When one looks back to the period of the Memshal, various reminisences of the Festivals come to mind. I was in the Memshal for three cycles of the Festivals and I cannot always be sure as to which year each of the reminisences refers.
Although the new buildings the Government were constructing were supposed to be ready before Pesach 1969, as with buildings all over the world, they are rarely ready when they should be. Therefore as that Pesach approached, the settlers were still eating together in the communal dining room. The facilities in the kitchen were primitive enough during the year - to kasher them for Pesach and do the necessary purchasing of food seemed a nightmare.
To understand some of the problems involved, one must realise that in a religious community, almost everybody has their own customs of what and what not to eat on Pesach. One therefore finds that even people who will eat in other people’s houses throughout the year, will not do so on Pesach. Under the conditions that we were then living in, it was not possible for everyone to make their own Pesach in their “houses” but it was necessary to make communal arrangements. This naturally involved finding a common denominator for everyone, but this was not easy as I shall now explain.
As an example, Ashkenazic Jews do not eat kitniyot on Pesach. However a number of Ashkenazim will use oil from kitniyot and products containing them, such as margarine. It was therefore the original intention to use such oil and margarine in the kitchens. A number of those in the Yeshivah, such as myself and Roni Strasburg strongly objected and “threatened” to do our own cooking during Pesach. This resulted in such oil and margarine being removed from the menu and being substituted by olive oil and butter. Unlike today, when products “Kasher for Pesach” are available without limit, this was not so then and, by the time we decided to use olive oil, there was none available marked “Kasher for Pesach.” However as Shlomo Aviner then pointed out, since it was still before Pesach, any traces of Chametz (which was in fact very unlikely indeed!) in such olive oil would be nullified.
It was agreed to use only Matzot produced by the Cohen-Halperin factory in Jerusalem and these were duly ordered. Just before Pesach, Nechama, the kindergarten teacher took her pupils to visit a different Matzah factory in Jerusalem. As a momento of their visit, this factory gave the children a box of Matzot. These Matzot found their way amongst our Cohen-Halperin Matzot during Pesach and this caused rather a rumpus!
I myself wanted to eat hand baked Matzot for the Seder and Cohen-Halperin Shemura for the rest of Pesach. I therefore travelled to Jerusalem to buy them. I went to the Slonim hand-baked Matzah bakery in Mea Shearim and told them I wanted some Matzot. The salesman came out with an enormous box. I then told him that I only wanted six Matzot but he refused to sell me such a small number. I went outside and asked a man standing there if there was another Matzah factory in the area because this place refused to sell me six Matzot. This man was more than obliging and even went in and asked the salesman why he was refusing to sell to me. He then relented and sold me six Matzot, I believe at 2 lirot for each Matzah, which was quite a high price in those days. I then went to the Cohen-Halperin factory and bought a two and a half kilo box of Shemura Matzot. I returned to Hebron and stored these Matzot in my suitcase.
The buying of products specially for Pesach is the “easy” part of the preparations. The more strenuous and time consuming activities are the kashering of the kitchen and where applicable, the utensils, or alternatively, the purchase or unpacking of utensils kept specially for Pesach. The settlers decided that they would buy all new crockery, cutlery, pots and pans and keep them specially for Pesach. At the time, this cost several thousand lirot. Although we normally made no charge to the numerous visitors who came to the Memshal, we decided that in order to pay for all this new crockery, we would have to make a charge. Originally, we put on our notice-board a fixed tariff, so much for the Seder night, so much for Yom Tov, so much for Chol Hamoed. Later, however, we told our visitors to contribute what they wanted. We could thus say the passage from the Hagaddah, “All those who are hungry come and eat,” with a cleaner conscience!
All over the Jewish world, the days before Pesach are very busy and our Hebron settlement was no exception. Even the Yeshivah students rolled up their sleeves and helped the women in the kitchen with the rub and scrub.
The kitchens in all bases of the Israeli army are kasher and are under the supervision of the Army Rabbinate. It is therefore the function of some soldiers who are doing their national service to look after the religious facilities of their fellow soldiers and in every army kitchen there should be a soldier who is supervising that everything is done according to Jewish law. The soldier performing this function in the Hebron kitchen seemed rather a simple fellow and he would regularly come into the Bet Hamedrash for us to explain something to him.
Due to the extra work involved before Pesach, in preparing the army kitchens for the Festival, the army conscripts for a few days suitable reservists who go into the kitchens in the various army bases. One of their major tasks is to kasher the various items of cutlery and crockery for Pesach and this is done by immersing them in boiling water. The kitchens of the army were situated next to our Bet Hamedrash and we could observe the reservists boiling up an enormous container of water and immersing the army’s utensils in it.
The frame on the top of a gas stove can be kashered for Pesach by heating it up. For a household size cooker, one can easily do this with a blow-lamp. However for a commercial size stove this would be a very long and tedious process. We therefore asked the reservists how they would do this for the army gas stove. They replied that they would make a bonfire and put the gas-top in the middle. Since there was no point in making two separate bonfires, we agreed that we would kasher our gas stove top together with the army’s in the same bonfire.
We therefore started collecting wood for such a bonfire. Fortunately, the builders who had been building our new apartments had left a number of scrap pieces around. These we collected together and arranged just outside the gate of the courtyard. The reservist placed both sets of gas stove tops amongst this wood and then lit it. The tops were allowed to remain for some time in the flames and then allowed to cool down. They were thus ready for Pesach.
The draining boards in the settlers’ kitchen was made of a marble-like stone. Towards Pesach, we got an Arab from Hebron to cut and bend a sheet of metal so that it could cover these draining boards.
As the “count-down” to Pesash arrived, an increasingly larger area of the eating space became ready for Pesach, and we were thus restricted to an increasingly smaller area to eat our meals, and finally, we were eating standing up.
By this period, the new Bet Hamedrash was in an advanced state although naturally, we would have liked it to have been already finished. Basically, it just required internally decorating and in addition it had not yet been wired for electricity. Since we had a number of visitors coming to the Memshal for the Seder and we had no other room of sufficient size to accommodate them, it was necessary to improvise and use this yet unfinished room. An electrician came and set up a temporary electrical arrangement. This consisted of bending thick pieces of metal cord into circles and arranging a number of bulbs around each of them, thus constructing a primitive type of chandelier. Each of these “chandeliers” was attached to a hook which had been screwed into the ceiling. These were then joined together by an electrical cable which ended in a plug which was inserted into a socket somewhere else in the building. Talk of putting all one’s eggs (or should I say electricity) into one basket. Had this plug been overloaded, we could have had the Seder by candle-light! But I don’t recollect this happening.
Whilst in the Park Hotel, the settlers had purchased a number of chairs from the hotel. These were made of a hollow metal frame and had a seat and a small back made of wood covered with a thin layer of formica. These chairs were not of good quality and they fell to pieces quickly.
This lack of chairs caused a problem with the approach of Pesach and the onslaught of a number of guests. Although we had a number of benches, this would not solve the problem for the Seder. The reason is that during portions of the Seder, men must eat and drink reclining. Since these benches had no backs, one could not recline on them and it would hardly be polite to have put all the women on backless benches, whilst the men sat on the chairs equipped with cushions for reclining! We would then have been called chauvinistic!
A suggestion was made to hire chairs from Hebron. At this someone commented that surely one would have to reserve them early, since there would be a big rush on the hiring of chars at this time of the year for the various communal Seders. The reply was that in Hebron there would be no rush at all - the Arabs don’t have a Seder. However, in the end the settlers bought a number of chairs.
The supply of Cohen Halperin’s Shemura Matzot was limited and to be sure that there would be no last minute “puncture,” it was necessary to order and collect them well before Pesach. For weeks before Pesach they stood piled up on top of a cupboard enclosed in polythene bags in the settlers’ kitchen.
On the night before Pesach, one searches for Chametz by the light of a candle. This is the time when one discovers what the cleaners have missed! After I had searched the Yeshivah dormitory, I performed the search in the Aviner family apartment, since they had gone away for Pesach. After burning the Chametz on the following morning, preparations for the communal seder were commenced.
In those days there was no “chasalat” (insect free lettuce). In order to clean lettuce from the tiny almost invisible insects lurking on the leaves, it has to be washed several times and every leaf then has to be held up to the light to see if there were any such lurking inserts. The washing of lettuce for about one hundred and fifty people is therefore a long and tedious process.
One of the girls amongst the settlers, Rachel Blatman, was quite a scholar in Jewish law came to me and said that I should do the washing since one cannot rely on women to do such a job! I in turn quoted to her an opinion that some authorities say one can rely on them for this!
Another item on the Seder table is the charoset. Also here there are different methods of making it. The women in the kitchen decided that it would be easier to make a large quantity by putting it through a mincer. I took one look at the resulting product and then made my own charoset according to my family tradition.
Pesach began at about six o’clock that evening. We had the evening service in this Bet Hamedrash and after the service the women put on the tables the various items required for the Seder. I recollect that at this Seder I sat on a table near the northern wall of the room. This was the wall nearest to Jerusalem, although I am sure that I did not chose it for this reason.! Seated beside me was Dina - a few days earlier we had written our “Tanaim” to get married. I also had as a guest, an American student who I knew from the days I was on the staff of Bar-Ilan University, and who was a follower of the Bostoner Rebbe.
During Pesach I would bring into each meal a few of my Shemura Matzot. One of the settlers Amram Yifrach, who only ate hand baked Matzot throughout Pesach, would bring in each meal a piece of such a Matzah. All this certainly saved, by a small amount at least, on the settlers’ Matzah supply! At one meal a very small boy started crying in the dining room. When we asked why he was crying, we were told that he wanted bread! But none was “available” and so the little boy had none!
As soon as Pesach is finished, one again begins work - this time packing up all the Pesach crockery and putting it away for the next year. During the year the nicer looking cutlery was for milk. However for Pesach, it was decided that since the most important meals were meat, we would use the nicer looking cutlery for meat. All this meant that the Pesach meat cutlery looked like the Chametz milk cutlery and vice versa. The danger that we too late realised with this arrangement, was, that if, for example, an item of meat Pesach cutlery would turn up after Pesach, as can very easily happen in a public kitchen, it would very likely be put with the Chametz milk cutlery.
Whilst many of the women were busy packing up the Pesach things in the kitchen and Miriam Levinger was dusting the plastic table clothes with a powder to ensure they were completely dry, one family decided they had to do real Chametz cooking in the kitchen - which needless to say is the most undesirable thing to do at that time! Why the women did not throw this family out the kitchen at that time, I really don’t know!
By the following Pesach we were married and made Pesach in our own apartment. As I wrote earlier, a kitchen had been installed for us just before Pesach and we did not use it until Pesach, to avoid having to kasher it. It was worth waiting those few days!
Since this was our first Pesach, I had virtually no crockery for the Festival. I had one set of unused cutlery which we had received as a wedding present and I had brought another set a few weeks before that Pesach. I told Dina I was going off to Jerusalem to buy crockery for Pesach. Just as I was going off, she called after me to go to Hamashbir Hamercazi, which was the place where our Hebron Settlement bought all their stuff wholesale. It was good that she called after me to go there, since it saved us a lot of money. The moral: Always listen to your wife!
At that period, coloured plastic plates were fashionable. They were specially convenient for Pesach, since they were light weight and took up relatively little space. This is important for Pesach crockery, which must be stored from year to year. At the time, I bought in sixes different types of plates etc., green for meat and yellow for milk. I also bought glasses, some saucepans and a few other miscellaneous things. Either Hamashbir delivered to Hebron or our Settlement collected it from them - I don’t remember which - but all our things arrived safely at the Memshal.
After Pesach, we packed up all our Pesach crockery into two boxes and, since our storage space was effectively zero, had no alternative but to stand them on top of our wardrobe. This reminds me of a relative who, when they came from Poland to England about a hundred years ago lived in one room in the East End of London. During the year, for the lack of alternative, they stored their Pesach crockery in a bowl under the bed. Even under the conditions in which we then lived, we were better off than these relatives!
When we had got married we had been given an old refrigerator. However, possibly due to all our moving from room to room, about a week before Pesach it stopped working. However, one of our neighbours who went away for Pesach said we could use theirs. Regarding our gas-stove top, I spent hours upon hours cleaning it, burning out the top and covering it with aluminium foil.
As in the previous year, I went to Jerusalem to purchase my hand-baked and machine Matzot. This time the same hand bakery made no fuss, and sold me the Matzot I requested and what is more, I even paid less than the previous year. Either this year or the following (or very likely both), I bought many of my groceries in Jerusalem, since they were not available in the settlers’ shop. On one of these Pesach shopping expeditions, I was returning to Hebron laden with an open carton full of wine and grape juice and possibly other groceries as well, when the transport suddenly broke down. Transport problems usually occur at the most inconvenient moments! Accordingly, I had to unload and wait in the road with all these packages for alternative transport.
For fruit and vegetables, I went to an Arab shop in Hebron. The Arab there would regularly be eating pitot and so I asked him to first wash his hands. When I came to buy the lettuce (for the maror), I asked him if it was bitter. “Chas v’chalilah” (Heaven forbid!), he answered. “Well, what I want is bitter lettuce,” I replied. His face fell! Before Pesach, we washed almost all our fruit and vegetables.
The search for Chametz must be performed by the aid of the light from a wax candle. Today we are in the era of electricity and so the question asked is whether or not one should turn off the electricity during the search. I had heard contrary opinions on this question and thus couldn’t decide what to do. It was the electric corporation who finally answered this question for me. At the beginning of the search for Chametz there was a power cut and in the middle the electricity came back on. That set a precedent for my search in all subsequent years. When I begin my search, I turn off the electricity, (since the electric corporation won’t oblige me each year with a power cut at this precise moment!) and in the middle turn it on again.
That year, most of the families in the Memshal attended a communal Seder held in the Bet Hamedrash. We however made our own Seder in our apartment. The settlers sent one visitor to us - an elderly gentleman. He hardly opened his mouth the whole evening and we only discovered the following day that he had not been feeling too well.
For the following Pesach, we bought some further crockery, and this time we had to kasher our kitchen. We ordered a new frame for the top our gas stove, which we had bought a few months earlier. The salesman came to our apartment carrying this frame in no form of wrapping. I asked me why it was not wrapped and hoped it was new. He answered that he had received it as new.
Although we had kashered our kitchen well in time for Pesach, the Liebman family, whose kitchen was in the same room, were running behind schedule. I therefore on the morning of erev Pesach helped them finish the kashering and poured boiling water over their draining board using their electric kettle. This kettle had a certain piece which fitted inside and because of the shortage of time I did not insert it. As a “reward” for this omission, I got an electric shock from this kettle.
Just before Pesach began, someone came to our apartment with a young man, in his 20s from England who had suddenly arrived in Hebron and asked us if we would take him in for Pesach, which we readily agreed. We learned that this man lived in Gateshead and decided he wanted to come and live in Israel. Instead of working through the Jewish Agency and getting his Aliyah properly organised and thus receiving all his financial and other rights, he just sold up his few meagre possessions and came on his own to Israel. Someone in Gateshead had told him to go to their relative (or maybe it was friend) in Kfar Chabad and everything would be all right! He arrived at Kfar Chabad but it was not so. Somehow he was sent on to Hebron and he stayed with us for the entire Pesach. After the Festival, we looked into the possibility of his organising his Aliyah but was found impractical and he therefore unfortunately had to return to England.
During the month preceding the Yamim Noraim, Elul, the Shofar is blown every weekday morning at the end of Shacharit. Somehow or other it became a tradition, for me to be photographed in the Cave of Machpelah with the “Shofar to my lips” - I use this expression since at that period I could not blow the Shofar - and the photograph was then sent to the newspapers. Every year this photograph would appear in at least one Israeli newspaper. One year this photograph occupied the entire cover page of the Rosh Hashanah supplement to Hatzofe. Any readers of the newspapers must have thought at the time that I was a wonderful Ba’al Tokea! I should mention that at a later date, I redeemed myself and learned to blow the Shofar, which I do each year at my Synagogue.
Rosh Hashanah 1969 began on Shabbat and this was the first Shabbat that Dina and I celebrated in our apartment after we were married. Even though I would go to the Cave of Machpelah every Shabbat, I decided that for the Yamim Noraim I would pray in the Bet Hamedrash where I learned throughout the year. I remember almost nothing about this Rosh Hashanah except that I had a new Tallit. Possibly it was on this Rosh Hashanah that I took one of the Yeshivah students who could blow the Shofar to the house of Yitzchak Ben-Hevron to blow for his father. His father who was then very elderly and could not leave the house, had been living in Hebron in the 1920s.
For Yom Kippur, I considered it important that someone should talk before Borachu in Maariv. Appropriate words can stir one up to do proper repentance. I asked Rabbi Waldman, who always prayed in the Bet Hamedrash, whether he would talk but he replied that he would be going down to the Cave of Machpelah for Kol Nidrei. I then asked another settler and, with some trepidation, he agreed to talk.
Since most of the settlers had gone to the Cave of Machpelah, there was a smallish Minyan in the Bet Hamedrash. During the Mussaf service there were only eleven people.
Before Neilah a few people came up from the Cave of Machpelah. The reason was that they had forgotten to take a Shofar to blow at the end of Yom Kippur. Their plan was, that as soon as we had blown the Shofar in the Bet Hamedrash, they would go down by car with the Shofar to the Cave of Machpelah. The problem was that since in Israel one could blow the Shofar twelve minutes before the end of Yom Kippur, they thought that this blowing would then permit them to go down immediately by car. Shlomo Aviner then tried to explain to them, despite them vigorously arguing with him, that they would have to wait another 12 minutes.
Whilst I was in Yeshivah, I would wait for the termination of Shabbat and Yom Tov according to the opinion of Rabbenu Tam. On Shabbat and Yom Tov, there is generally no difficulty, but having to prolong one’s fast for another 40 or so minutes when everyone is already eating is not so pleasant! I spent this time studying from the Mishneh Berurah the laws of Motzoei Yom Kippur.
The following year, Rosh Hashanah was on Thursday and Friday. Despite the restrictions then imposed on Jews in the Cave of Machpelah, these were somewhat relaxed on the Yamim Noraim. However, since that year Rosh Hashanah occurred on a Friday, we were informed that the rule of “no entry to Jews on Friday” would still be strictly enforced.
Reluctantly, the settlers were prepared to accept this. The exception was Shalom Goldman, who said that we should bring along people from outside and all of us try and get into the Cave of Machpelah.
The next chapter in this saga was that Abdul Nasser the President of Egypt died and all the Arabs went into mourning. They decided to hold a memorial service for him in the Cave of Machpelah, on the morning of the Thursday, the First Day of Rosh Hashanah. As a consequence, the Military Governor decided that from eight o’clock in the morning of that day, the Cave of Machpelah would be closed to Jews. They would however be allowed to come from five o’clock to eight o’clock that morning. To this Shalom Goldman retorted to the settlers, “You wanted to concede on the Friday, now you have also lost on the Thursday.”
Even though Shalom fell off his motor bike a few days before Rosh Hashanah and his arm was bandaged up and possibly even broken, he came along to Hebron for Rosh Hashanah to try and demonstrate.
That Rosh Hashanah, a Chazan was amongst the visitors who came to Hebron. He had said that he wanted to take Mussaf but he was told that nothing could be promised. On Rosh Hashanah some of the settlers and visitors went down to the Cave of Machpelah at five o’clock, conducted the service until the end of the Shofar blowing, said the silent Mussaf Amidah, blew the remainder of the Shofar notes and returned to the Memshal for the remainder of Mussaf. I understand that Shalom wanted to remain in the Cave of Machpelah.
Meanwhile in the Bet Hamedrash, the Shofar blowing had been reached and there was then the customary break for Kiddush. The group who had been in the Cave of Machpelah then joined the others and the visiting Chazan took Mussaf. I personally very much enjoyed his service.
On the following day it had been planned for someone else to take Mussaf, but this Chazan went up to the Amud and starting taking the service. Nearly half the people left the room in protest and went into the Yeshivah dining hall to conduct their own service.
A few weeks earlier, Rabbi Zacks had given a Shiur in the Yeshivah on a question regarding Rosh Hashanah occurring on a Friday and the congregation has brought in Shabbat although it is still day. May one then blow the shofar for someone who has not yet heard it? That year, about an hour after sunset, a teenager arrived at the Memshal having walked all the way from Jerusalem. He had not yet heard the Shofar and we commented that had he arrived a little earlier, what we had learned in this Shiur would have been almost, (although not exactly, since we didn’t bring in Shabbat early), relevant. This boy came from a very right wing family and his father had sat in jail in the 1950s for his nationalistic actions.
It was before a Rosh Hashanah, (most likely this one), that I decided to try and make a Shofar. I obtained from an Arab a horn from a sheep and stood it in boiling water to remove the bone. I then took a long nail, repeatedly heated it and placed it against the closed end of the horn, hoping that I would in this way manage to complete opening the horn from end to end. Unfortunately, I went through the side thus ruining it as a Shofar. I tried to remedy this by getting someone to saw off the end from the point I had gone through the side. It was then a kasher Shofar “of some sort,” but even expert Shofar blowers could not get a note out of it. Another settler, Avraham Nachliel had also made a Shofar and he was far more successful than me in its construction. In addition, he was able to blow his Shofar superbly.
When Yom Tov occurs on Friday, one makes before Yom Tov, Eruv Tavshilin to enable one to prepare from Yom Tov to Shabbat. It was at the beginning of Shabbat on one of the occasions when we made Eruv Tavshilin, (I believe it was this occasion), that Rabbi Levinger came into the Bet Hamedrash and asked with half a smile on his face, whether one could wash up crockery on that Friday for Shabbat. We answered that of course one can and he then told us that the women in the kitchen “ruled” that you could not and they had waited until the beginning of Shabbat to do so! He suggested that we teach the women these basic things rather than complicated things.
That Yom Kippur, I decided that I would go and visit my former Yeshivah in Netivot, which I did. The services were being held in their new Bet Hamedrash which was nearly completed.
The first apartments in Kiryat Arba were ready a few days before the following Rosh Hashanah and about half the families moved over immediately. There was still a Minyan left in the Memshal and we held services in the Bet Hamedrash. On the second day there were a number of soldiers who joined us. Sa’adia Kahalani saw that they were Sephardim and there were enough people to organise a Sephardic service in the dining hall.
Since we were going on an extended educational mission to England after the Chagim, our refrigerator had already been sold a few days before Rosh Hashanah and so we had to make alternative arrangements to store our Yom Tov food. A few days after Rosh Hashanah, we went to Dina’s aunt’s house in Jerusalem to remain till after the Chagim. That Yom Kippur, I prayed at Yeshivat Hakotel in the Old City. Towards the end of Neilah, the entire Yeshivah went singing and dancing to the Kotel to finish the prayers for Yom Kippur.
For the first Sukkot in the Memshal, the living was still communal and the only two Sukkot which were built were also communal. One of them had been built completely from scratch and was situated in the courtyard in front of the settlers’ area of the Memshal and this was planned as a Sukkah for eating in. The second Sukkah was built inside a type of pergola and was intended for the men to sleep in. When I saw this pergola, I noticed that it had metal poles which went up vertically from the ground and then bent over the roof. I asked Yair Oriel whether or not there was a problem since they were made of metal? He answered that, firstly they were only the supports for the schach and secondly, since they were joined to the ground, they could not accept ritual impurity, which is a sign for disqualifying schach. He added that he was more worried about a some creeping plant life which was over the roof.
I helped move beds into the Sukkah and I noticed that Sa’adia Kahalani had put a big board between his bed and the wall of the Sukkah which he did in order to keep any drafts out - the nights in Hebron in the autumn can be cold. Since almost all the unmarried Yeshivah students had gone to spend the beginning of Sukkot with their families, the number of men sleeping in the Sukkah was not large and so the sleeping Sukkah was quite spacious - by Hebron standards! During Chol Hamoed the students started returning to Hebron and by the end of Sukkot one could hardly move in the Sukkah. In fact some people were then sleeping in the eating Sukkah.
During the meal on the first night of Sukkot, I saw all the women busy running backwards and forwards serving everybody. This made me feel a bit uncomfortable and so after the meal, I went to one of the women and offered to help. I received the answer that my job is to be studying in the Bet Hamedrash.
During Chol Hamoed, I was sitting in the Sukkah when I heard that there had been a grenade attack on the steps leading to the Cave of Machpelah. The injured people, and the numbers were large, were brought to our wing in the Memshal for first-aid treatment. I remember how afterwards the steps leading to our dispensary were filled with blood. Fortunately no one was killed but some might have been permanently injured. I read afterwards in the newspaper that Moshe Dayan, the then Minister of Defence, had gone to visit the injured. One girl said to him that she was terrified that she might lose an eye. To her Moshe Dayan replied that then she would be like him, “I get on perfectly well with one eye, and you also will.”
In order to show the Arabs that they could not intimidate us with their attacks, as soon as possible after any attack, we would all walk, including the women and children, through Hebron. Accordingly, the morning after this attack, we all marched down to the Cave of Machpelah carrying our lulavim. In those days, lulavim were not carried in boxes in Israel, and from the expressions on the faces of the Arabs we passed on the way, it seems that they thought that the lulavim were some new kind of secret weapon!
That morning Moshe Dayan paid a very brief visit to the Cave of Machpelah and even went to the top of the Muezzin tower. He gave an order to blow up the infamous seven stairs beyond which no Jew could pass. It is a pity that he did this, since these stairs are part of the history of the Cave.
For our part, Rabbi Levinger decided that we could not let this grenade throwing pass without reaction and a number of us, including Rabbi Levinger and myself, did not leave when the Cave closed to Jews at 11.30 that morning. We just sat down passively in the Isaac Hall. We did not know how long this sit down strike would last. Being Sukkot, we thought of a potential problem. Was it permitted for us to eat, since we were not in a Sukkah? When asked to leave we refused, even though a message came through from Rabbi Goren requesting us to do so. A little later, a group of soldiers entered to remove us by force, if necessary. Since we did not want to get into a physical confrontation with the soldiers, Rabbi Levinger started singing “Utzu aitsa...” and with that we marched out.
Earlier that morning, there had been quite a lot of visitors to the Cave and I would offer them my Arba’at Haminim for them to perform the Mitzvah. The etrog is not really “designed” for numerous people to handle and towards the end of the Festival it had gone brown and hard. For the last few days I had to use someone else’s etrog. I did not mind; many people had been able to perform the Mitzvah on my set.
For Simchat Torah there were a large number of visitors to the Memshal and the only way to accommodate them was for some of them to sleep in the Sukkah. To sleep in a Sukkah that night is only permitted if one makes the Sukkah posul before the Festival, and this is done by removing a certain amount of schach. We did this and then to be sure took off a bit more. Rabbi Levinger then said that “the Sukkah is posul lemehadrin.” He then put back a little bit of the schach, jokingly adding, “So that it should not be bal tosif.”
By the following Sukkot, the families were living in their own apartments and so most of them built their own Sukkot. In addition, the settlers built a big Sukkah in the courtyard, in the same location as the previous year’s.
Already at that period there were five families living in the “Yeshivah dormitory blocks.” Outside the rooms of each of the two blocks were the roofs of the two covered passage-ways which faced each other. I had originally suggested that we put wooden planks from one roof to the opposite one and lay the schach on these planks. In this way we would have one large Sukkah for the five families. However, for technical reasons, we were unable to build such a Sukkah.
The Liebmans went to Jerusalem for Sukkot and most of the remaining families of this block, in the end built their own Sukkah.
As mentioned elsewhere, I had got married a few weeks earlier and as a wedding present from the settlers, had received the poles for a Sukkah.
These poles only arrived a few days before Sukkot, and so we had to get to work quickly and build the Sukkah. I asked the carpenter Eddie Dribben, to make me a number of beams to put on the roof of my Sukkah to support the schach and this he immediately did.
I put together the twelve aluminium poles to make the frame of the Sukkah and placed the wooden beams on the roof. At that time some workman were laying some concrete paths to our “houses” which had recently been completed. One of these workman, who had observed that the aluminium poles on the sides of the Sukkah which were three metres long, were already sagging under the weight of the roof beams and he was concerned that the additional weight of the schach might cause these poles to break. He thus said that they needed supporting in the middle and he made us a supporting beam for one side and attached the other side to a vertical pole of the building.
Whilst I was in Bar-Ilan University, a big machine arrived for my department and it was wrapped in s thickish type of canvas, silvered on one side. Instead of throwing that material away, I felt it might come in useful for me at a later and so I kept it. It proved ideal material for the walls of the Sukkah. The moral: Think before you throw anything away! Since this material might sway in a normal wind, I added a number of vertical posts about a metre high along some of the walls of the Sukkah.
We still had to obtain schach for the Sukkah. Permanent schach was not yet in fashion in Israel. We found a place for obtaining fresh schach from an unusual source. Although Hebron is predominantly Moslem, there was a small Christian community. In sight of the Memshal was a Russian Church and there were a few monks who lived there. Near this Church was the tree claimed to be Avraham’s oak. It was surrounded by a fence and a brief history of it was given there. I believe that over a hundred years ago it was struck by lightening.
Near to this Church were a lot of pine trees and the monks had given us permission to cut down branches to use as schach. Thus armed with saws, several of us including Rabbi Levinger, Zvi Idels and myself went down to cut down branches. It was arranged that Eddie Dribben would come later that morning with his cart to collect the branches we had cut down and take them back to the Memshal.
For several hours, we cut down branches. I recollect one of the monks bringing us some grapes to eat as refreshments. We had to wait some time for Eddie to arrive and when he did we loaded up his cart full of these branches. One of the settlers sat on the top of all these branches to make sure that they didn’t roll off and back went the cart to the Memshal. I returned on foot together with Zvi Idels.
Some of this schach was put on my Sukkah. I moved my bed in and then hung up a curtain to divide the sleeping and eating sections of the Sukkah. During the year my family lived in a one-room house - on Sukkot we had a two-room house!
That Simchat Torah, the Zacks family invited Dina and myself to their apartment in Jerusalem for the Festival. There I saw a very nice custom, which I have adopted ever since. Whilst eating the last meal in the Sukkah just before Simchat Torah, Rabbi Zacks would hold the Arba’at Haminim in order “to accompany the Festival of Sukkot.”
Rabbi Zacks was the Rabbi of the President’s Synagogue in Jerusalem, the reason it being called that, was that the various Presidents of Israel prayed there. At that period Zalman Shazar was the President and every year he was made the Chatan Torah. It was also traditional in that Synagogue for there to be Hakafot during the Ma’ariv service at the termination of Simchat Torah.
For the following year, I found another source for Schach. Towards the bottom of the hill from the Memshal was a lot of foliage, and I went down and cut down a sufficient quantity. As I was working out the best way to bring it up to the Memshal, an Arab with a horse and cart passed by. I arranged for him to bring it up - it was “Hashgacha Pratit” that he turned up exactly at the right place at the right moment!
As in previous years, a communal Sukkah was built. However a few hours before Yom Tov it suddenly collapsed! Fortunately we managed to rebuild it before the start of the Festival.
I believe it was that year when Shalom Mishriki brought Taimani Etrogim to sell in the Memshal. The prices he was asking seemed very high to me. I told him I had already bought mine at a very reliable place, but he held that only the Taimani ones were kasher!
By that Sukkot the building of Kiryat Arba was already in progress. Lists of prospective settlers had been drawn up and during this Chol Hamoed Sukkot, a meeting was held for them in Hebron and they were taken on an escorted tour of the embryo Kiryat Arba.
With the approach of the first Chanukah in the Memshal, all the settlers started to prepare their oil or candle Chanukiot. Most of them lit them by the windows but there were a few who placed them just outside their front doors. It is no good just to place the Chanukiah outside - the wind will blow out the lights! Special Chanukiot encased in glass boxes - like an aquarium - are obtainable for this purpose.
One of the students at the Yeshivah named Yehoshua Meshulami decided to make an “outdoor Chanukiah” to be lit outside the dining room of the Yeshivah. To accomplish this, he took a wooden carton used for selling fruit and covered the top of it with cellophane paper. He then stood it on its side so that the cellophane was now at the front. For oil holders, he took some empty shoe polish tins and made a couple of holes in the lid of each into which he inserted wicks made of cotton wool. This arrangement worked very successfully. He poured in a lot of oil and the lights burned for many hours.
Before every Olympic Games, a light in kindled on Mount Olympus in Greece and runners carry this light to the Olympic Stadium, where-ever it may be in the world. A similar idea has been adopted in Israel and each Chanukah a torch is lit in Modi’in, the birthplace of the Macabees. This torch is carried by runners to Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.
It was decided for that for that Chanukah, the torch runners would come via Hebron and there would be a short ceremony which would take place on the parking space just outside the Memshal. Before the ceremony, it was necessary to set up some sort of receptacle which could be lit from the torch. To do this we took an old biscuit tin and put some rags into it and poured an inflammable liquid over these rags. The tin was then set up on a stand and was ready to receive the light from the torch.
Later that day, the runners came up the hill leading to the Memshal carrying the lighted torch. After lighting our container and having the short ceremony, they continued on their run to Jerusalem.
In order to “preserve” this light which would have soon gone out, we decided to transfer it inside. This was done by some-one lighting a cigarette from it and smoking this cigarette until he reached the settlers dining-room. (Maybe as a “reward,” this smoker will be spared the chronic illnesses arising from smoking!) A match was then lit from this cigarette and from this match a candle was lit. That evening a number of the settlers lit their Chanukah candles from this light. Someone had the idea of keeping the light for the rest of Chanukah and accordingly lit a Yahrzeit candle from it. However, either by wind or by felon, it went out during the course of the following day.
On one of the evenings during Chanukah, we arranged a Chanukah party. During this party I was blindfolded and had to put my face into a bowl of flour and see whether I could find with my mouth what had been buried in the flour. I finally found the buried object - a slice of onion.
One of the students at the Yeshivah, named Chaim Cohen, organised another stunt. He produced two saucepans and gave one to a volunteer telling him to copy every thing he did. Chaim rubbed his hand over the bottom of his saucepan and then rubbed it over various parts of his face. The volunteer duly copied him. Chaim then told him to look in a mirror and then wash his face. The reason - Chaim had previously put boot polish at the bottom of the volunteer’s saucepan!
There was also another side to this party which was far less pleasant. At that period, there was a jaundice epidemic and during the party, we were called out one by one to the dispensary to have tests to find out whether we had a positive or negative reaction to jaundice. This was done by putting some liquid on the arm and making a few scratches. A little later that evening we returned to the dispensary and if we were found to have a negative reaction, we received an injection against jaundice administered by Miriam Levinger.
The following year was the first Chanukah after I was married. I bought a stainless steel oil Chanukiah. On the first night of Chanukah as we were preparing to light the Chanukiah, the bottle of olive oil, which must have also be oily on the outside slipped out of Dina’s hands and smashed onto the floor. What a mess! We managed to rescue enough oil for that night. It was not possible to purchase another bottle in Hebron. Fortunately however, the Zacks family was coming to Hebron the next day and I asked them to bring me another bottle, which they did. From everything in life one can learn something and I learned from this not to put all ones eggs - or should I say olive oil - in one basket. I bought a plastic drinking bottle and from then on, before Chanukah would pour half my olive oil into this bottle.
We lit our Chanukiah in the window. However our neighbour the Aharonsons wanted to light it outside. For this, there are two opinions on the location - either directly outside the front door or if there is a courtyard, at the entrance to the courtyard. In front of our apartments there was a covered passageway and Shalom Aharonson considered that the entrance to this passageway was like the entrance to a courtyard. He therefore lit his Chanukiah there. The second night of Chankah was Shabbat and when Rabbi Zacks saw the Chanukiah lit there - it was already Shabbat - he told Shalom that he did not fulfill the Mitzvah lighting in that place. Being Shabbat, Shalom could do nothing about it for that night.
For the following year, for a large part of Chanukah we were not in Hebron. A school friend of mine from England was getting married and that Shabbat was the Aufruf, which was held in Petach Tiqva. I had relatives there and we arranged to stay with them. As our contribution to the Friday evening meal, we took along some gefilte fish. Maybe it went off on the journey from Hebron, since during that night everyone who had eaten the fish was keep awake with “at least” an upset stomach. The wedding took place on the last night of Chanukah in Natanya, the home town of the bride.
A few days later we made a Sheva Berachot for them in our apartment. Soon after the happy couple arrived, there must have been some shooting outside. Eddy Dribben who was very sensitive to this, came into our apartment and turned off the lights. We, who were used to this sort of thing, switched them on again. The Chatan however seemed nervous and again turned them off! The lights were like a yo-yo. Amongst the people whom we invited to this Sheva Berachot was Yitzchak Ganiram who came from Natanya and knew the bride’s family.
Purim is celebrated in almost the entire world on 14 Adar and in cities walled from the time of Joshua on 15 Adar. There are also cities in the world where there is a doubt regarding their walled status and in them, Purim is celebrated on both these days. Hebron is one of them.
We began our first Purim in Hebron with the Reading of the Megillah. It was read by Yitzchak Ganiram who read it extremely clearly. Every time Haman’s name was mentioned, the settlers banged and banged and so it took a considerable time to finish the Megillah - it didn’t seem to disturb people that they were still fasting. To ensure that people would hear Haman’s name when he read it - some people could not wait to bang, since they were obviously more than keen to blot out Amalek! - Yitzchak would say it quickly and not stretch out the musical note on it. The main Purim feast is held during the day of Purim. One can also have a small feast in the evening and this we did.
The following morning we went down to the Cave of Machpelah to read the Megillah. We believe that this was the first time that it was read in this place for at least several hundred years. As was usual at that period, we had the service and read the Megillah in the big hall between the graves of Isaac and Rebekah. Rabbi Levinger read the Megillah and there was almost no banging.
That day Rabbi Levinger had to go off to Tel Aviv and we all gave him money for the Mitzvah of Matanot Laevyonim. No-one among the settlers would like to have be classed as an “evyon.” Since one must give this money to at least two poor people, I gave him the two lots separately and he accordingly put it in two separate pockets.
When we returned to the Memshal, we had breakfast and I then went around to distribute Mishloach Manot to the other settlers. At most apartments I went to, they made me have a drink. When I arrived at Yair Oriel’s apartment, he kept topping up my drink. Apparently, I then collapsed down on the floor and was lifted onto a bed. It was only late in the afternoon that I woke up. I dragged myself off the bed and went to the dining room where most people were engaged in having their Seudat Purim - the remainder were still recovering from the effects of drink. One of the students of the Yeshivah walked into the meal in a completely “out of this world” state and was led back to bed.
A problem with having two days of Purim is that, before one has recovered from the effects of drinking on the first day, one already has to read the Megillah on the evening of the second day. To try and minimise this problem, we delayed this reading until several hours of the evening had passed and the effects of drink would be less. I think we were rather optimistic in this respect!
That evening the Megillah was again read by Yitzchak. As usual the women were listening from the kitchen. This time however they had armed themselves with saucepans and when the name of Haman was mentioned, they started banging on them! Yitzchak, who by the look of things still had a lot of alcohol in his blood, found that after he had read a few chapters was unable to continue. Rabbi Levinger, who was in a more sober state, continued the reading.
Once again on the following morning, we went down to the Cave of Machpelah to read the Megillah. The Arabs had a custom to bring dead bodies in their coffins into the Cave before burial. That morning, during our service they brought in a dead body and wanted to carry it through the place where we were praying. We were not prepared to tolerate such interference with our prayers - there were plenty of other spaces in the Cave to march with their dead bodies! We therefore formed a long line between the graves of Isaac and Rebekah and started singing Purim songs and thus prevented them from carrying their dead bodies in our place of prayer. The Arabs realised that they could not pass where we were standing and so they had to change their route.
Our soldiers who were present to ensure good order in this holy place were placed in a difficult situation when such occasions arose. On one hand they had to implement the Israeli Government policy of leaning over backwards not to offend the Arabs and on the other hand it is difficult to allow the Arabs to carry a dead body where the Jews are praying. I seem to remember that they told us to keep down the singing.
The following year we of course read the Megillah in the Cave of Machpelah. By that time the settlers had acquired the building next to the Cave and after the service we went there for light refreshments. Whilst we were all busying feasting there, Rabbi Levinger was busy in a corner reading the Megillah to a girl who had obviously missed the reading. I seem to remember getting well and truly drunk again that year.
Every year in the Memshal, we had a communal Purim meal. It was either at this Purim meal in 1970 or 1971 that Rabbi Zacks and his wife Ahuva were present. One of the Yeshiva students was drunk and kept calling out Ahuuuva Ahuuuva. Rabbi Zacks reprimanded him and said he must call her the Rabbanit.
When I now look back on past Purims, I can say that a Mitzvah I kept more “medahrin” whilst I was in the Memshal, than on any other period of my life was the Mitzvah of drinking until one is unable to distinguish between “Blessed be Mordechai and cursed be Haman.”