When I invite people toÂ Hebron for Shabbat, I sometimes hear the response, “I’ve been — I was forÂ Shabbat Chaye Sarah.” But in fact, Shabbat Chaye Sarah in Hebron isn’t a normalÂ Shabbat. It’s an experience.
Yesterday, according toÂ conservative estimates, over 20,000 people visited this holy city.
Here in our offices,Â this event began weeks ago; planning for the multitudes. Many man hours, andÂ much money is invested to ensure that the day will be a success. And as much asÂ we want, and need rain, we sort of hope that this day will remainÂ dry.
My Chaye Sarah began onÂ Friday, wandering around, hoping to get some good photos. Being that the mainÂ events are on Shabbat, I have no way to photograph the occasion. (That’s reallyÂ my only regret about this wonderful day.)
Toward earlyÂ mid-afternoon the tents start popping up on the lawn in the park across fromÂ Machpela. Men, women, kids of all ages, can be found camping out. I spoke toÂ 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 backÂ from amazing evening prayers at Machpela, I couldn’t believe my eyes. FamiliesÂ pitched tents on the road, between parked cars and opened up small tables fromÂ which to enjoy their Shabbat meal. Young children, swathed in winter jackets,Â sat around such tables, eating, singing and enjoying theÂ festivity.
Evening prayers areÂ unbelievable. Various minions — prayer services — spring up on the lawn outside,Â in the courtyard, and inside the building. Thousands upon thousands descend onÂ Herod’s 2,000 year old structure to offer Shabbat prayers. These worshipÂ services include song and dance, true joy. More than one group includes dozensÂ of people who have flown into Israel from the United States and Europe, for 48Â hours, to participate in this massive celebration. It isÂ indescribable.
During meals, huge tentsÂ were filled to capacity. People hosted, some more, some less. In my apartment,Â aside from filling our bedrooms (in one, three older married women sleptÂ together), our living room floor contained four guys and the couch bedded myÂ friend Moshe Goldshmid, whose family has been coming to us for about 14 yearsÂ for this Shabbat. Moshe’s grandfather, Rabbi Moshe Goldshmid, was murdered inÂ Hebron during the 1929 riots.Â For meals, another visiting family joinedÂ us.
Others hosted literallyÂ dozens, eating in shifts (and maybe sleeping in shifts too).
After evening meals manyÂ participated in political panel discussions, including numerous Israeli MKs,Â ministers and Rabbis. Visitors toured all day and all night. Saturday afternoonÂ my friend Noam Arnon led a huge tour in the Casba. Simcha Hochbaum guided a hugeÂ group throughout the Jewish neighborhoods. I had two tours of the Tel RumeidaÂ neighborhood, showing the uninitiated the wonders of ancient-new Hebron.
I must also mention:Â Friday afternoon we dedicated a memorial room to our dear friend, Herb Zweibon,Â founder and director of AFSI, Americans for a Safe Israel. Herb was a genuineÂ friend of Israel, and especially of Hebron’s Jewish community. AFSI’s executiveÂ director, Helen Freedman led a group of about 25 friends from the US for aÂ week-long visit in Israel, and to Hebron for this Shabbat. We all gathered atÂ the new “Zweibon Hall,” at the entrance to the ‘Hezkiah neighborhood,” here inÂ Hebron to dedicate this room in Herb’s memory.
Late Saturday afternoonÂ I participated in the ‘3rd meal’ with our friends attending viaÂ Hebron’s US branch, the Hebron Fund. The fund’s new director, Rabbi DanÂ Rosenstein, asked me to speak with the group for a few minutes. I asked them toÂ take their “Hebron Shabbat High’ back home, to convey it to others, and to beÂ ambassadors for Hebron’s Jewish community, getting the word out, letting otherÂ know what Hebron is really all about. They are all, as much as we are, ‘keepersÂ of the keys,’ insuring Hebron’s Jewish future forever.
By the time ShabbatÂ ended, everyone was exhausted, but the day hadn’t yet concluded. I sat with myÂ AFSI friend in our Beit Hadassah apartment, answering questions and discussingÂ various issues common to all of us for about an hour. Only later did I have theÂ luxury to collapse.
Actually there wasÂ another important event Saturday night. In Kiryat Arba, a group of people metÂ with Education Minister Gideon Saar, expressing gratitude for the time andÂ effort he has put in to assist the communities in Hebron and Kiryat Arba. IÂ wanted to attend but my legs rebelled.
How can I best sum upÂ this day? Actually I’d prefer to quote a friend of mine, Barak Arusi, the policeÂ officer in charge of the Hebron station. Barak began his position here a numberÂ of months ago, and this was his first Shabbat Chaye Sarah in Hebron. Speaking toÂ him, he told me, “As far as I’m concerned every Shabbat should be like this inÂ Hebron. It’s a lot of work, but for me, it was a lot of fun, a real happening.”
Coming from a policeÂ officer, who worked around the clock this past Shabbat, well, I couldn’t expressÂ it better. ‘A lot of fun, and a real happening.’
Twenty thousand isn’tÂ bad. In fact, it’s pretty good. Considering that the forecast was for rain.Â These 20,000, in my eyes, represent tens and hundreds of thousands who couldn’tÂ celebrate here with us in Hebron, but did so, at their homes and in theirÂ synagogues, around the world.
I think Abraham andÂ Sarah would be proud.