Sunday, January 30, 2011

Rooting for a roof!

David Wilder
Shevat 25, 5771
January 30, 2011

I know it may seem difficult to fathom, but there are certain elements of life in Hebron that have nothing to do with politics. At least, they shouldn’t.

For example, Tel Hebron. This site was called, by a preeminent archeologist, the second most important archeological site in Israel, after Jerusalem. Excavations in the middle 1960s, during the Jordanian occupation, revealed on the southern tip of the tel, ancient walls over 4,000 years old. Dr. Avi Ofer, during middle 1980s, discovered a shard dating to the pre-Abraham era, with a list of animals written on it. During the latest dig, in the late 1990s, archeologist Emmanuel Eisenberg uncovered 2,700 year old ‘lemelech’ (‘to the King’) seals, with the word Hebron, in ancient Hebrew, inscribed on them. This, in addition to a house constructed during the days of King Hezekiah, and two walls, one of which was built during the days of Abraham and Sarah.

Such a site, anywhere else in the world, would be classified as a national treasure, and related to appropriately. In other words, the government would invest funds to beautify the area and insure its well-being, while encouraging tens and hundreds of thousands of people to visit each year.

Imagine bringing a third-grader to ‘the house where Abraham lived,’ or to the burial place of Ruth the Moabite. (This place, at the height of the tel, is traditionally also the tomb of Jesse, King David’s father.) What could be more impressive than standing on 4,000 year old stairs, leading to the gates of the city of Hebron, with a foreign diplomat, explaining to him that ‘this is not only the roots of Judaism, it is also the roots of all of monotheism.’

I have declared this to thousands of people touring this wondrous area, and never cease to be amazed at my own words. And also at the expression of the faces of those I’m speaking to. Jaws literally drop.

But it’s the truth, and the truth has to be told. The real question is, does anyone listen? I’ve taken countless journalists to this site, yet almost none of them have seen fit to include such a precious parcel of history in their articles. History is not political, but such an expose just might be taken the wrong way, proving the fact that Hebron really does have Jewish roots.

So, ignored it is. Even by our own. Our own journalists, politicians, and anyone else of any importance.

And what about Ma’arat HaMachpela, the tombs of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs? It took a bit of ‘pushing and shoving’ until the Prime Minister was convinced that this site is really of national importance and should be included on the list of national heritage sites.

However, Netanyahu isn’t the only one who was persuaded to relate seriously to Machpela. According to recently received statistics, last year over 700,000 people visited the so-called ‘Jewish side’ of this holy monument. That is quite a lot of company. The number continues to climb and it won’t be long before we pass the one million mark.

But what do people see when they arrive at Machpela. Climbing the stairs and entering this massive 2,000 year old structure, visitors find themselves standing under a canvas awning in the building’s mains courtyard. Not a roof, rather a tarpaulin. This covering, a poor attempt to protect visitors and worshipers from the elements, hasn’t been cleaned in years. A filthy, water-creased tent-like structure adorns the second holiest place to the Jewish people in all the world.

In one word, this can be described as disgusting. An additional word is disgraceful. Is this the wys to commemorate our nation’s founders: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah?

For about a decade Hebron community leaders have been trying to convince the ‘powers that be’ to remove the awning and replace it with a high-quality roof, as would be befitting of such a national monument. To no avail. Despite hundreds of thousands of annual visitors, of all races and religions, a roof is too political. A potato much too hot to touch.

A few weeks ago, when finally on Shabbat, thank G-d, rain began to fall, water dripped down from the canvas covering onto a Torah scroll. The Torah reading was stopped and the scroll immediately moved. Last night, as a result of heavy winds and rain, the roof finally caved in, falling to the ground, leaving a gaping hole, and a great view of the sky above. And rain falling on worshiper’s heads.

Isn’t it time to stop playing politics with our national treasures and bring an end to such humiliation?! This solution is not to replace the old canvas with a new one. The time has finally come to take the giant step and authorize a real roof atop Ma’arat HaMachpela.

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