Liberation after the Liberation
July 25, 2019
rena g in #1175, Chevron, History, Life on Shlichus


The story of Chabad in the City of Our Fathers – Chevron, the city second in significance to the Jewish people that was redeemed in the storm of the Six Day War.

About a year after the liberation of Chevron in the Six-day war, a group of rabbanim and others led by Rabbi Moshe Levinger a’h and Mr. Elyakim Haetzni, were able to enter Chevron to make a Pesach seder. They entered as a group of foreign tourists. Among the pioneer settlers was the family of the Lubavitcher artist, Rabbi Baruch Nachshon.

Some time after that, Ariel Sharon, then Knesset member, turned to the Rebbe with a suggestion of having Chabad Chassidim settle in Chevron. The Rebbe told him that although settling in Chevron is a positive thing, he knew that the settlement would not receive security support. The Rebbe even described in detail a situation in which a Jewish child and an Arab child would have an argument and asked – who would the police side with? Indeed, this is what came to pass.

Still, it appears from the Rebbe’s letter to Sharon that the Rebbe thought of reestablishing the Chabad yeshiva (Toras Emes) in Chevron, but the Israeli government indicated that it would be better if the Rebbe looked for a suitable location for the yeshiva in Yerushalayim.

Even later, R’ Moshe Levinger asked the Rebbe to call upon his Chassidim to settle in Chevron. Stunning revelations about actions that were taken to establish a Chabad settlement in Chevron with the Rebbe’s consent were discovered a little over ten years ago (published in the Hebrew Beis Moshiach #621) but at a certain point, the Rebbe hinted to shelve the plan. The Rebbe then said that the government wanted to return Chevron to the Arabs and only a miracle was preventing this from happening. Therefore, he could not issue such a call, for one does not rely on a miracle.

THE REDEMPTION OF BEIT SCHNEERSON

Throughout the years that passed since Chevron’s liberation, Jews yearned to return and revitalize the Jewish settlement. This drive was fueled by the understanding that we ought not make peace with the reprehensible actions of the murderers of 1929 and grant a victory to terrorism by perpetuating the situation in which Jews, who lived in the city for thousands of years, expelled from there with great cruelty, could not exercise their right to return and rebuild it.

Toward this end, a unit was formed whose job it was to redeem the Jewish property from the Arab rioters who lived on those Jewish properties since the deadly riots of 1929.

Among the many Jewish parcels in Chevron, the Chabad sections were considered of vital importance. In the first stage, discussion centered on Beit Schneerson, the building that was built in the 1800s by Chabad Chassidim which served as a meeting place, beis medrash, guest hostel and residences. Beit Schneerson was also where Rebbetzin Menucha Rochel Slonim lived. She was the mother of the Chabad settlement in Chevron who was known for her righteousness and was esteemed by all residents of Chevron.

R’ Levinger, who greatly desired redeeming the house from the Arabs, faced a dead end. He could not start his attempts at redeeming the land as long as he did not have power of attorney from Kollel Chabad, led by the Rebbe.

To his inquiries to the offices of Kollel Chabad in Eretz Yisrael, he was told that with all the goodwill to help him, they could not act without permission from the Nasi of the kollel, i.e. the Rebbe. He asked the Rebbe to tell Kollel Chabad to provide him with the necessary authorization.  After repeated attempts, the Rebbe, in a phone call on 19 Kislev 5738, told the heads of Kollel Chabad to speak to a Lubavitcher rav about this.

It was decided to speak with Rabbi Yaakov Landau a’h, the rav of Bnei Brak. R’ Landau, who apparently knew R’ Levinger, said to provide R’ Levinger with the power of attorney to redeem Beit Schneerson for he was experienced when it came to redeeming parcels in Chevron. [The Rebbe’s instruction was received late at night and the heads of the Kollel understood that the Rebbe wanted the matter to be taken care of expeditiously. This is why they were at R’ Landau’s house in Bnei Brak at five in the morning.]

R’ Levinger got to work. He spoke to Arab home owners and asked them to leave in exchange for a lot of money. Although he could have opened legal proceedings against them and proved his legal ownership of the house, he preferred to redeem the properties without the media commotion that could cover the legal battle under a black cloud.

Despite the financial reward, those living in the house refused to leave. It turned out that that Peace Now activists, who knew the intentions of the Chevron settlers, had promised the Arabs big money if they didn’t sell the house. It was only after the personal involvement of the head of the Land Commission in Chevron that the Arab agreed to sell them the house.

After they finished signing the sale document and had left the house, they saw the car of a lawyer for Peace Now who came to prevent the sale. They had gotten there first.

In the years that followed, the building was renovated and rebuilt. Today, Beit Schneerson has an additional two floors and the northern facade of the building has another building connected to it called Beit Ha’Shisha. On the back of Beit Schneerson they built another building called Beit Fink for the donors. Six large families live in Beit Schneerson today and a childcare center was opened for the children of Chevron on the ground floor.

THE REDEMPTION OF BEIT ROMANO

While Beit Schneerson was undergoing renovations, R’ Levinger began looking into Beit Romano. This property is considered the largest Jewish property in the Chevron area. The entire lot encompasses nearly 5000 square meters.

In those days, there was a large Arab school in Beit Romano. Arab stores were built on some of the land and the central bus station of Arab Chevron was located on a large part of it. R’ Levinger wanted to redeem the land and have a yeshiva there, but here too, it was made clear to him that without express permission from the Rebbe, Kollel Chabad could not give him power of attorney over the property. Additionally, the political echelons insisted on the Rebbe’s agreement.

R’ Levinger realized that the only thing he could do was go to the Rebbe, tell him his plans, and ask for his approval.

“The Rebbe,” R’ Levinger told Beis Moshiach, “like the Rebbe Rashab in his time, who collected money throughout Russia for a year and a half in order to buy Beit Romano, was very in favor of getting the building back.

“When we came to Chevron, we found all the maps and documents of the building and on all of them was written that the property belongs to ‘Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok shlita,’ who inherited it from his father. After World War I, when Chabad left the building, the Rebbe Rayatz sent letters to various authorities ‘to return my inheritance and my house in Chevron.’ The Rebbe Rayatz was tremendously upset that the place had been taken over by Arabs.”

At the end of Adar II 5741, R’ Levinger realized that after the Rebbe’s heart attack on Simchas Torah 5738, it would be difficult to obtain a private audience with him, but he decided to try. He left everything that needed to be done at home erev Pesach and went to the Rebbe. Upon arriving, he went to the office and asked for an appointment with the Rebbe. He was told that under the present circumstances, he could not have an appointment.

On Wednesday, 26 Adar II 5741, the phone rang at his host’s home. R’ Groner was on the line. “The Rebbe suggests you have yechidus after mincha,” he said. The yechidus lasted about an hour and a half, in the course of which the Rebbe discussed with him all the angles of the issue of settling Yehuda-Shomron and about the Jewish settlement in Chevron in particular. The Rebbe wanted to hear every detail and encouraged him to continue his activities.

“When I visited the Rebbe, I was able to present all these findings to him for over forty minutes! The Rebbe encouraged me and spoke in praise of the settlement enterprise.  As far as Beit Romano, the Rebbe said the following to me in Ashkenazic Hebrew: ‘Take our house the way you took Beit Hadassah and the Avrohom Avinu shul; it’s an important thing.’

“When the Rebbe spoke to me about settlements, he said he supported it and added, ‘Especially in Chevron!’ At least two thirds of the conversation revolved around Chevron,” concluded R’ Levinger. He also said that the Rebbe spoke to him about many topics that are better off remaining secret, even many years later. [In a diary that was written at that time, it said that the Rebbe asked the secretaries to check every ten minutes that nobody was taking notes of the conversation].

When he began to speak to the Rebbe about Beit Romano, the Rebbe’s face turned grave. R’ Levinger told the Rebbe his plans of redeeming the building from the Arabs and opening a yeshiva in it. The Rebbe listened, was interested in every detail, and finally agreed to grant him power of attorney to act in his name to redeem the largest Lubavitcher property.

It should be emphasized that this was only a power of attorney which gave R’ Levinger the authority to act on the Rebbe’s behalf, but it did not give him rights to the property which remained Chabad’s.

R’ Levinger said, “At the end of the conversation, I asked the Rebbe, ‘Perhaps the Rebbe will come and visit us in Chevron for Shavuos?’ The Rebbe answered with a smile, ‘Why don’t you ask me about Pesach?’” [This was days before Pesach 5741].

R’ Levinger returned to Eretz Yisrael and with authorization in hand he began to work to redeem the land. The Arabs at Beit Romano were more open and ready to leave in exchange for a huge payoff.

In the meantime, some serious attacks took place like the stabbing of a yeshiva student named Kapolsky near Beit Romano, which obligated the government to take serious steps against the Arabs of Chevron. For one thing, the Defense Ministry confiscated the entire piece of land (except for a row of stores that the Arabs built after 1929) for security purposes. The army had a clear interest in confiscating the land as its location in the center of the city was an enormous strategic advantage and the army decided to use it. As for the problem of the Arab students in the school there, the government gave the Chevron municipality additional classrooms in other schools in the city.

The entire process was coordinated between R’ Levinger and Ariel Sharon, the Defense Minister at the time, who planned on setting up an army camp on the empty section of the lot and giving the building at a later stage to the Jewish settlers so they could open a yeshiva, according to R’ Levinger’s original plan, which had received the Rebbe’s blessing.

In Elul 5742, Yeshivas Shavei Chevron was opened in Beit Romano. Once again, the sound of Torah could be heard in the place where the yeshiva Toras Emes had been. The yeshiva was opened with ten students and thanks to the blessings of the actual owners, the Rebbes of Chabad, the yeshiva today has about 200 bachurim and 50 married men.

THE MITTLER REBBE’S SHUL

In the Avrohom Avinu shul in Chevron there is a room that, when the Chassidim lived in Chevron, had been bought by the Mittler Rebbe and was called “Beis Knesses Admor Ha’Emtzai.” After the Six Day War, Professor Benzion Tavger devoted himself to refurbishing the place. Even more apropos was the fact that in later years a kollel for the study of Chassidus was opened there.

In later years, the shliach in Chevron, Rabbi Danny Cohen, worked to revitalize the old Chabad shul.

The tzadekes Rebbetzin Menucha Rochel is buried in Chevron. Many Lubavitcher Chassidim visit her grave to daven and direct their pleas on high in her merit.

THE SPIRIT OF CHABAD IS FELT IN CHEVRON

In our times, there is a fresh Chabad spirit that can be felt in Chevron, with the Rebbe’s shluchim, led by R’ Danny Cohen, working energetically among the local Jewish residents as well as with with the hundreds of IDF soldiers stationed there on a permanent basis. Additionally, R’ Cohen serves as the address for the tens of thousands of Jews who come to visit the city of the Patraiarchs.

The other shluchim in the area include R’ Victor Ettia and R’ Yossi Nachshon.  For the last three years, the shluchim erected a massive tent to host about three thousand of the many tens of thousands of Jews who come for Shabbos Parshas Chayei Sarah, where the Torah records the purchase of the Cave of the Patriarchs.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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