WOOD WOOD GLORIOUS WOOD

One of Eddy Dribben’s trades was carpentry and in Hebron he intended to work at this. In any other part of the world, there would be nothing strange in this statement - but Hebron was different. The Israeli government only allowed Jews to live in Hebron if they studied or were connected with the Yeshivah.

Eddy had the ability to make contact with and develop relations with Arabs and within a short period of his arrival in Hebron, he had opened a carpentry shop in a side street near the centre of Hebron. Naturally, this had to be done secretly, since the Military Governor would not have given permission for such a venture.

An “apprentice” of Eddy’s was Micha Bloch. Micha was about eighteen years old at the time and had come to Hebron to study in the Yeshivah. Soon after he had come to Hebron, Micha had met with a group of Americans and had explained the conditions we were living in and the Americans had left him their address. He decided to follow this up and he asked me to write them a letter in English. In this letter I “piled on the agony” in the hope that they would send large funds to our settlement. Since one of the many restrictions imposed on us by the Israeli government was the prohibition of occupying ourselves in any form of work, we depended on outside funds in order to live.

The Americans I wrote to must have got hold of the wrong end of the stick and assumed that we were some kind of refugee camp. Periodically, for the next few years or so, we received boxes of second hand clothes sent by some “Milk Fund” in America! No-one among the settlers wanted second hand clothes and what is more we had to pay customs duties on them. We therefore had to hunt around for money to pay this duty. Since it was a very nice thought of these Americans to send us these regular packages, we did not want to tell them to stop. We were therefore very glad, when several years later they indeed stopped arriving.

Micha had been born in France and therefore held French citizenship, even though he had left France when he was still a baby. When he was about eighteen, he received a letter written in French from the French consulate in Israel telling him to report for conscription in the French army! This letter concluded with a postscript that should he not report in France, a court case would be held for him in Paris. I don’t think they would (or even could) have extradited him! He was advised to sort out the matter, since should he ever visit France in the future, he might find himself in trouble - maybe, even in a “glass house.” He therefore paid some visits to the French consulate and finally sorted it out.

Now to return to Eddy’s carpentry shop. After he had been working for a few weeks in the centre of Hebron, I was passing one day and took the opportunity to see how he was getting on. He told me that he thought that the Military Governor was getting wise to it and it therefore would be necessary to transfer it to the Memshal.

This was just a few weeks before I got married and he then showed me the poles he was making to hold up the Chupah. For the first few weddings held in Hebron, we had borrowed a Chupah from Jerusalem but we then decided that by the next wedding in Hebron, we would have our own. We therefore gave an order to a person in Tel Aviv to make us a nice embroidered Chupah. It was only ready a few days before the next wedding (which happened to be mine) and I asked my brother who had come to Israel for the occasion to go to Tel-Aviv to collect it.

Meanwhile we had asked Eddy to make four nice long poles to hold up the Chupah at its corners and just a few days before the wedding, the varnished and polished poles were finished.

Soon after, Eddy’s time in Hebron had finally run out and he had to move his carpentry shop to the Memshal. For this purpose he occupied one of the still vacant rooms in the “Yeshivah dormitory block” - it really became multi-purpose then! A big working bench was set up in the middle and all manner of tools, screws and so on, were put in the various drawers. In addition various racks were affixed to the walls.

Eddy’s plans were not just to remain stagnant but to gradually expand and utilise bigger machinery. At one of the general meetings of the settlers, he stood up and gave a lecture in his “pigeon-Hebrew” about carpentry.

Eddy began his programme of expansion in early 1970 by purchasing a second-hand small circular saw and as the year progressed at regular intervals “enormous” machines continually appeared. In Israel, the rain is generally confined to a few months in the winter and by that time in 1970, the rainy season was almost over. These “enormous” machines could therefore be placed in the space between the Yeshivah’s two dormitory blocks and from then on, most of the carpentry work took place there.

With all this expansion, Eddy could no longer carry on working single handed and so it was necessary to recruit further workers. From his excellent knowledge of the Arabs in Hebron, he was able to find Arab carpenters to come and work in his shop. From the security point of view, it was important to know which Arabs were wandering around. Therefore when an Arab entered the gate of the Memshal, he handed his identity card to the sentry on duty and when he left he collected it. A card in the possession of the sentry would thus indicate that the Arab was present within the precincts of the compound. I don’t think that in those days they tried climbing over or cutting through fences!

Also about this time, Aryeh Feurstain, who was about Eddy’s age, arrived in Hebron. He had recently arrived from America and came from a family of business men - I believe the shoe-trade was their specialty. One evening Aryeh spent hours relating to me a number of ways of making money. I contributed to this discussion by suggesting to him a further method. One could collect stones from around the Cave of Machpelah, put them in a fancy transparent box and individually authenticate them with a signature and seal. They could then be exported or sold to foreign tourists as “stones from the area of the burial place of our forefathers.” Aryeh however, did not take up this idea - I don’t think anyone has up to now! Maybe had I done so, I would now be a millionaire!

Aryeh went into partnership with Eddy. I don’t think he did any carpentry himself but he looked after the business side. He would arrange the ordering of materials, calculate the costs and so on. Without an accountant (or similar man) at your right hand, you can be bankrupt without knowing it!

The first big order received by them was from the Ministry of Education who wanted large wooden teaching blocks of various shapes. They sent a sample of each shape and two hundred and fifty of each had to be made.

The first shape that they tackled were the rectangular blocks. These were made by cutting up large sheets of thin wood into the appropriate sizes and then nailing the pieces together. They soon realised that knocking in nails was a time-consuming job and so they purchased a gun-type instrument. This instrument was connected to a cylinder of compressed air and would “shoot” into the wood staple-shaped pins. Such a method was far quicker and also neater than the hammering in of nails. Remember: “time is money!”

After the blocks were made, they had to be varnished and they started this process off on a trial and error method. I believe in the early stages they tried cooking oil which gave very strange results! However they were soon advised on a better preparation and we would often see rows of blocks laid out in the sun to dry.

As I have already said, these carpentry activities were taking place between the two “Yeshivah dormitory blocks.” Eddy had even closed in part of this area and also made an asbestos roof over the area of the machines, presumably to give the workers shade from the mid-day sun. The finished products were stored against the walls of the dormitory block. The area looked like a factory in a third world country. All that was lacking was a big sign and flashing neon-lights (assuming that they have these in the third world)!

In fact by mid-1970 these rooms, (not only because of the carpentry activities) could hardly be called a “Yeshivah dormitory.” Students in the Yeshivah were getting married, one every few months and they needed a place to live in. They got it - one room each in the dormitory block! Five families were then already living in them.

Anyone who is acquainted with heavy machinery will realise that it is no joke to have the noise of these machines a few metres from you, all day and every day. Eddy and Aryeh therefore realised that they would have to transfer their workshop to a part of the Memshal, as far as possible from human habitation. A site near to the new electric generator was chosen to build a workshop.

I never inquired how they obtained the consent of the Military Governor to erect such a building within the Memshal. They could hardly built it secretly - it was not subterranean. Perhaps they offered the reason that they were engaged in building furniture for the Yeshivah and therefore required a workshop to operate from.

At first, the progress in building the relocated workshop was very slow indeed. Meanwhile the noise of the machines at our doorsteps seemed to get louder day by day, with our nerves getting correspondingly thinner night by night. As one of the residents of this block, Yona Tur described it - zzzzz like a dentist’s drill but a hundred times louder. What is more, it began at about four o’clock every morning when the Arab workers arrived.

The families living in this dormitory block had discussions amongst themselves and then called Eddy and Aryeh to a meeting. At this meeting, Eddy and Aryeh agreed that they would ensure that their workshop would be ready in three weeks time. For once in Israel, a time schedule was adhered to! Three weeks later, it was ready and all the machinery was transferred there. We could then sleep without dreaming that we were in the dentist’s surgery!

Meanwhile, the making of these teaching blocks continued and batches were taken by lorry to the Ministry of Education. One of the shapes they had to make was a cylindrical block and I was intrigued to learn how they would bend wood into such a shape without it breaking. In fact it was quite simple - the wood was soaked for some time in water when it would become pliable and it could then easily be bent into the shape of a cylinder.

Another job which the workshop naturally received was to make furniture for the Yeshivah. The first items to be made were six benches and six pew-type seats to hold three people each. These were designed by some architect, to whom I understand we paid a lot of money for the design. Eddy’s workshop studiously followed these plans and produced some very nice looking furniture - I believe that they did not contain a single nail! But that is as far as it went. These seats were very heavy and rather low and were not at all suitable for a Yeshivah. Eddy’s workshop was not to blame - they had meticulously followed the designs that they had received.

However there was a happy sequel to that event. When later we were finally allowed to take seats into the Cave of Machpelah (as described in detail elsewhere in this book), we took in these benches and they proved a most suitable seating arrangement there.

Another item of woodwork made by Eddy’s carpentry shop were two bookcases which occupied the entire length of one of the walls of the Bet Hamedrash of the Yeshivah. When the settlers had arrived in the Memshal, they had found there two old bookcases. From a label which was stuck on one of them, we could see that they had been there from the time of the British Mandate. I believe the label had a date from the 1920s. They had obviously been in the Memshal throughout the period of the Jordanian occupation of Hebron and it would be interesting to speculate what sort of books, if any, the Jordanians had placed on these shelves!

Before Eddy made these bookcases, I explained to him that a number of the books in a Yeshivah library are large and heavy and it is consequently necessary to make the bookcase strong enough to hold these books. In addition it was necessary to make shelves whose position could be moved up or down.

The bookcase was made in two sections, each equal to half the length of the wall. Along the whole length of the bookcase, the bottom sixty centimetres or so were to be small cupboards. Since, as is customary in Israel, the floors were made of tiles, they were regularly washed with water and who knows how much water a thorough and conscientious cleaner will use. To forestall any problems, the doors of the cupboards were covered with formica, so even if there were to be a floor-cleaner who did not stint on water, the wood of the bookcases would not be spoilt.

Eddy and his fellow carpenters then got to work to make these bookcases. After a time they were ready and Eddy helped by his carpenters lugged them into the Bet Hamedrash in order to position them.

Obviously there were no problems in putting the first one against the wall. When however they came to put in the second one, they found it would not quite fit. It was slightly too big. To solve the problem, rather than change the bookcase, Eddy simply took a chisel and chiseled out part of the stonework from the wall!

As time progressed, more and more orders from outside were received by the workshop and as a consequence they purchased more machinery and more Arab carpenters were recruited. In an interview given by Eddy in the summer of 1970, he said that he then had two Jewish and seven Arab carpenters, with more on the way. The Yeshivah put some money into the workshop which entitled it to be a partner. The reason for this is that when such a venture will start making profits, the Yeshivah would be entitled to a rake off.

When the building of the first apartments in Kiryat Arba was begun, it was most appropriate that Eddy’s carpentry shop was commissioned to make the window frames, since he undoubtedly was the pioneer for Jewish industry in the area. Since that time, two industrial zones have been established in Kiryat Arba with a whole variety of small factories.

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