Chabad in Hebron

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Lazer Gurkow recently published an article on Chabad.org about the Lubavitch presence in Hebron. Gurkow notes the apparent irony of Chabad in Hebron.

Chabad usually focuses on outreach to non-observant Jews; yet the Jews in Hebron are “highly motivated in their ideology and deeply committed to their Judaism.” Who, then, does the Hebron Chabad House and its leader Rabbi Danny Cohen serve?

Rabbi Cohen gave me all the answer I needed in two simple words. The soldiers.

Hebron is guarded by hundreds of soldiers that rotate through the city on four month tours of duty. The Hebron Jewish community enjoys excellent relations with the soldiers. They provide food and drink, friendship and hospitality. (MORE)

I have often expressed my admiration for the work that Chabad does, but this is a little hard to swallow. The role of the Israeli army in Hebron is notably controversial. Hebron has 120,000 Palestinians and only 600 Jewish settlers; yet thousands of soldiers are needed there to keep the peace.

A few years ago, Breaking the Silence, an organization made up of soldiers who served in Hebron was formed to discuss the military abuses there, as well as the predicament of devoting so many military resources to a small settlement of — generally speaking — radicalized Jews.

One soldier involved in Breaking the Silence remarked: “What I understood finally, after six months, was that we were guarding the Palestinians from the Jews; we weren’t there to guard and protect the Jews. The Jews are the ones who threaten the Palestinians more in this area.”

Whether this is true all the time is irrelevant. It still sheds a dark light on Lazer Gurkow’s assertion that Chabad is in Hebron to serve the soldiers — when many of these soldiers are deeply ambivalent about being there to begin with.

Posted on January 14, 2008

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5 thoughts on “Chabad in Hebron

  1. melo

    Daniel,

    I fully agree with your thoughts on Hebron, and on Chabad, but I am not sure I understand how one leads to the other when it comes to Chabad in Hebron. If these soldiers are ambivalent about being there–not to mention, likely, scared, maybe angry–aren’t they precisely the type of people in need of spiritual and material nourishment, of the type chabad offers?

  2. Lazer Gurkow

    Daniel is concerned with why the soldiers are in Chevron. Chabad’s efforts to reach out to the soldiers does not touch on that question. The fact is, forbetter or for worse, the soldiers are in Chevron today and while they are there Chabad is there to help them.

    From my personal encounters (chance encounters, not planned or staged by Rabbi Cohen) the soldiers are deeply grateful and appreciate Chabad’s efforts.

    A discussion on why Jews belong in Chevron is important. We should have that discussion. However, I don’t agree that opinion on this issue, pro pr con, need cast a dark shadow on Chabad’s incredible work in Chevron.

    As to the Jewish presence in Chevron, something Chabad endorses and is very involved with as my article describes, I believe we need to look at our own needs and our own religious beliefs.

    There are times to bend over backward to help others feel comfortable. There are times to stand up straight when others attempt to deny us what is in truth ours.

    Chevron is the cradle of our people. It is where the Jewish saga begins. Our grandparents are buried there. We have not only a right, but an obligation, to be present and to visit. We cannot voluntarily tell our grandparents that we surrender their graves because Palestinians take offense at our presence there.

    If Palestinians were peace seeking they too would learn to tolerate a Jewish presence in Chevron. The fact is that Judaism and Chevron are synonymous with one another. It is the second holiest city in the country.

    For once we need to decide. Are we the children of Avraham yitzchak and Yaakov or the victims of world pressure. There was a time when we had no choice and had to surrender what is ours by right. Today we have the ability to stand up and claim what is ours without taking away the residence of the Palestinians. We have that power, we just don’t have the courage.

    Note: Not a single Palestinian lost his or home to Jews in Chevron. Every Jewish home in Chevron was purchased Voluntarily from willing Palestinians. This includes houses that were stolen from Jews by Arabs after the 1929 riots.

    Palestinians did not purchase Jewish homes when they massacred the Jewish community and expelled its remnants in 1929. They took them outright. For example, there are many properties purchased and owned by Chabad over the years that are today inhabited by Palestinians on the other side of the divide. Is this right? Did the Palestinians purchase these properties or did they steal them outright?

    If we surrender our right to Chevron we are in effect saying that Palestinians are right in taking Jewish lives and plundering Jewish property. We are telling the world that when we are massacred we are not owed a debt. On the contrary we owe them.

    Beyond the value of Chevron to Jews, lies the value of Jewish life. Is Jewish life that cheap?

    Lazer Gurkow

  3. Mark Berch

    Um, “It still sheds a dark light on….”?? Isn’t light the, well, opposite of dark?
    Mark Berch

  4. Daniel Septimus Post author

    First off, Lazer, I appreciate your thoughtful response. Thank you. After giving it some thought, here’s what I was responding to:

    In your article, you write: “Rabbi Cohen works diligently to reclaim Chabad properties in Hebron. A library, recently endowed by Chabad of Hebron and established on the ground floor of Romano House, showcases a list of Chabad’s many properties across the city.”

    i.e. Rabbi Cohen’s presence in Hebron is not limited to the services he provides to soldiers. And so, first and foremost, the soldiers are there to protect him. And so, to suggest that he is in Hebron to provide a service to the soldiers struck me as a little disingenuous.

    I am sensitive to the historic importance of Hebron. Ideally, I would love for Jews and Arabs to be able to both live there in peace. But I have also been to Hebron — in both Jewish and Palestinian neighborhoods — and never have I felt communal guilt like I did there.

    There’s not much to say about the netting that was put up above the Arab marketplace to catch the garbage thrown by the Jews.

    Now, I certainly don’t mean to indict the entire Hebron Jewish community — or Rabbi Cohen. But I can understand those Israeli soldiers who believe it is deeply problematic to be there now.

    The soldiers who are there are serving the Jews despite the controversial nature of this service. Which is why Lazer’s focus on the way Chabad serves the soldiers seemed a little backwards to me.

  5. Elchonon

    Hi Daniel,
    Hopefully this reply reaches you, I see I am late in this discussion, but as a resident of Chevron for 1 year and a friend of Dany Cohen as well as visitor here for many years, I thought i’d shed some light.

    I am deeply disturbed by your last line “The soldiers who are there are serving the Jews despite the controversial nature of this service.”

    It appears to me, that the soldiers are here are in fact Jewish them selfs…

    Dany Cohen has been in Chevron for 8 years, to say the army is guarding him, would be ignoring the first 32 years that Chevron was under Israel control.

    The army is not obligated to do many of the activity’s it does. It does many things out of appreciation for dany, out of genuine caring.

    Such as the Menorah lite in the abu sneneh hills.. dany sends a request to the army.. and they agree.

    I have ate Friday night at Dany Cohen about 3 out of 4 weeks a month in the past year.. His acitivity’s are geared to the soldiers!!!!

    Dany devotes his heart and soul to them! Whether its 45 soldiers friday night, purim, chanuka, sukot, rosh hashana.. Dany is there!! and in all those times I am there too and trust me Dany is there for THEM not vice versa.

    Regarding reclaiming chabad property. Its very simple for you to call for mutual neighborly
    relations, bring up the netting above the cassaba (which by the way was put there so the arabs dont throw rocks at us.. but yes garbage has found its way down there)

    I want you to know, that the grave site of the holy rebbetzin menucha rachel has been desecrated and violated more times than me and dany can remember!

    It is tragic that the soldiers must guard there!! Tragic that Dany wont let me learn there alone out of serious concern for my saftey.. Tragic that the tomb of the Alter rebbe’s grand daughter is vandalized, urinated, spray painted, cracked and in every way possible desecrated.

    Its tragic that on erev sukot, arabs broke into the kolel, stole mezuzot, over turned the holy books and even attempted to steal the torah which thank g-d was not there.

    Yes this is tragic! And yes 2 soldiers guard the site, which is essentially not guarding the site all the way as it is a military guard post to monitor PA Hebron.

    And the guard tower was placed there after arabs put a trailer on what was the jewish cemetery but is not a empty field because the arabs stole the tombstones.

    Dany has not at any point attacked arabs or taken part in violent activity. It is regretful to those soldiers that do not wish to serve in Chevron, but individual soldiers to not set Domestic policy based on personal feelings or convictions.

    To cap, Hebron has always been very dear to jews and judaism as the 2nd holiest city after jerusalem.

    The sad fact that there may be 600 settlers to 200,000 arabs is merely due to the fact that A) we cannot build and B) a arab selling his property to a jew gets killed.

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