Memorial Day – Independence Day in the Heart and in our hearts – ONE HUNDRED YEARS TO SAN REMO
Despite all that has been researched and revealed about the Land of Israel, there are still many stories still not told that shed light on important perspectives of history many of you were never told. The last hundred years have brought Israel to the front center stage, yet the world is divided on their feelings about it. This is why in lieu of Memorial Day, I find it my obligation and responsibility to share the stories of the heroes I knew that fell, about the people that propelled and motivated the return to our ancient legacy and that died fighting for it. I have known enough victims of terror that can fill up an entire room. I see them. I feel them. I want you to too. I also want to take this opportunity to thank the dear friends that support Friends of Itamar, our 501c3. It has been a privilege for me personally to dedicate my life’s work to combating the pain and sadness of bereavement by trying to fix broken hearts through our projects that bring joy satisfaction and most of all safety to the families of the victims of terror and the community. There were times that we hardly had time to recuperate from one tragedy and already another hit hard. Itamar has suffered more loss to terror in one community than any other in Israel.
In 1904 a photographer came to the Tomb of Yosef in Shechem and enabled us with a very significant picture of an open field with the backdrop of the two mountains of Mount Gerizzim and Mount Eval on either side reaching up into the horizon. Not a single house can be seen aside from the Tomb that has been standing in the same place for 3,200 years. In the last hundred years, Shechem went through the hands of the Turks, the British and the Jordanians, Israelis and Palestinian Authority. According to the San Remo Conference held in Italy on April 26 1920, just 16 years after the photo was taken when the undefined Ottoman territories in the Middle East would be divided into mandates, allocating what was then called Palestine- everything WEST of the Jordan River for a safe haven for Jews already blueprinted in the Balfour Declaration. The British received the mandate for Palestine and Iraq, France gained control over Syria, including Lebanon. During the turbulent years that followed, it was still just a dream for Jews to reach the most holy sites at the foundation stones set up by our forefathers in Shechem, Jericho, Jerusalem and Chevron located smack geographically in the very center of the area mandated. When the Arab armies came to annihilate Israel in 1967 those places were finally recovered to her people when she won the war in just 6 days. Crazily the most sacred of places though remained untouched and unrevived. The mountains and hills remained dry clumps of clay that still did not see a rake or hoe nor a drop of extra water to make it into the garden of Eden that we know it today. Rachel Immeinu called to us from Bethlehem as she cried for our return but we, for no apparent reason were refused to reunite with her. The old shards of yesteryear in Shilo were crying to be revealed but a firm no prevented us from digging there. The Land of Efrayim begged for our return but like anything in true holy form- it was a battle to reunite with it. We had to heal the breach, to remarry so to speak after a long coma of sleep that left our own leaders dizzy with dozing for so many hundreds of years. Gush Emunim, a group of stiff -necked Israeli Jews formed a political movement that demanded to return to the barren wastelands of the windswept hills and mountains of the Heartland but were met with deaf ears. It took over a decade and many attempts to reinstate and settle these most precious places. Trials from here to tomorrow met the settlers who zealed for Zion. We put down roots and were not deterred by anything as the objective was to flourish the wasteland. Finally, the machine went in motion and the momentum picked up with new settlements decorating the hills of the heartland until disaster hit with the implementation of the Oslo Accords in the year 2000 whose major objective was to make the heart of Israel Judenrein. The Tomb of Yosef which had been a sweet haven for us, a holy sacred place with a Yeshiva and synagogue was in danger as Shechem was forfeited in a FAKE peace plan. Yosef, who ruled over Egypt was now being ruled over by strangers whose only ideology was hate Jews and tear them away from their sacred places. Just five minutes from our home on Itamar, it seemed ludicrous to stipulate so racist a demand. Danger was coming very close by. The shots of machine gun fire and random shooting painted a dismal picture all through the summer of the year 2000. It was hot for many reasons. We plastered posters onto the barricades that led in to Shechem -“DO NOT GIVE THEM GUNS!” But President Clinton and Yaasar Arafat convinced Yitzchak Rabin that the guns were for their army, the Palestinian army. Ehud Barak cut off entire sections of the Land and forfeited them causing those places to become hotbeds of terror cells instantaneously. Later, and not much later, those guns were pointed at simple Jewish people- men women and children who every single day the newspapers would say ” died for peace” because they called the charade peace. Armed terrorists now stood outside the entrance to the Tomb but Time magazine had Israeli settlers toting guns on their front page. Many people believed the emperor’s new beautiful clothes as he stood stark naked. In the bible we know an evil spirit took over King Saul as he let the King of Amalek live too. Only later, just before his demise Saul refused to recognize David as King and he had the Priests of Nov all murdered. This was our nightmare unfolding and it went from bad to worse. We became the villains.
Maybe the New Year, Rosh Hashana would bring good tidings. Just as Moshe was blowing the shofar for our congregation in the little synagogue, we were floored by helicopters flying low over us and heard sporadic gunfire very close by. Palestinian statehood was not declared and Yaasar Arafat turned on his promise for no violence. We were not surprised. By Shabbat Shuva which follows Rosh Hashana, word got out that Ehud Barak the then Defense Minister surrendered the tomb of Yosef to the terrorists. Instead of Shuva that means “return”, our reality turned into the antithesis. We were abandoning our backbone, we were surrendering to violence, and desecrating Hashem’s name for the whole world to see. That night, the Torah scrolls were smuggled out of the Tomb of Yosef. My neighbor Hagar called to me through the noise and yelled “Leah, what are you doing here? You’re not at the tomb? How much worse can it get?” she asked. I just looked at her. I wanted to run there but I had five children at home. How much worse can it get she asked. Her own husband was murdered that same year as well as neighbors from all the blocks in our neighborhood. Even I can’t believe this is my story. “Kever Yosef is being burnt!” The acrid smell of fire in the air, we took strollers and whatever means to run towards Shechem in a desperate reflex that had us moving into the next nightmares. Word got out that Hillel Lieberman, the anchor of the Yeshiva in Kever Yosef, went missing. During morning services, he ran out of the synagogue in nearby Eilon Moreh still with his tallit on. “No! Hillel! Don’t go!” But he ran like the wind. He had last been seen in the forest that surrounded Elon Moreh. He brought no gun. Our quiet vigil together with people from the surrounding communities had us literally with ashes on our heads. The reports were fast becoming confirmed that the tomb of Yosef was reduced to rubble. The retreating Israeli soldiers did their best to remove what they could before a violent mob burned over 2,000 sacred books, tallitot, tefillin and other hallowed objects. They took the bookcases, computers, desks chairs and even the sinks and toilets. After stealing these things, they smashed the building and set a bomb off that blew the roof off the rounded kippa. The other smaller dome was chipped away with pickaxes. (This you can see for yourselves. There are videos of it-) and all of this was done in conjunction with the Palestinian soldiers we so nicely equipped with guns and other means of murdering us. Which they did.
But wait- it gets worse. A sandal of Hillel Lieberman HY”D was spotted near butchers square on the outskirts of Nablus. The army intensified the search and found Hillel in a nearby cave, his body riddled with bullets. As the body was being liberated, the Palestinian policemen began shooting at our soldiers. The commanding officer, Yossi Adiri found that a bullet had penetrated right through the top of his helmet as he carried the body of Hillel to safety. Quickly a funeral was arranged. It felt like we had regressed back to the times of the holocaust. I felt like I was in ghetto Lodz. Our procession was fired on and the firing did not abate. We became stuck in crossfire. All of this at our little traffic circle – who would have imagined the nightmare? Yael, Hillel’s widow screamed into the microphone- “The horn of Israel has fallen! If there is no Yosef’s tomb- there is no Hillel!” All the while, I had to get a grip on myself and kept repeating the lines of the passage (Genesis 45:28) “Yosef lives on! Not here, but in another place. He was found to be ruling over all in Egypt.” We said the earliest roots were planted when the tomb was built over 3,200 years ago when Joshua and all the tribes of Israel layed his bones to rest there. Why attack it? Did Yosef yet live?
Yosef, as I mentioned before is buried between the Blessing and the Curse. There were days, no- weeks I couldn’t open my curtain which faced the view.
A few days later our Rabbi, HaRav Binyamin Hurling, a 65-year-old Holocaust survivor and saint led a group of hikers to the altar of Joshua on Mount Eval. From there they would be able to see into the valley and get to steal a look at the beloved shrine, now in ruins. After clearing it with officials, they made for the cheerless and rocky round over the hill and not so far away. They found the passage on the far side of this bald Mountain of the Curse that led them to a path running south west. Here the land fell harshly away and a good vantage point for viewing into the valley. Unexpectedly and out of the blue shots were fired. They looked back and ran to take cover, throwing themselves down as they began to shiver in the warm sunny day. We heard it all from our house not five miles away. The sound of shooting went on for what it seemed like hours. The shots reverberated through the mountain passes. Rav Herling HY”D sang Chasidic songs to calm the group and told them to stay undercover. “Lay flat and still!” he instructed. A young mother asked “Why doesn’t the army send a helicopter?” but her question went unanswered as Rav Hurling was fatally shot. They could see him but could do nothing for him as he bled to death on the Mountain of the Curse. The trees and rocks he so loved blurred before his eyes as he recited the Shema. It began to grow very cold for him as if blocks of ice were thrown at him. The evening approached and wore on, now silently. The haze before him dazzled him as he fell into the dusk of Mincha near the alter- sacrificed and separated from this world. The mountain of the curse.
The last hundred years has made an incredible impact on the Jewish people in the forming and creating of their own State of Israel, built on its ancient ruins. Sometimes in making history as we have seen time and again for the Jewish people, there is a trigger affect. Sometimes we pull back. The clearheaded selfless ones that see the true path and the long haul and are willing to be there anyway are the ones that in the end shape our history. Today we dedicate to the memory of those who gave their lives for it. May their memory be a blessing. Amen
Leah יהי זכרם ברוך