PURIM 1994

My name is Chaim Simons and I live in building 306 in Kiryat Arba, the same building as Dr. Baruch Goldstein lived in. Part of my spare time is occupied in acting as honorary Rabbi of the Chasdei Avot Synagogue in Kiryat Arba.

Purim morning - Friday 25 February 1994. That morning I prayed and read the Megillah at the Chasdei Avot Synagogue, which then occupied a room in the Community Centre (“Matnas”). Baruch Goldstein was a regular worshipper at this Synagogue and he had been present at the previous evening’s service.

As I was coming out of the Synagogue after the morning service, Lily Shenker, a member of the Matnas staff, came out of the office and said that a settler had gone into the Cave of Machpelah and killed a large number of Arabs.

Almost as soon as I arrived home, the telephone rang. It was from some relatives in England who had heard about the killings on the radio and asked us for details. At that moment, they knew more about it than my family in Kiryat Arba!

During the subsequent hour or so, all sorts of rumours were circulating, including that Baruch Goldstein had been killed or had committed suicide. Only later that day and in the subsequent days did the facts become clearer.

Baruch Goldstein had gone into the Isaac Hall of the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron, and killed 29 Arabs. He was then brutally murdered by the Arabs after his weapon had been taken from him. It is accepted by almost everybody, including Baruch Goldstein’s family, that Baruch did in fact kill 29 Arabs on that Purim morning in the Cave of Machpelah.

Immediately, the politicians, the press and the electronic media not only of Israel but the entire world, went into high gear with their words of condemnation for Baruch Goldstein and his act, which they described as a massacre. It cannot be too strongly stressed that all this was before any form of inquiry had been made to ascertain what had happened. Is this justice?

We all know that the term “killing” is not identical with the term “massacre”. Massacre is only one form of killing. Examples of killing include self-defence, pre-emptive strike, warfare, manslaughter, murder, massacre, genocide. Some of these forms are permitted and are sometimes unfortunately necessary. Others are reprehensible and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms; massacre comes under this heading.

Even if killing is done under permitted circumstances, there is no occasion to rejoice. Man was created in the Divine image and termination of a life, whoever the person is and under whatever circumstances, by another human being is a tragedy. This point is illustrated in the recitation of Hallel[1] (joyous Psalms of praise) on the last six days of Passover. Unlike other Festivals when the full Hallel is recited, on these six days only a shortened Hallel is recited - a reason being that even though the Egyptians were a wicked people, the Jewish people who were saved by the Egyptians drowning in the Red Sea, should refrain from showing joy at the death of the Egyptians.[2]

In the same vein, former British Chief Rabbi Joseph Hertz wrote that “a medieval rabbi explained why a drop of wine is poured out of the wine-cup on Seder eve at the mention of each of the plagues that were inflicted on the Egyptians. Israel’s cup of joy, he said, cannot be full if Israel’s triumph involves suffering even to its enemies.”[3]

Hebron (including the adjacent Kiryat Arba) is a city, where, because of a doubt concerning the surrounding wall at the time of the Biblical Joshua, Purim is observed two days (instead of just one). When however, as was the case in 1994, the first day of Purim falls on a Friday, the celebration of Purim spreads over three days - Friday to Sunday.

On that Sunday, we were informed that the funeral would take place that day, although neither the hour nor the place of burial was then specified. In fact the funeral took place after nightfall. The army for various reasons did not want him to be buried in the Jewish cemetery in Hebron and so it was decided, in coordination with the Local Burial Society and by agreement with the army, to have the burial at the far end of the Meir Kahane park at the entrance to Kiryat Arba.

Before the funeral, the body was taken into the main hall of the Kiryat Arba Nir Yeshivah, which was packed to capacity, for the pre-funeral orations. During the course of the orations, the congregation was informed that the Arabs had been planning a massacre of Jews in Hebron for that Purim.

Following these orations, the congregation, which numbered literally thousands, proceeded to the site which had been selected for the burial. The burial took place in torrential rain and I remember going home with my shoes thickly covered with mud.

During the “shiva week” services were held three times a day at the Goldstein house and crowds of people came to pay their condolences to the Goldstein family. But not all! Some had other motives! As Yisrael Goldstein (Baruch’s father) wrote, “One woman reporter paid a shiva call wearing a hidden tape recorder and sat there looking and sounding so concerned and solicitous. How low can a person get?”[4]

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