Year Course participant Yoni Krakow writes about the Year Course trip to Hevron.
Our siyur to Hevron last Thursday was one of the most interesting experiences I have had on Year Course so far. We began the day on the bus where we first heard from Nadav, a member of Shovrim Shtika (Breaking the Silence), an alliance of former IDF soldiers protesting against Israeli military and government action in Hevron. With Nadav, we toured the area of the city that was partially blocked off to Arab citizens. Nadav shared his experiences serving in Hevron as a member of the IDF and discussed house raids he used to make in the middle of the night, which he categorized as an abuse of the authority of army. We walked up the main street, Al-Shuhada, previously the center of commerce, industry, and culture in Hevron, which is now all but deserted. We saw various other sites within the 3% of the city that is closed to Arabs, and unfortunately were not able to experience any of the other 97% of the city, which is closed to Jews. I was proud of the way the group challenged Nadav and his views, and although for the most part we disagreed with him, we maintained a relatively high level of respect for his opinion. It was an eye opening experience to walk the streets of Hevron, something I never could have imagined. There is definitely is something eerie about the part of the city we were able to see, and I wish I knew a way to resolve the conflict so the Arabs and Jews of Hevron could live harmoniously. However, what the IDF is doing right now has kept the Jewish citizens of Hevron as well as Ma’arat Hamachpela safe, and that will remain their number one priority. I find it extremely important to hear the opinions of those who have drastically different points of view than I do, thus hearing Nadav was a truly educational and eye opening experience.
In the afternoon we visited Ma’arat Hamachpela, the tomb of the matriarchs and the patriarchs. We were led by Rabbi Simcha, a member of the Hevron Jewish community who made Aliyah from New York. We toured the Ma’ara and saw burial sites of our ancestors, and heard some crazy stories about those that have ventured to journey down into the supposed burial sites. We followed that with a mincha service, and for the first time in my life, I was part of a minyan. Although in general I’m not so big on praying, I really enjoyed being a part of this service in such a holy place (not to mention it only took about 10 minutes). Our next stop was the synagogue where Rabbi Simcha prays followed by a trip to the Jewish residential community where we visited his home. Rabbi Simcha presented the polar opposite viewpoint of Nadav. He explained that he moved to Hevron to make an impact as a Jew and ensure the continuity of Jews in this holy city, a continuity that has lasted over 3,000 years. He is an example of the settler mindset that feels it is absolutely necessary to maintain control over holy sites like Ma’arat Hamachpela and also make sure that Hevron will always be a Jewish city.
We closed the day by visiting Elazar, a settlement in the West Bank, where we met Benjy’s cousin Yehudit. She shed light on what it was like to live in a settlement including all the positive and negative aspects associated with raising a family and having a home there. It was interesting to see a non-stereotypical settler in the West Bank and see the viewpoint of an average citizen rather than a professional.
Overall, this siyur was one of my favorite days of Year Course and I can’t wait to do others like it in our last month or so in Jerusalem.