pairs of our anscestors are buried here, and also becuase there is an aboveground section where worshippers visit and a below-ground chamber where the holy ones area actually buried. I would be willing to bet that the letters "Caf-Pay-Lamed" could also be the distant, ancient root of the English word "couple." Likewise, the area is known as a Chibur, a connection point between this world and the next, which is why the city is called "Chevron" in Hebrew.

The building exhibits the column style of architecture which once typified Jerusalem over 2,000 years ago, now buried under rubble.

The building is one of several projects built by the Roman Proconsul Herod the Builder in the holy land. The massive stones reveal the same groove around their edges as the stones at the Kotel (western wall.)
Note the grooved edges of the massive stones.
Today is one of the few days of the year when the entire cave is open to Jews, who usually do not have the opportunity to visit our forefather Yitzchak (Isaac) because his tomb is located on the Muslim side.

Kever Yitzchak, the Tomb of Isaak

After Mincha, Sasha and I head towards the Avraham Avinu (Abraham our Father) neighborhood, the section of the Jewish quarter which was rebuilt in the 1980's. We split up, he heads off to meet an artist who lives here, and I find the english tour. I know all the sights, but it's still exciting to see it all again.

There's the Avraham Avinu synagogue, demolished by the conquering Jordanian Legion in 1948 and used as an a garbage dump and animal pen until being rebuilt when Jews moved back into this area.

There's Beit Hadassah, a hospital built by Jewish philanthropists which served Arabs and Jews until 1929, now reclaimed.

Beit Hadassah

There's the ancient Jewish cemetary.

And there's Tel Rumeidah, where history runs deep underfoot. Underneath stand the ruins of the ancient biblical city of Hebron, where Reut and Yishai (Ruth and Jessee) are buried, where King David was crowned and ruled for ten years, Judaism's second holiest city.

Excavations under Tel Rumeidah

Tel Rumeida has the same semi-circle of Jewish trailers, but there's something new here; a four story building. When I was last here, four years ago, the building was still in the planning stages, with lawyers and activists doing everything in their power to prevent Jews from living here. But today, here it stands.

The new building in Tel Rumeidah

And so, progress is slow and painful, every brick bought with suffering, and even today a cloud hangs over the entire Jewish Quarter, it being on the short list of Jewish settlements to be demolished. But it's important to remember that despite the political and physical strife surrounding this place, this is still the same holy city it's always been. And it's all a part of the same land. The mountain range which runs through the hills of the Negev desert to the south, also runs through Hebron, as it does through Jerusalem, Shechem, Elon Moreh, and clear up through the Gallilee. To understand the connection to this place, one must take a step back and see it not through the lense of politics of war, but through history, memory, and dreams for the future.

New building in Kiryat Arba

Sasha and Me

My Host Yitzchak and Me

Getting out was just as much of a madhouse as getting in.

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