What My Seven-Year-Old Grandson Can Teach President Obama About Israel
by Lenny Ben-David
July 1, 2009
Reprinted from The Jewish Week, New York
Hebron -- Uriya and 80 other first grade boys received their certificates last month on completing their study of the entire book of Genesis. That's an important achievement in many Jewish day schools in the United States, usually accomplished only in the third grade. What was truly unique about Uriya's reception was its location: The Shrine of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs in Hebron in the West Bank.
Meorat HaMachpeila, the traditional site of the graves of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah, is the second holiest site in Judaism after the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The burial cave was purchased by Abraham from Ephron the Hittite for 400 shekels of silver, according to the Bible [Genesis 23:17]. The cave was enclosed by a massive Herodian structure some 2000 years ago upon which Muslims added minarets and Christian crusaders added their churches. Hebron had served as King David's capital until he moved to Jerusalem, and Jews lived in Hebron for centuries until an Arab massacre of Jews in 1929 forced the survivors to flee. For centuries the Muslims forbad Jews from entering the tomb, which they called the Haram al-Ibrahimi. Only after the 1967 war, when Israel pushed the Jordanian Legion from the West Bank, were Jews able to return to Hebron and enter the shrine.
The children's program in Hebron was full of songs, re-enactments of Bible stories, and quizzes about Bible figures and verses. Most of the program was conducted on the broad expanse of grass outside the holy site, and then the boys went inside to pray in the chambers above the graves. Only the large Isaac chamber was off-limits since it is reserved for Muslim worshippers for most of the year. [It was the site of the massacre of 29 Muslims by Baruch Goldstein on Purim, 1994.]
My wife and I grew up in Washington D.C., and we often supplemented our American history lessons with class trips to the U.S. Capitol building, Mt. Vernon or the Supreme Court.
But for Uriya and his friends the field trip was the opportunity to learn about their forefathers and the Cave of Machpeila, a 25-minute ride from his Efrat school in the Etzion Bloc south of Jerusalem. The one biblical matriarch missing from Hebron, Rachel, is buried in a shrine a few miles to the north between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Uriya knows a little about the history of the Etzion Bloc and its valiant history in defending the approaches to Jerusalem in May 1948 when 250 Jewish fighters were massacred by Arab armies.
The Jewish communities, built there decades before, were wiped off the map. When he's older, Uriya and his class will visit the site of the massacre and the kibbutz rebuilt after 1967 by the children of the defenders.
Other than playing "King of the Hill, the boys do not understand the intricacies of strategic topography, but they know that across the valley from their school is the community of Elazar, built after 1967. They can relate the area to the ancient Chanukah story. The settlement, another part of the Etzion Bloc, was named for the Maccabean general who died nearby beneath the military tank of the time - an elephant - deployed by the invading Greek army.
The area is steeped in Jewish history -- and Jewish blood.
Uriya's moving ceremony was attended by his parents and two sets of proud grandparents who also live in Efrat. It may be difficult for Americans with their atomized families and cross-continent mobility to understand the pride and efforts of the large Jewish families in the settlements to live in close proximity. They spend Shabbat and holidays together. Siblings and parents are available to babysit and help out when a daughter gives birth. Our home reverberates when a near-minyan of grandchildren come for a birthday party or cookie baking or cherry picking.
Our Arab neighbors understand the idea. When a son marries he builds his home near or above his parents' home. I seriously doubt that any American policy-maker would ever consider denying Palestinians the right to "natural growth" in their places of residence.
A recent Washington Post article described the role played by President Obama's Jewish friends and advisors in setting his draconian anti-settlement policies. It's a shame that the advisors have little or none of the deep emotional Jewish ties to the birthplace and birthright of Judaism - the Biblical sites in east Jerusalem, Hebron or Shiloh. They view with distain the religious devotion of the modern Orthodox Jews and the more than 100,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews who live in Judea and Samaria (not unlike the embarrassment that their parents felt toward their Yiddish-speaking Orthodox grandparents who arrived in America in the early 20th century). Unlike their American Jewish cousins, there will be little if any intermarriage or assimilation among the observant Israeli Jews.
The American friends and advisors to Obama may be friends or relatives of Israelis who are, more often than not, secular Israelis from the Tel Aviv region. The ignorance about the religious "other" is not the sole property of the American Jewish advisors. Former Prime Ministers Barak and Olmert were quick to relinquish the Jewish patrimony. During the Oslo Accords withdrawal one Israeli military negotiator had no inkling about the sanctity of Rachel's Tomb and "gave it away" until ultra-Orthodox rabbinic leaders persuaded Prime Minister Rabin to correct the spiritual crime.
The relationship between Obama's Jews on one hand and the ardent American Zionists and patriotic Israelis on the other is reminiscent of a conversation held more than a century ago between Chaim Weizmann and Lord Arthur Balfour, the eventual author of the Balfour Declaration that launched the policy to establish a Jewish homeland. Balfour could not fathom why persecuted Russian Jews refused an offer of safe asylum in Uganda. Weizmann argued that Zionist Jews could not accept a home anywhere but Jerusalem.
"Suppose I were to offer you Paris instead of London," Weizmann said.
"But, Dr. Weizmann," Balfour responded, "we have London."
"That is true," Weizmann said, "but we had Jerusalem when London was a marsh."
Balfour asked, "Are there many Jews who think like you?"
"I believe I speak the minds of millions of Jews," replied Weizmann.
"It is curious," said Balfour, "the Jews I meet are quite different."
"Mr. Balfour," Weizmann retorted, "you meet the wrong kind of Jews."
We all pray that Uriya and his classmates will be spared the army service that his father, uncles and grandfather have all experienced. But if one day he will have to don a uniform, he will know about his centuries-old ties to the land.
Lenny Ben-David served as a senior Israeli diplomat in Washington. Today, he serves as a public affairs consultant. He blogs at http://www.lennybendavid.com
Excellent article except for these flies in the ointment:
Due to Obama's failure to prove he is a natural born citizen, as
our Constitution requires, we must consider Obama illegitimate, a president usurper.