FIRST IN HEBRON
In September 1997, my daughter Shifrah married Yair Bar-Shalom who was a member of Kibbutz Sde Eliahu which is situated in the Bet Shean Valley. Just before the wedding ceremony. Yair’s aunt Chaya Harel (nee Horovitz) told me that she had spent a Shabbat in the Park Hotel in Hebron well before Rabbi Levinger’s group had arrived for Pesach 1968. This was the first time that I had heard about this Shabbat visit to the hotel.
Rabbi Moshe Levinger was also present at this wedding and immediately after the ceremony I introduced him to Chaya. She related to him about this Shabbat and as I understand Rabbi Levinger had not been aware of this.
At the time I decided that this subject was a notable event concerning the Jewish return to Hebron and I told Chaya that when I had some time I would research it further. Unfortunately for many years this got put on the side and I did nothing about it.
Towards the end of 2004, Shifrah gave birth to her third daughter and to celebrate the event, one Thursday night Yair and Shifrah gave a dinner for their relatives and friends at the Kibbutz. Amongst the guests present was Chaya and I told her that we would have to talk about that Shabbat in the Park Hotel. At the time I thought that she would be staying in the Kibbutz over Shabbat and I would talk to her on the Friday morning. However I was mistaken and she in fact returned home that Thursday night. So again the matter was put on hold.
One of the people who had been in the Park Hotel from Pesach 1968 and then in the Military Government Building was an American called Shalom Goldman. However for family reasons he had returned to America in the mid 1980s. In the summer of 2005, when date of the expulsion of Jews from Gush Katif was fast approaching, Shalom returned to Israel to help with the fight to try and prevent such an expulsion.
During the course of a Shabbat meal at my apartment, my family was reminiscing with him about the days in the Park Hotel and the Military Government Building. I then added that I was going to tell him something which was generally not known, namely that prior to Pesach 1968, a group took over the Park Hotel for a Shabbat. Shalom started laughing and told us that he was a member of this group.
I asked him for further details which he then related to me. Amongst them was that he recollected that the Shabbat concerned was Shabbat Chanukah. I also asked him whether this Shabbat in Hebron was reported in the Israeli press. He answered that it was a “non-event” and therefore did not appear. He also told me that he had photographs of that visit. He wasn’t sure whether they were in his apartment in Kiryat Arba or in New York, but he would look for them.
This conversation with Shalom gave me the encouragement to immediately start the research to reconstruct what went on that Shabbat. I prepared a questionnaire with a large number of questions to ask any participants I could trace. The questions included the date of the Shabbat, how one heard about it, transportation to Hebron, food, sleeping arrangements davening, details of the Shabbat programme, and the names of other participants.
Naturally the first person I put these questions to was Shalom. On the following day I telephoned Chaya and asked her these questions. As far the Shabbat was concerned she gave me a different date from Shalom. This date was two weeks later on Shabbat Parashat Vayechi (12-13 January 1968). Since she disagreed with Shalom on the date, I questioned her on what made her sure that this was in fact the date and she answered that she particularly remembered it, since on that Shabbat one read from the Torah Parashah, the burial of Ya’acov in the Cave of Machpelah. When I brought this fact to the attention of Shalom, he agreed that it could well be right, since he could not recollect the lighting of Chanukah candles.
Shalom had told me that the food for that Shabbat had come from Bar-Ilan University. I therefore decided to ask Bar-Ilan if they had any archival material concerning this visit. I once worked in a Yeshivah with David Wilks who was one of the librarians there and since then I had been periodically in touch with him. I telephoned him and told him what I wanted. He was extremely helpful and asked the University office, the Students’ Union and the Public Relations Department whether they had any records of the Shabbat but all answered him in the negative. He suggested that I look up the newspapers of that period.
This indeed I did and I began by going to the Central Zionist Archives (CZA) who kept a few newspapers in bound form. I found a short report in “Hatzofeh” on the Friday edition preceding that Shabbat saying that a group of 100 students were going to spend that Shabbat as guests of the Military Governor in the Hebron Military Government Building. My immediate reaction was that the activity I was researching took place in the Park Hotel. Therefore was this some other group?! However when I saw the Sunday edition of that paper, the “mystery” was solved. Due to a high up Government intervention at the last moment, the invitation by the Military Governor was cancelled and so the students found an alternative location – namely the Park Hotel. In other newspapers such as the “Jerusalem Post” and “Ha’aretz” I found further material on this Shabbat. The CZA did not allow photocopying from newspaper files, so I noted down the precise location of these articles in order to photocopy them at a later date from the newspaper microfilms in the Jewish National Library.
I then went to the Jewish National Library and found additional reports on this Shabbat in newspapers which the CZA did not stock – “Ma’ariv,” “Yediot Aharonot” and “Panim el Panim.” I had photocopies made of all these items.
The Jewish National Library also has an Archive which is in the same room as their manuscript microfilms. I searched there for any material on the Religious Students’ Organisation and of “Yavneh” but they had virtually no material at all on these organisations, and certainly nothing concerning that Shabbat. I was then told that there was a University Archives on the Mount Scopus Campus and I should make a visit there.
I telephoned them but was told that their Director was on holiday. When she returned I spoke to her and she said that there was just one file on the (General) Students’ Union for the year 1968 and I should let her know when I was coming and she would get it out of the store room. I did just that and when I got there I studied this file, but nothing relevant was there. The Director then looked through some of her catalogues but nothing emerged. During the following days she made a further search and informed me by telephone on what she had found but it was not relevant.
From my conversations with Shalom and Chaya, I had assembled the names of a few other participants. I telephoned them and some were able to answer some of my questions. There were a few others who had been present at that Shabbat and also at the Park Hotel for the following Pesach but after all this considerable period of time were confused between on what had occurred that Shabbat and what had occurred that Pesach. When I spoke to one of the leaders of this Religious Students’ Organisation, who according to the newspaper reports and the evidence of other participants, had certainly been present that Shabbat, he informed me that he had never been to the Park Hotel or even to Hebron!
Another archive I visited was the Religious Zionist Archives at the Mossad Harav Kook in Jerusalem. They had bound copies of the various religious newspapers printed in Israel. I went through those which I had not until then studied, but found nothing. The archivist then found some other material of that period but the only mention I found of that Shabbat was a brief mention in a newsletter of the Histadrut Mizrachi and Hapoel Hamizrachi.
The name of another participant I found in the newspaper reports was Matityahu Dagan, who had been the Chairman of the Religious Students’ Organisation at the time. I succeeded in finding his telephone number and he was able to give me a number of further details regarding that Shabbat. His office had at the time been in a rented room at Heichel Shlomo and he informed me that at the time he had some files on the events of this Shabbat and that they might me in the store-room of Heichel Shlomo. I therefore contacted the archivist there but she informed me that they were not there.
I again spoke to Dagan and he informed me that the Religious Students’ Organisation no longer existed. He had run it for about ten years and he could not remember the name of the person who took over from him.
Another organisation involved in that Shabbat was the religious students’ organisation of the Hebrew University – Yavneh. After considerable searches on the Internet, I tracked down such a body who were situated in Bet Meir which is next to Heichel Shlomo. However when I spoke to them I discovered that it was a new body called “Yavneh” which was in no way connected with the “Yavneh” of the 1960s and indeed it had ceased to exist.
I also considered that it was possible that the various University Student magazines of that period might mention that Shabbat. From various sources I compiled a list of them. In addition, from the Jewish National Library I obtained a “print out” of the titles of materials from the Union List of Serials which might help with my research. From the student magazines which were still extant, I found no mention of this Shabbat. The only thing which I found was a Yavneh report from the summer of 1968, which reported that this group had spent a Shabbat in Gush Etzion in the summer of 1968 and that they were assisting with guard duty at the Park Hotel for the group which had arrived that Pesach.
I considered it quite likely that the Daily News Bulletin of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency might have mentioned this Shabbat. However, surprisingly neither the Jewish National Library nor the CZA had a copy of this paper for 1968!
A number of the participants had told me that the oldest participant there had been (now Professor) David Tamar and he had delivered a Dvar Torah at the Shabbat midday meal. I had regularly in the past seen Tamar at the Jewish National Library, although I had not seen him for a few years. I considered it would be desirable to interview him regarding that Shabbat. I made some enquiries on how I could contact him but learned that he had been very ill for several years and was told whom I could contact to find out more details. When I made these inquiries I was told that he had had a serious brain stroke a few years earlier and was unable to talk and was not in a state to be interviewed.
A number of the participants thought that they had in their possession either photographs or other material concerning this visit to the Park Hotel and they would look for it. However nothing materialised from this.
My research had shown that the army had been involved – first by extending an invitation to the students and then at the very last moment cancelling it. There are the “Army Archives” in Israel and I considered it quite possible that they would have material on the event. I telephoned them and they informed me that the material was only open until 1957. If one wanted to study material after that date one had to put in an application which would then be considered. I put in such an application and waited. After about a month I telephoned them and they informed me that the Committee for considering such applications would be sitting a few days later. A few weeks later they informed me that they had no material regarding this Shabbat.
At that stage I felt I had as much material as I would find about this Shabbat and wrote up a paper with over 70 references, which I then printed out. I distributed copies to the various libraries, archives and individuals who had assisted me with the obtaining of the information. I also gave a copy to the Levinger family and when Miriam Levinger met my wife she told her that prior to this she had known nothing about this Shabbat.
In addition I put a copy of this paper on my Internet site and also gave a copy to the Kiryat Arba archives managed by Itamar Shneiweiss. Soon after, I received a request from David Wilder, who is the English spokesman for the Hebron Jewish Community, for a copy of this paper since he wanted to put it on the Hebron website.