The settlers in Hebron originated from all over the world and ha d all different backgrounds. When I look back well over thirty years later, certain of the settlers in particular come to my mind. I shall give a few examples.
The Happy Man from Boston
One of the more “colourful” settlers was Haim Mageni. Haim was born in the United States and was a follower of the Bostoner Rebbe. He married Shoshana and in the summer of 1969 they joined the settlers in Hebron. At any simchah, Haim would joyfully lead the singing. On one occasion I was in his house and he asked me what I wanted to drink. I jokingly answered “green beer.” Haim disappeared into the kitchen. I heard all sorts of sounds coming from that room and he soon appeared with a cup of drink - its taste was beer and its colour green! How he made it I don’t know.
Whilst in the Memshal, Haim worked at a number of professions. He began by working in the settlers’ grocery shop and after a short period went to work in the Jewish National Library in Jerusalem. Finally he became a well-known tourist guide and he worked at that until his sudden untimely death in 2001. Whilst in the Memshal, he related to me how, when he met a group of tourists who had just crossed the Allenby Bridge, he greeted then with the words “Welcome to Israel.” One of the tourists immediately retorted, “No politics!”
Haim Mageni was nationalistic to the extreme. As we all know, there are numerous opinions of what to add and, what not to say on Yom Ha’atzmaut. The most “extreme” order of service was brought out by the Kibbutz Hadati Movement. This includes Hallel with a Berachah, special Reading from the Torah, Kiddush, al Hanisim, and so on. This Movement wrote in the preface to their book that they had consulted with a whole list of Rabbis, who included Rabbi Zvi Yehudah Kook. I heard that Rabbi Kook was rather annoyed that they had mentioned his name. He commented that they had asked his opinion, but they had not followed it. Haim would as far as possible follow this book to the letter. I even remember seeing him making Kiddush from it.
Haim and I wrote a joint letter to Rabbi Meir Kahane to give him encouragement for his efforts on behalf of Russian Jewry. What had happened was that a Jew who had managed to get out of Russia - which was very difficult in the 1960s - had come to address us in the Memshal on this subject one Sukkot. He told us of the work that Rabbi Kahane and the Jewish Defence League in America were doing on this question and asked us to write him a letter of encouragement. After his talk he was asked whether there were Sukkot or Arba’at Haminim in Russia and he answered that one only saw them in the Synagogue.
It was at this meeting, that either the speaker, or maybe Rabbi Waldman reported that when a group of Russian Jews arrived in Vienna they were met by Rabbi Kirshblum of the Jewish Agency. They immediately said to him “Don’t give Yehudah and Shomron away. It is for us when we arrive.”
Whilst they were in the Memshal, the Mageni’s first two daughters were born. At the kiddush they made for the first one, Haim asked me to talk on the names they had given her - Yona Tiferet. I managed to connect up both names with Yom Kippur. From then on, whenever a child was born in the Memshal, Haim would call on me to talk on the names.
When I went into his house, I saw that on the door-post of the room of Yona Tiferet, that they had fixed a Mezuzah at the head height of a young child. This was of course a “dummy Mezuzah” placed there in order to encourage the young child to be aware of and kiss the Mezuzah. I thought this was a wonderful idea.
The French Engineer
On many evenings a short Shiur was given in the Yeshivah by one of the students, then known as Shlomo Langanaur. He is now the highly respected and well-known Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, who is Rabbi of Bet El and Rosh Yeshiva of Ateret Cohanim in the Old City of Jerusalem. When learning, Shlomo would underline in his book anything he considered significant. He explained that this saved him time when revising the material.
Shlomo was about twenty-six years old when he came to Hebron. He had immigrated from France a few years previously, after having gained a degree in engineering there. He was extremely modest about this degree and we only learned about it from his younger brother Elisha. After coming to Israel, he had gone to the Mercaz Harav Yeshivah in Jerusalem, where he had studied for several years before coming to the Memshal. Whilst in the Memshal he had married, although the wedding took place in Jerusalem. I believe we hired an Arab bus to get to the wedding. Shlomo would never wear a tie and he even got married without it! - in those days it was rare to get married tie-less. When he got married, the new buildings were not yet ready, and so there were no rooms available in our part of the Memshal for him and his wife Shifrah to live in. Therefore two beds and a wardrobe were pit in the settlers’ office and this became their “house” until the new buildings were ready that summer. To be more accurate, for six weeks of this period, Shlomo was in Jerusalem recovering from jaundice which he contracted a few weeks after he got married. Also for Pesach that year they went to France.
In his short Shiurim, Shlomo succeeded in giving fascinating insights on Halachic subjects. For example, he once spoke about a person occupied with one Mitzvah being exempt at the same from another Mitzvah. He said that some regarded a person working in a public position, such as in a government office, was, by virtue of his work, performing a Mitzvah. He would thus be exempt from performing another Mitzvah during his hours of work. Therefore he could not pray Minchah during office hours!
I also remember some interesting Divrei Torah he gave concerning getting married. One of them - possibly he said it at my Sheva Berachot - began as follows:
A person is permitted leave Israel in order to get married. But are there no women in Israel to get married to?! Maybe he prefers the woman in the Diaspora. But it is only a “hidur Mitzvah” to marry someone you like. So may you leave Israel just for a “hidur Mitzvah”?!
One could also learn Halachah from the way he acted. At one meal he picked up an object from the table and put it on his wife’s finger and said “kidushin” - it was worth over one perutah. He then took a paper napkin, and did likewise and said - “safek kidushin” - it was questionable whether it was worth a perutah!
A further example arose in the case of Mezuzot. In the private apartments of the settlers, the settlers themselves affixed their Mezuzot. In the decorative case of the Mezuzah on the front door of Shlomo’s apartment, there was a sharp point on the letter shin. One day when I went to his house and kissed the Mezuzah I cut my hand on this point. I pointed out this fact to him and he jokingly answered that the “guarding” only begins from the Mezuzah inwards, and I was outside when I cut my hand!
Shlomo’s “engineering knowledge” also came in use. Once before Pesach there was difficulty in opening the wine bottles. He solved the problem by opening them with a wrench. As our Sages said “An excellent thing is the study of Torah combined with some worldly occupation.”
The American Cowboy
In the summer of 1969 - I think it was the day before Tisha B’Av - we were suddenly joined by a man aged about 40 called Eddy Dribben. He had come to Hebron with his second wife Clara and accompanied by his horse. When he first came to the Memshal, he was given the nick-name “the cowboy.” This was because he had lived rather a wild life in America where he had been born. Eddy had stated in a newspaper interview that his parents kept almost none of the Mitzvot. - they did not even fast on Yom Kippur. However Eddy was a very staunch believer in settling the liberated areas and for this reason he had come to Hebron.
Prior to coming to Hebron, Eddy had lived for some time in the Negev. His first wife Judith also had an interesting history. She had been in the Russian army and had also spent several years in a concentration camp. After marrying Eddy, she had been struck down by a serious illness and had made a slow recovery although she was unfortunately left with a speech impediment. Due to her experiences she was unable to bear children and for this reason Eddy divorced her and then married Clara. He however still remained on very good terms with Judith who lived in Jerusalem where she worked as a translator from Russian at a scientific translation agency. She would regularly come down to Hebron to spend Shabbat with Eddy and Clara. With the building of Kiryat Arba, Judith rented a flat and lived there for a few years until she died. She was one of the first settlers to be buried in the Hebron Jewish Cemetery.
A few months after moving to Hebron, Clara gave birth to a son on the way to Jerusalem. Since we didn’t have facilities in Hebron for childbirth, the women would go to a hospital in Jerusalem for this purpose. Apparently, Clara had left this rather late and started giving birth whilst she was being rushed to Jerusalem.
The next day, an eighteen year old soldier who was manning a road check-point near Hebron was shot dead by an Arab. The soldier’s name was Dov Ettinger, and he had been named after Dov Grunner, the Etzel member who had been hanged by the British. To perpetuate Dov Ettinger’s name, Eddy decided to call his newly-born son Dov. At the Brit Milah, the following week, the grandfather of Dov Ettinger was present and at a later date his parents came to Hebron. Periodically afterwards, the Dribbens were invited to visit the Ettinger family for Shabbat. Tragically, history repeated itself, and when Dov Dribben was about thirty years old he was murdered by the Arabs.
There were some chickens belonging to Eddy which would wander around the “Yeshivah dormitory block.” After one meal, my wife had some chicken scraps left over and she gave them to these chickens. They quickly gobbled them up. Talk of cannibalism!
Eddy made valuable contributions to our settlement. He was in charge of guard duty and he also open the first “factory” - a carpentry shop. To each of these subjects is devoted a chapter on their own.
Eddy was probably the only settler amongst us who was prepared to use an Arab dentist for certain selected treatments - for other treatments he said they were not clean enough.
The Lubavitcher Artist
The largest family to arrive in Hebron was the Nachshon family. They were seven people living in one room. Baruch Nachshon, the father of this family was an artist who would paint oil paintings with religious themes. Even though the Cave of Machpelah would be closed to Jews for many hours of the day, Baruch succeeded in arranging with the Arab Manager to remain there during these “off hours” to continue his painting of scenes from this Cave. How he succeeded in doing this I don’t know. One day however he was not successful and he commented to me that on that day the Arab Manager would not allow him to remain.
There were many many britot during the period of the Memshal - the Government could not stop the “internal increases” in the settler population (this was only successful in China!). The family most “famous” for britot during this period was undoubtedly the Nachshon family. Theirs was the first brit and it was held in the settlers’ dining room. The sandak was Menachem Begin, who at the time was the head of Gahal, and a Minister in the Government. The baby was named Shneur Hevron - Shneuer after the first Lubavitcher Rebbe to whom Baruch was a follower. The reason for the second name is obvious. The television came to film the brit. This brit became part of the history of that period and in 1982, a scene from it was shown in a documentary “15 years after the Six Day War.”
We put in many requests with the Government to allow britot to take place in the Cave of Machpelah but they were rejected. “The use of wine will offend the Arabs,” the Government would argue. This answer did not deter the Nachshons. It was a year or so later, that the Nachshons had another son and the settlers were told that the brit would take place at a certain time in the Memshal. The appointed time came and we all waited and waited but no Nachshons. Suddenly Baruch Nachshon and a group of his friends appeared and said that had done the brit clandestinely in the Cave of Machpelah. The mohel, the sandak and the baby were apparently surrounded by Baruch’s friends so that the soldiers would not see what was happening.
It was some years later, when britot could be held in the Cave but burials could not take place in the Jewish cemetery in Hebron, that a baby son of the Nachshons died. The Government and the army would not allow the burial in Hebron. However, Sarah the mother, took the dead baby in her hands and walked past the army barrier and succeeded in burying her son there. It was this action that reopened the Jewish cemetery in Hebron.
The Mysterious Pakistani
One day a Pakistani suddenly turned up at the Memshal and remained there for several months He claimed he was Jewish and as Chairman of the Religious Committee, I was asked to help investigate his status. In addition to being Chairman, I needed to be a detective!
He already had a file in the Beersheba Rabbinical Court and it seems that every time he appeared there, they gave him a certificate which let him remain in Israel. He was then due for another visit and I accompanied him. He spoke none or very little Hebrew and I acted as his interpreter in the Court. In fact after a while the Head Dayan in the Court, who happened to be an American, started speaking to him in English. He was asked, amongst other things, whether he had had a brit and he answered that he had had one when he was seven [sic] days old. I think the Court was concerned that he might have had a criminal past. This time they did not give him a certificate - very likely by an oversight. When he had left the Court and he realised that he had not received such a certificate, he was very agitated. I remember that that day he carried around with him a very heavy large suitcase. For some reason he opened it and I saw it was full of electrical equipment. Why he carried this around, I don’t know. Maybe he was frightened that someone might steal it from him.
In order to continue with our investigations, I sat down one afternoon and asked him to dictate to me his life story. For several hours he dictated, as far as I remember it occupied about sixteen pages and at the end he signed the document. One phrase he kept repeating was that everyone “was making blackmail” against him. At first I did not want to incorporate such expressions in this document - I considered it more imagination than fact - but he said if I didn’t write what he said, he would not continue.
In this document he quoted various names and places which were then in India and Pakistan. We must remember that when he was born, all that sub-Continent was India. When India became independent, the country was partitioned and Pakistan was created. I obviously wanted to check out the names he had given me concerning his personal history. As I recollect, for India I wrote to the hospital in which he said he was born and various individuals he had mentioned. The hospital did not have records so far back, and I received no reply from the various individuals. I had written to. When I came to write to Pakistan, I was informed that there was no postal connections between Israel and Pakistan - the same as was, at that time, with all the Arab countries. I therefore realised that I would have to write via a third country. I decided to write to the Jewish community of Pakistan. I also realised that Pakistan was not a democracy and a letter to them mentioning Israel, might cause problems for the leaders of the Jewish community there. I therefore worded my letter very carefully and sent it via my parents in England. Also here I received no reply.
This Pakistani seems to have “opened files” all over the place - he even had one in the British Consulate in East Jerusalem. I accordingly arranged a meeting with one of their officials to see if I could verify some details. It is probable that I mentioned to this Pakistani that I would be meeting with this Consular official at a particular time, since whilst I was at this meeting, he telephoned him. It seems that the Pakistani started to argue with the official, since I heard the latter warn him that he would put down the telephone. This official obviously knew him well - or even too well! Following this meeting, I wrote to the Consulate with a number of questions to confirm the information they had given me. In their written reply they were far more cautious than they had been in our face to face meeting. They were also careful in their letter to omit the words “The Religious Committee - Hebron” - this might have given British recognition of the legality of Jews living in Hebron! An international incident could have followed!
I also wanted to eliminate the possibility of him being a spy. Accordingly I asked Eddy Dribben to check him out. He found nothing suspicious about him.
The Pakistani also said that there was someone in Dimona who knew him. Dimona is some distance from Kiryat Arba and with the infrequent public transport to and from Hebron, I didn’t know whether I would manage to return on the same day. One of the settlers had a relative who lived in Dimona and told me I would be able to stay there overnight. In fact this turned out to be unnecessary. I went to Dimona and met with this man. I asked him whether this Pakistani was Jewish and he said he wasn’t. He had a number of documents concerning him. I cannot remember their content but I know nothing concrete came out of them. I always believe in photocopying documents; the documents you have in your hand today, may well be inaccessible tomorrow. He told me that there was nowhere to photocopy in Dimona. However he let me borrow them and I photocopied them in Jerusalem and immediately returned him the originals.
Just as he suddenly came to Hebron, he suddenly departed. All my efforts to determine his religion had come to naught!