I was born in 1942 in Edgware on the outskirts of London and following my schooling went to London University. There I took a First Class Honours degree in Science and three years later was awarded a doctorate in Chemistry. I received this doctorate in the summer of 1966 and I then went directly to Israel to take up a lectureship in Chemistry at the Bar Ilan University.
About the beginning of 1967, I spent a Shabbat at the Hebron Yeshivah in Jerusalem. A few days later, a relative asked me where I had been for Shabbat. When I replied “Hebron,” he answered me, “That’s in Jordan.” Little could one see even into the immediate future!
The fifth of June 1967 - the Six Day War began. The eighth of June 1967 - Hebron liberated.
One would have thought that the Israeli Government would immediately have sought to re-establish a Jewish community which had suffered so brutally by the Hebron massacre of 1929. Unfortunately this was not to be the case.
For my part, I immediately started dreaming about Jewish settlement in the liberated areas and was excited that a meeting for this purpose was to take place in the house of a Ruth Katznelson in Tel Aviv. I went to this meeting full of expectations but came away disappointed. The meeting was taken up by elderly writers talking wonderfully about Eretz Israel but not a concrete word about settling these areas.
On 5 June 1968, exactly one year in the secular calendar after the start of the Six Day War a conference was held in Jerusalem by the “Complete Land of Israel [Yisrael Hashleimah] Movement.” They announced that Rabbi Zvi Yehudah Kook felt that since we were not in possession of Transjordan we should not use the term “Complete Land of Israel” and the Sephardi Chief Rabbi was disappointed that we had chosen for this conference, the first anniversary on the secular calendar, rather than the Hebrew calendar. I recollect that amongst the many dignitaries seated on the platform was Rachel Yaanit Ben-Zvi, the widow of the late President Ben-Zvi, who had been a member of the Mapai party.
At that conference Rabbi Moshe Levinger was called to the platform and this was the probably the first I heard about the Hebron settlers.
A few weeks later I paid my first visit to the Memshal - I am sure that I co-ordinated this visit with Dr. Meir Levinger (the brother of Rabbi Moshe Levinger), who was on the staff of Bar-Ilan University. I took the Arab bus number 23 from the East Jerusalem bus station but I was not sure where to get off in Hebron. I ended up in the centre of the city and there, by chance, met Meir Levinger who had come for Shabbat. That Shabbat was Parashat Shelach Lecha, a most appropriate Shabbat to be introduced to Hebron.
Soon after, the summer vacation began at the Bar-Ilan University and I had decided to utilise it studying at the Yeshivat Hanegev in Netivot. During that period I made several more visits for Shabbat to Hebron.
On one of these occasions, I took one of the Yeshivat Hanegev students with me. Arab taxis from Gaza would go past Netivot and this student stopped one and asked the driver how much he wanted in order to take us to Hebron. The Arab driver answered in Arabic “fifteen lirot.” Not being able to understand Arabic, my friend thought he said “five lirot” and he accepted. We had just passed Beersheba when someone else in the taxi said to us in Hebrew that we should now give the driver the fifteen lirot. An argument then ensued between the driver and my friend, the latter arguing with the driver that since he is in Israel, he must speak in Hebrew. The long and short of it was, that it was agreed that he would return us to Beersheba and we would pay him five lirot. My friend and I then continued our journey to Hebron - I don’t remember by what means.
As the period of the Tishri Festivals approached and the Bar-Ilan academic year was soon to start, I came to the conclusion that my place was in Hebron and not in Bar-Ilan. It was Chemistry versus Hebron and the latter won! I came to an agreement with the University and they asked me to give a course of lectures once a week for the first semester of the new year, which I agreed to do.
Yom Kippur 1968 - the Yeshivah term ended. On the following day I went with some of the students to Rehovot to purchase my Arba’at Haminim. We went there, since the etrog orchard had the reputation of having ungrafted etrogim. That Shabbat I ate with one of the members of the Kollel and on Motzoei Shabbat spent several hours helping him build his Sukkah, which kept giving him a lot of trouble in staying up.
That evening I also went to the office of the Rabbi of Netivot, Rabbi Tsaban to obtain aravot. I also asked him for a posul lulav to help me carry my own lulav safely to Hebron. In those days there were no lulav boxes in Israel and by carting it on a long journey unprotected, one could easily make it posul. I bound this posul lulav with my lulav in such a way that the tip of my lulav sat snugly in the base of the posul lulav. I then wrapped a wet cloth around the hadassim and aravot and it was with this arrangement and a suitcase that I set off for Hebron the next morning - erev Sukkot.
As we shall see in the next chapter, the few Egged buses which ran to and from Hebron were not publicised and the Egged information office seemed to know nothing about them! As a consequence, I knew nothing of the bus which that very day ran from Beersheba to Hebron. I therefore travelled via Jerusalem. A journey which should have taken about one and a half hours took me over five hours. In addition, on erev Yom-Tov, buses are crowded in Israel (everybody is going to spend Yom-Tov with somebody else!) and I spent a good portion of the journey standing up. It was therefore most fortunate that I had taken all the precautions to pack my lulav.
Finally I arrived at Hebron to witness the finishing touches being made to two Sukkot. I had now become a pioneer!
When you live in Eretz Israel, you are entirety inside the Mitzvah. This is likewise with the Sukkah. When one is in a Sukkah in Eretz Israel, one is within a Mitzvah which itself is within a Mitzvah. It is most fitting that during my entire first week as a pioneer, I was in this position.