By Aliza Karp
At the dawn of Jewish history, when Avraham Avinu was living in Hebron, he would sit at the entrance to his tent waiting for wayfarers to pass by. Upon sighting them he would rush to offer refreshments and a place to relax. After taking care of their physical needs, Avraham taught them about Hashem and instructed them in who to thank for the food they had just enjoyed.
Avraham’s tent was the first in history to serve as a blueprint for Chabad Houses. And it was located in Hebron.
Thirteen years ago Rabbi Danny Cohen, his wife Batsheva and their three young sons, began to replicate Avraham’s Tent by reestablishing Chabad in Hebron, joining Hebron Chabad Pioneers Baruch and Sarah Nachshon and veteran Shluchim Rabbis Victor Atiya and Yosef Nachshon.
This Chai Elul they are celebrating their Bar Mitzvah, marking 13 years since the Cohen’s opening Fabrengen on Chai Elul 5762 – 2002.
Participants in that first Fabrengen included the esteemed Rabbi Leibel Groner of Crown Heights, and Boruch Nachshon of Kiryat Arba, along with Boruch Marzel, outstanding activist to develop the Jewish community in Hebron, and Meir Rhodes, the founder and director of Friends of Families of Hebron. It is thanks to Boruch and Meir that the Cohens had the opportunity to establish Chabad of Hebron.
Rabbi Groner is the great-great-grandson of the legendary daughter of the Mittler Rebbe, Rebbitzen Menucha Rochel of Hebron. Today it is hard to believe that once upon a time It was considered dangerous to go to the cemetery and visitors such as the Groners were only allowed to go with an army escort.
Since that first Fabrengen, the work of Chabad of Hebron has turned the ancient Chabad cemetery into a place where Jews feel safe to come and go, an evening Collel has been operating ever since in an old building that has been upgraded, and renovated to a beautiful, timely piece of architecture where the Kollel studies nightly and other programs take place – including a Kollel for women that is in session every other week and has been for years, under the authority of Friends of Families of Hebron, and the direction of Mrs. Miriam Rhodes.
In 1979, once the government allowed Jews to take up residence in Hebron, the Rebbe sent Boruch Nachshon a letter about conquering Hebron. In those days, there was a struggle to physically re-establish a Jewish community in Hebron. The Rebbe told Nachshon to conquer Hebron by learning Torah, Nigleh and Chassidus, with his friends. At the Chai Elul Fabrengen, Nachshon read the letter that continues to inspire and strengthen the work of Chabad in Hebron.
Rabbi Danny Cohen sees Chabad of Hebron’s mission as being threefold. To bring Judaism and warmth to the many soldiers who are stationed in Hebron. To enhance the Jewish experience for tourists and residents of Hebron, and to improve and maintain the ancient Chabad properties in the city.
In 13 years, all three areas have seen incredible, creative growth, especially touching the souls of the many thousands of IDF soldiers who have come through Hebron on their line of duty.
One of Chabad of Hebron’s unique specialties happens to be making Bar Mitzvah parties. Youngsters from around the world partner with Chabad of Hebron to celebrate their Bar/Bat Mitzvah by hosting a grand barbeque with the soldiers stationed in Hebron. The soldiers And the celebrants love it. The energy is unsurpassed.
Within walking distance of the Chabad House at 770 Avraham Avinu hundreds of soldiers are stationed. Within driving distance, close to a thousand more are based. Every few months the soldiers rotate and new soldiers arrive in the area. Luckily, the Cohen’s original apartment was able to expand and the roof space has gradually been enclosed so their home base is useful for programs in addition to their projects that reach the soldiers on base and on duty.
In the early days, when the apartment was tiny, the Cohens would share their Shabbos meal by taking trays of bowls of steaming chicken soup to the soldiers on duty within walking distance. Including soldiers guarding on rooftops. Talk about room service! It was in Hebron where Avraham Avinu began the Mitzvah of serving guests.
Nowadays Chabad of Hebron hosts dozens of soldiers every Shabbos. Unlike Shluchos in faraway places, the Cohens have the option of buying prepared food for the soldiers. But Batsheva insists the food be homemade. And she is right. The soldiers appreciate a home cooked meal with homemade Challah.
In addition to preparing Shabbos for the soldiers, Batsheva takes care of the girl soldiers in Hebron. She makes special events for them in the Chabad House. She goes to three army bases to give weekly Torah classesánd visits the army bases on Thursdays to give out Shabbos candles and treats. The girls see her as their Ima away from home.
Weekdays, Bochurim go around with Tefilin and a friendly Dvar Torah. And weeknights the soldiers are treated to coffee and a friendly chat. Years ago it started out as an occasional nightly round of taking thermoses of flavored coffee to soldiers on duty, and serving the coffee with stimulating conversation during the otherwise long, dull nightly lookout. Over the years, the coffee distribution has evolved into an organized network of Bochurim stationed in Hebron.
In the wee hours of the night the soldiers learn to appreciate how far the Rebbe reaches out to all Jews, how important their role is in the Holy City of Hebron, and how important Torah is in their personal life. The idea and implementation of this coffee plan known as “Ratz Chabad” came from Shliach Rabbi Itzik Neimark who has been part of the team since his Bochur days.
When new army units come to Hebron, the officers and commanders already know that in Hebron their soldiers will get special treatment from Chabad, the Cohen family, and their team of associate Shluchim and Bochurim.
In addition to his many activities with the soldiers, Rabbi Itzik Neimark runs the new Smicha program in Hebron for the Bochurim who combine their outreach work with the soldiers with studying Semicha and Chassidus along with operating the Chabad Teffilin stand in the Machpela
In March 5761, 2001, baby Shalhevet Pas hy”d was murdered by a bullet shot from a hill opposite the Avraham Avinu quarter. Chabad of Hebron had a giant Menorah erected on the top of that hill. Shalhevet means flame. The residents of Hebron appreciate the symbolism of the flames of the Maccabee victory shedding light where there had been darkness. Every year on Chanukah, the giant Menorah is lit by dignitaries and enthusiasts who come to Hebron for the privilege.
The residents of Hebron are gems. They are righteous, respectable, observant Jews. Even they have benefitted from what the Rebbe has to offer through Chabad of Hebron. An ice cream party at the special Shavuos Torah reading for children, the Lag B’Omer parade, Chassidus classes, activities on Parshas Chayei Sarah. And what has become one of the highlights of the year in Hebron, something the Rebbe asked for specifically… Hakofos Sheinios… The live music and dancing – Chabad 770 style – in the Ulam Yitzchak that is opened special for the occasion accommodating the thousands who flock to this event.
The Kollel building, mentioned above, is one of the Chabad sites that Chabad of Hebron has managed to bring out of despair and into a beautiful, functional facility. Hechal haRashab in Beit Romano a room dedicated to the Chabad history in Hebron has been established and is now being redesigned and upgraded thanks to a restoration project of Yeshivat Shavei Hebron. The Mittler Rebbe’s Shul has been turned from an unpleasantly dilapidated room, to a pleasing Beis Medrash, and tourists and local residents now have a comfortable men’s Mikvah thanks to Chabad of Hebron.
Recently Rabbi Mordechai Hellinger and his wife Nechama Dina have joined the Chabad Hebron staff and will be focusing on tourist and visitors programming.
Plans for the future are focused on creating a beautiful Chabad welcome center adjacent to the cave of Machpela.
All of the accomplishments have been possible through tremendous Brochos of the Rebbe and the support of many friends and donors that feel privileged to partner with the work of Chabad Hebron.
In honor of their Bar Mitzvah year, on Chai Elul – Chabad of Hebron will be seeking support to take Hebron to the next level. Want to be a part of it? We are sure you do. Stay tuned for details…