When I invite people to  Hebron for Shabbat, I sometimes hear the response, “I’ve been — I was for  Shabbat Chaye Sarah.” But in fact, Shabbat Chaye Sarah in Hebron isn’t a normal  Shabbat. It’s an experience.

Yesterday, according to  conservative estimates, over 20,000 people visited this holy city.

Here in our offices,  this event began weeks ago; planning for the multitudes. Many man hours, and  much money is invested to ensure that the day will be a success. And as much as  we want, and need rain, we sort of hope that this day will remain  dry.

My Chaye Sarah began on  Friday, wandering around, hoping to get some good photos. Being that the main  events are on Shabbat, I have no way to photograph the occasion. (That’s really  my only regret about this wonderful day.)

Toward early  mid-afternoon the tents start popping up on the lawn in the park across from  Machpela. Men, women, kids of all ages, can be found camping out. I spoke to  people who’d come from Netanya and Akko to sleep in a tent on the ground because ‘this is the city of the Patriarchs. It’s ours.’

On Friday night, walking back  from amazing evening prayers at Machpela, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Families  pitched tents on the road, between parked cars and opened up small tables from  which to enjoy their Shabbat meal. Young children, swathed in winter jackets,  sat around such tables, eating, singing and enjoying the  festivity.

Evening prayers are  unbelievable. Various minions — prayer services — spring up on the lawn outside,  in the courtyard, and inside the building. Thousands upon thousands descend on  Herod’s 2,000 year old structure to offer Shabbat prayers. These worship  services include song and dance, true joy. More than one group includes dozens  of people who have flown into Israel from the United States and Europe, for 48  hours, to participate in this massive celebration. It is  indescribable.

During meals, huge tents  were filled to capacity. People hosted, some more, some less. In my apartment,  aside from filling our bedrooms (in one, three older married women slept  together), our living room floor contained four guys and the couch bedded my  friend Moshe Goldshmid, whose family has been coming to us for about 14 years  for this Shabbat. Moshe’s grandfather, Rabbi Moshe Goldshmid, was murdered in  Hebron during the 1929 riots.  For meals, another visiting family joined  us.

Others hosted literally  dozens, eating in shifts (and maybe sleeping in shifts too).

After evening meals many  participated in political panel discussions, including numerous Israeli MKs,  ministers and Rabbis. Visitors toured all day and all night. Saturday afternoon  my friend Noam Arnon led a huge tour in the Casba. Simcha Hochbaum guided a huge  group throughout the Jewish neighborhoods. I had two tours of the Tel Rumeida  neighborhood, showing the uninitiated the wonders of ancient-new Hebron.

I must also mention:  Friday afternoon we dedicated a memorial room to our dear friend, Herb Zweibon,  founder and director of AFSI, Americans for a Safe Israel. Herb was a genuine  friend of Israel, and especially of Hebron’s Jewish community. AFSI’s executive  director, Helen Freedman led a group of about 25 friends from the US for a  week-long visit in Israel, and to Hebron for this Shabbat. We all gathered at  the new “Zweibon Hall,” at the entrance to the ‘Hezkiah neighborhood,” here in  Hebron to dedicate this room in Herb’s memory.

Late Saturday afternoon  I participated in the ‘3rd meal’ with our friends attending via  Hebron’s US branch, the Hebron Fund. The fund’s new director, Rabbi Dan  Rosenstein, asked me to speak with the group for a few minutes. I asked them to  take their “Hebron Shabbat High’ back home, to convey it to others, and to be  ambassadors for Hebron’s Jewish community, getting the word out, letting other  know what Hebron is really all about. They are all, as much as we are, ‘keepers  of the keys,’ insuring Hebron’s Jewish future forever.

By the time Shabbat  ended, everyone was exhausted, but the day hadn’t yet concluded. I sat with my  AFSI friend in our Beit Hadassah apartment, answering questions and discussing  various issues common to all of us for about an hour. Only later did I have the  luxury to collapse.

Actually there was  another important event Saturday night. In Kiryat Arba, a group of people met  with Education Minister Gideon Saar, expressing gratitude for the time and  effort he has put in to assist the communities in Hebron and Kiryat Arba. I  wanted to attend but my legs rebelled.

How can I best sum up  this day? Actually I’d prefer to quote a friend of mine, Barak Arusi, the police  officer in charge of the Hebron station. Barak began his position here a number  of months ago, and this was his first Shabbat Chaye Sarah in Hebron. Speaking to  him, he told me, “As far as I’m concerned every Shabbat should be like this in  Hebron. It’s a lot of work, but for me, it was a lot of fun, a real happening.”

Coming from a police  officer, who worked around the clock this past Shabbat, well, I couldn’t express  it better. ‘A lot of fun, and a real happening.’

Twenty thousand isn’t  bad. In fact, it’s pretty good. Considering that the forecast was for rain.  These 20,000, in my eyes, represent tens and hundreds of thousands who couldn’t  celebrate here with us in Hebron, but did so, at their homes and in their  synagogues, around the world.

I think Abraham and  Sarah would be proud.


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