Monday, July 30, 2012


At the beginning of last week, I had a phone call from an old friend, Zvi Ofer, who lives in Kiryat Arba, right outside Hevron. Zvi and Celia's second son Uri would be making a brit on Thursday.

Uri and his family live in the Admot Yishai neighborhood of Hevron, quite near the cemetery. They live in the upper floor of a building called Beit Zechariya, which had been purchased by the Jewish Community of Hevron seven years ago, but that purchase has fallen under threat of  cancellation by the Supreme Court. (See more about that here.) The brit was to be in another apartment in the building, with the festive meal in the small park adjacent to the building.

Admot Yishai is named for the father of King David. He and his grandmother - the Biblical Ruth - are buried there.

There is something special about a brit during the nine days leading up to Tish'a beAv, the fast which commemorates the destruction of both Holy Temples in Jerusalem, as well as other national tragedies. During the nine days we do not eat meat or drink wine, have weddings or make music, go to the beach - and according to some customs we don't shave or do laundry. A brit overrides some of that - the meat and the wine and the music - and generally mitigates the sense of bad omen usually ascribed to the period.

A personal good omen too - a few weeks ago, when I was planning my coming blog posts, I set this week's subject as Hevron. It seemed to fit the theme of mourning and coming redemption associated with Tish'a beAv. And besides, the eighteenth of Av is the eighty-third anniversary of the massacre. I do not feel competent to retell this story, but here it is in one sentence.

The local Arabs slaughtered their Jewish neighbors and the British overlords took that as an excuse to snuff out a vibrant Jewish community, hundreds of years old.

You can - and really should - read more about that in dozens of sources including here and here and here.

(It also fits into the current discussion about the refusal of most of the world to acknowledge the murder of the eleven Jewish athletes at the Munich Olympics.)

Hevron remained Judenrein for the remaining nineteen years of British rule and throughout the nineteen years of Jordanian occupation. When the Jews returned, many of the murderers were still there and they feared vengeance.

Who was the first Jew to return to Hebron in 1967? Who was the first Jew to enter the Cave of the Patriarchs in over 700 years? Before 1948, Muslims refused to permit Jews into the Cave of the Patriarchs, they were only allowed to pray outside on the steps to the building, the infamous "7th step"- and no further. Arab guards stationed there would beat anyone attempting to get any closer to the entrance. The first Jew in Hebron and in the Cave of the Patriarchs was the then Chief Rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces, Rabbi Shlomo Goren z"l.
Rabbi Goren was with Israeli forces as the IDF conquered the Western Wall in Jerusalem. As a general, Rabbi Goren knew that the army's next mission was Hebron. He wanted to be among the first Israeli's in the ancient City of the Patriarchs, so he joined the soldiers stationed at the recently captured Etzion Block (sic), on their way to Hebron. On the 28th of Iyar, at night, he asked to be woken-up when the soldiers began their march to Hebron the following day.
The next morning he woke-up, only to find himself alone with his driver. Realizing that he had been "left behind," he ordered his driver to begin the 20-minute journey to Hebron; he expected to meet the rest of the army, already on their way.
Rabbi Goren thought it was strange that he hadn?t met any other Israeli soldiers on the road as he reached Hebron. He thought that by now the army would be in Hebron. Driving into Hebron, Rabbi Goren was greeted by the sight of white sheets, hung from rooftops and windows, throughout the city. He was astounded, but understood. Knowing that their relatives had killed 67 Jews and wounded many more during the rioting of 1929, the Arabs of Hebron were terrified that the Jews would take revenge. So, they didn't fire a shot, instead they hung white sheets from windows and rooftops to surrender.
Rabbi Goren quickly made his way to the Cave of the Patriarchs. Finding the huge green doors bolted, he fired his Uzi submachine gun at the lock - you can still see the bullet holes in the door till this day. Finally, after getting into Cave of the Patriarchs, he blew the Shofar - ram's horn, as he had done 24 hours earlier at the Western Wall, as a sign of liberation.
Only afterwards, did Rabbi Goren discover that when he left the base at the Etzion Block, the rest of the army was on the other side of the hill, making plans for the attack on Hebron. They did not know that the Arabs would surrender. In other words, Rabbi Goren, a lone Israeli soldier, single-handedly conquered a city of almost 40,000 Arabs. Jews had returned to Hebron and to the Ma'arat HaMachpela - Cave of Machpela or Cave of the Patriarchs, the second holiest site in Judaism!  

The Cave of the Patriarchs
I have always had an affection for Hevron, preferring the Cave of the Patriarchs to the Kotel in Jerusalem. I have spent parts of Tish'a beAv there at least half a dozen times and Yom Kippur twice. My wife and I went there for a day tour one year on our anniversary. And I have taken any number of visitors from abroad on what I call Ultimate Genealogy.

The "Tombs of Yitzhak and Rivka" are
 off-limits to Jews except ten days a year.
 Before the bypass road was completed sixteen years ago, I would drive right through Hevron on my way to and from work a few times a month. Then for more than a dozen years, I drove the bypass road most every day, right around the edge of the city.

At some point I decided I had to make some contribution and when JewishGen set up its Online Burial Registry  (JOWBR), I realized how to do it.

The old Rabbinic "Reishit Hochma" section, refurbished
Thus was born my Hevron Cemetery Project, showing the precise layout of the cemetery, with grave photos and translations. My latest update had been about six weeks ago, but when Zvi called, I realized I could take the opportunity for an additional update.

They are not accepting plot purchases, but at 120 that's where I would like to be.

The brit was called for five o'clock and got underway about five-thirty. There were a few dozens of men and similar numbers of women and children. The baby was named Shai. Afterwards we adjourned to the neighboring parklet, where there were tables set up for a catered meat meal.

It was a pleasant hilltop day, away from the heat that has been oppressing us for the last few weeks. The view down the hill was the city itself - the Arab homes and the much smaller Jewish neighborhoods. Less than a hundred yards away was an Arab house, flying the flag of the Palestinian Authority. Soldiers lounged around. Just another day in another Jewish neighborhood. And another baby boy joins the ranks of the Jewish people in the place where it all began.


  1. Today, the word "ultimate" has been replaced with "extreme." Thus, my kids would call this Extreme Genealogy.

    What's nice about blogging is that you can talk about having a fleishig meal during the Nine Days. You could never kvell over that on Jewishgen ;-)

    1. Maybe, but they do not mean the same thing. Certainly not in this context.

      There are many things good about blogging. Though it joins a long-time list of "talents I can't use to make a living."

      I don't kvell on JewishGen. I'm afraid of the moderators.