Mitnachalei Hevron was not an underground organisation. For it to have been that, would have been self-defeating. It was essential to publicise ourselves to the world and it was also highly desirable that every settlement in the liberated areas should not be a lone wolf.
By the beginning of 1969, there were already a few scattered settlements in the areas liberated in the Six Day War. We felt that there should be a joint roof organisation for all such settlements. We took this initiative upon ourselves and we began by a group of us going on a tour of these settlements. This took place in March 1969.
Our group consisted of Rabbi Eliezer Waldman, Benny Katzover, Gershon Ellinson, myself, Dina and a few other girls. We stocked up with food for the journey and travelled in the settlers’ tender.
We had heard that the first settlement on the Jordan Valley, Mehola had already been established and we decided that that would be our first stop. Mehola was situated just south of the former border, a few kilometres from Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi.
To get there, we decided that we would use the Jordan Valley Road. We got as far as this road to be told that we needed a pass from the army to use it. Fortunately, the army office for issuing such passes was not too far away. We proceeded to there, received the necessary document and continued on our way. In those days the entire road had not yet been tarred and we therefore had to drive over a number of bumpy passages.
When we finally reached Mehola, we discovered that our information was incorrect and that it was still a Nahal unit. Only at a later date it was turned over to the civilians.
Our next stop was the Golan Heights. Immediately after the Six Day War, a kibbutz had been established on the Golan Heights near to Kuneitra by the “Achdut Ha’avodah” kibbutzim. “Achdut Ha’avodah” was a political party, socially to the left of Mapai, yet unlike Mapai they were supporters of the “Greater Israel” philosophy. It was rather unfortunate for us that just before this period, this party had merged into Mapai, thus making it more difficult for its supporters to propagate the “Greater Israel” philosophy.
We arrived at this kibbutz towards evening and had a meeting with some of its leaders. A full report of our meeting appeared in their news-bulletin “Alei Golan” and it was then reproduced in the newspaper “Zot Ha’aretz.” We explained the objectives of our visit and Rabbi Waldman gave a brief background to the establishment of Mitnachalei Hevron and our plans for the future. I gave an account of our current fight for Jewish rights in the Cave of Machpelah.
Afterwards they took us to their communal dining room to eat supper. Although their kitchens were beautifully equipped, they were non-Kosher. It is unfortunate that such kibbutzim who have a positive attitude to Eretz Israel are far removed from other Mitzvot. I did not even see mezuzot on their doors. I seem to recollect that Rabbi Waldman explained to them about terumot and maserot.
Some of our group asked Rabbi Waldman whether anything could be eaten. He said we could eat vegetables which were not pungent and so we then took terumot and maserot from them. We also saw that the bread came from a kosher bakery. The night was spent at this kibbutz.
Whilst on the Golan, we toured around and saw the magnificent scenery and waterfalls. On our return journey we went via Kiryat Shemoneh and paid a visit to Rabbi Tzefaniah Drori, its Chief Rabbi. He had studied at Mercaz Harav and was a great friend of Rabbi Waldman’s.
In the summer of that same year, I was asked by Rabbi Levinger to address a group of Americans one Motzoei Shabbat in Jerusalem. Since at that time one could not travel at night, I had to spend Shabbat in Jerusalem. This was in fact the first time since I had come to live in Hebron, that I was away for a Shabbat. The head of this group, Rabbi Tabori invited me to stay in his apartment in Rehavia for that Shabbat.
I went with Dina that Friday and we came to the apartment of Rabbi Tabori. He showed us a bedroom, where the beds folded up into the wall, and said that this room was for you and your wife. I pointed out that we were not yet married and Dina would be staying with her aunt who lived close by.
That Motzoei Shabbat, I went to the venue of the meeting. The meeting began with the minutes of the previous meeting being read out - I believe they were in Yiddish. Someone then began a discussion on the proposed “housing estate” for Americans, which was then in the planning stage. After a few minutes, one of the audience stood up and objected saying that this was taking the time of the guest speaker.
Fortunately there did not follow procedural wrangling on the “Order of the Agenda” as often occurs in Jewish meetings. The discussion on the housing estate was halted and I gave my talk. I cannot remember the contents of this talk but I am certain I spoke on similar points which had been made at the meeting at Kibbutz Golan. I do however remember that I spoke on the state of the Hebron Jewish cemetery. At the end of the meeting, Rabbi Tabori told the audience that they all had to come to my wedding planned for a few months later.
Another means of publicity, and a jolly good one as well, is bringing visitors to the Memshal and we were continually blessed with such people. The motto “All those who are hungry should come and eat” was certainly applicable to us. Most of these visitors were of the passive type - they would just see, hear and maybe ask questions.
One visitor who came for a Shabbat, suddenly said to me that he had to read the whole book of Tehillim. He explained that he had been in a concentration camp and one day they were just about to take him to the gas chamber when something happened and as a result they didn’t. As a thanksgiving, from then on he reads the whole book of Tehillim every Shabbat. Although I did not ask him, I am sure that a person who went through such a harrowing experience would appreciate the importance of Jews building up settlements in their own Land.
In contrast to the passive majority of our visitors, some were very active and would even address the settlers. One of those whom I clearly remember was Baruch Duvdavani. He made two visits to the Memshal and on each of these occasions, he related incidents regarding his bringing Jews to Israel from countries of persecution. His stories kept his audience spellbound and I still remember them clearly even over thirty years later.
In one of his stories he related how he had to bring some Jews from a remote place in an North African Arab country. They were instructed, that when asked, they must not mention Israel but say they wanted to go to Canada. The problem was how teach Jews who had never even heard of Canada, remember such a name, They knew the drink “Canada Dry” and by this it was hoped that they would remember Canada. When however one Jew was asked to which country he wanted to go, he answered “Coca Cola”!
In another incident, he had to disguise the fact that he was a Jew. Finally it was arranged, that on erev Pesach an agreement would be signed for the exit of the Jews from that country. He had planned to immediately leave that country and celebrate the Seder in a neighbouring country, but at the last moment, the signing was delayed until the following day. With no other choice, he bought a new cup and that night recited the Seder and drank four cups of water instead of wine.
Another visitor came one Chanukah in order to entertain us. Amongst his acts was balancing a number of layers of bottles suitably arranged on the end of a pole on his nose or chin. This would have been excellent, except that one bottle was out of alignment and the whole lot came crashing down. His young son had a similar sort of act. Here, someone who had the idea to make it more spectacular, turned off the lights. His father shouted “turn them on again” but it was too late - crash again!
We also occasionally had visitors who had not intended to be visitors. Travelling on the roads to Hebron was forbidden after dark. Some visitors overstayed the “light time” and were trapped overnight in Hebron. They were directed to the Memshal where we gladly put them up. One evening some Jewish women were found in the Cave of Machpelah. It sometimes happened that visitors to Hebron on a Friday could not return before Shabbat and they had a Shabbat in our company. This included a group from the Hebron Yeshivah in Jerusalem.
However the case I remember most vividly occurred one Chol Hamoed Peasch, when the coach driver of some very Orthodox Jews lost his way and nightfall came. They were brought up to the Memshal. An observant Jew does not like to eat in a place where he does not know of their standard of kashrut. This is particularly so on Pesach, when many people will not eat outside their own house.
The word was passed around to bring food into the dining room for these “unexpected guests.” Some said that they wanted Shemura Matzot and one, when he saw that the eggs were Tenuvah, refused to eat them. In those days, telephones were few and far apart and they realised that their relatives would be worried about them. They accordingly asked if we could arrange for an announcement to be made on the radio. We also collected sheets from the settlers and found places in apartments where the dwellers had gone away for Pesach, for the visitors to sleep. After a night’s sleep, assuming they managed to sleep, they returned home.
Such unintentional visits gave us good publicity. Publicity which, in those days. reached a maximum audience, was from the press. If it was the right sort, it was excellent but it had to be the right sort! It was in 1969, that a South African decided to bring out a new English right-wing newspaper to be called “The Times of Israel.” It was about the summer of 1969 that I was contacted by the people intending to bring it out. They wanted to write some articles on the Jewish resettlement in Hebron and asked me to help them. I don’t recollect how they got my name but very likely it was from a number of letters I had had published in the Israeli press regarding the Cave of Machpelah.
Their office was in Tel-Aviv and I went there to speak with them. I wrote out a considerable amount of material on our settlement and also the Cave of Machpelah and the Jewish cemeteries and sent it to them.
They also sent down a few people including a photographer to see the place at first hand, speak to people and photograph. During the course of their visit, I went down with them in their car to the Cave of Machpelah to take some photographs. The sign at the entrance effectively describing the Jews as just “visitors” to the Cave rather shocked them and they said they would utilise this in their article. They also managed to photograph the Arab manager of the Cave. When we returned to the Memshal, we saw a very tall lorry had got stuck, due to its height, in the brick archway leading to the entrance gate, (which as a result had to be demolished). This made the entrance to the Memshal impassable and they commented how fortunate it was that their car at the time was outside!
The first edition of their newspaper came out on 15 August 1969. The Editor sent me a signed complimentary copy. There was a three quarters of a page article with a number of photographs on the Cave of Machpelah, the contents of which are described elsewhere.
The second edition came out a fortnight later with just over a third of a page article entitled “Hebron - A city in Limbo” and which was very critical of the attitude of the Israeli Government in its procrastination in establishing a Jewish presence in Hebron. At the bottom of the article was a photograph of the four buildings in the Memshal just being completed with the caption “Hebron’s Jewish Quarter ...... an eyesore, built to please whom?”
The third and last of this series of articles appeared, this time just a week later It took up about a quarter of a page and dealt with the Jewish Cemeteries in Hebron. The content was almost word for word on what I had sent them and the material contained in this article can be found elsewhere in this book. Included were two photographs taken by Gershon Ellinson, one of them captioned “Latrine built by Arab in Jewish Cemetery in Hebron.”
In addition to newspapers, television was also interested in us. On one occasion a foreign station came to make a programme about us. The technicians told me that their programmes were shown all over the world, including Jordan, although very likely the programme on our settlement would have a different commentary there!
We would try and explore every avenue to publicise our settlement and objectives to all and everyone, right up to the President of the State of Israel. The President is supposed to be above politics, but Presidents are human and do have definite views. President Zalman Shazar did have a sympathetic ear on Hebron. He may well have been influenced by the Lubavitch who were strongly in favour of Hebron.
On Jerusalem Day 1969, a meeting had been arranged between the settlers and President Shazar in his residence in Jerusalem. Rabbi Levinger invited me to participate at this meeting. A group of about four or five of us arrived at his residence and were shown to the famous “wooden hut.”
The President had not yet returned from an outside appointment and whilst we were waiting, one of us started to look at the books in one of the many bookcases in the room. “Don’t touch the books!” a member of the staff retorted. Maybe they were just ornaments! Soon after, the President came to the entrance of the room and said he would speak to us in a few minutes time.
True to his word, he returned wearing his hat and we all first drank a “Lechaim.” We discussed our settlement and how we were trying to get the Government to speed up plans to build Kiryat Arba. The President was sympathetic but I don’t know how much actual influence he had in these matters. We ended our meeting by inviting him to visit our settlement, but he told us that there were problems for him going over the “green line.” Even if he visited the Western Wall, it “raised eyebrows.”
At least on this score things have improved. Today the Presidents are not troubled by such restraints and on a number of occasions they have come to Kiryat Arba.