April 09, 2006
Beit Hadassah and Beit HaShisha
Pesach 1968 - Jews return to Hebron to celebrate Pesach.
Erev Rosh HaShana 1971 - Jews move from the Hebron Military Compound to the newly founded Kiryat Arba
Erev Rosh Hodesh Iyar 1979 - Jews Return to the city of Hebron
A week and a half after Pesach a group of 10 women and 40 children left Kiryat Arba in the middle of the night, driven in a truck through the deserted streets of Hebron. They made their way to the abandoned Beit Hadassah building, originally built in the 1870s as a medical clinic for Jews and Arabs in Hebron, abandoned since the 1929 riots.
The women and children, assisted by men, climb into Beit Hadassah through a back window, bringing with them only minimal supplies. They swept some of the decades-old dust from the floor, spread out some mattresses, and went to sleep.
When they awoke in the morning the children began singing: v'shavu banim l'gvulam - the children have returned home. Soldiers guarding on the roof of the building, coming down to investigate, were astounded at the sight of the women and children. Quickly they reported to their superiors, and soon the "Beit Hadassah women" were a national issue.
Prime Minister Menachem Begin was not in favor of Jewish settlement in the heart of the city, but opposed physically expelling the group. He ordered the building surrounded by police and soldiers, and decreed that nothing, including food and water, be allowed into the building. Begin was soon visited by Rabbi Moshe Levinger, whose wife Miriam and many of his children were among those inside Beit Hadassah.
"When the Israeli army surrounded the Egyptian third army in Sinai during the Yom Kippur War, we gave the enemy soldiers food, water and medical supplies. If this is what we supplied Egyptian soldiers who had attacked and killed our soldiers, at the very least allow the women and children in Hebron the same."
Begin had no choice but to agree. The women and children lived like this, under siege, for two months. No one was allowed in and anyone leaving would not be allowed to return.
One day a little boy in Beit Hadassah had a tooth-ache and left for a dentist in Kiryat Arba. When he arrived back at Beit Hadassah the soldier guarding at the entrance refused to allow him back in. The little boy started crying, saying, "I want my Ema (mother)." At that time the Israeli cabinet was in session, and a note was relayed to the Prime Minister that a little boy was crying outside Beit Hadassah because he wasn’t allowed back in. Following a discussion by the cabinet, the little boy was permitted to return to his mother in Beit Hadassah.
After over two months the women and children were allowed to leave and return, but no one else was allowed in. They lived this way for a year.
On Friday nights, following Shabbat prayers at Ma'arat HaMachpela, the worshipers, including students from the Kiryat Arba Nir Yeshiva, would dance to Beit Hadassah, sing and dance in front of the building, recite Kiddush for the women, and then return to Kiryat Arba. In early May of 1980, a year after the women first arrived at Beit Hadassah, the group of men was attacked by terrorists stationed on the roof of a building across from Beit Hadassah. The Arab terrorists, shooting and throwing hand grenades killed six men and wounded twenty. Later that week the Israeli government finally issued official authorization for the renewal of a Jewish community in Hebron.
On June 11 of this year, exactly twenty years after the murder at Beit Hadassah, a new building in memory of those men killed was dedicated in Hebron. Beit HaShisha, the House of the Six, will house six new families. This beautiful structure will eternalize the names of six young men who gave their lives in Hebron, and who deaths led to the return of Jews to the heart of the city. Hebron's Jewish community had to wait twenty years to memorialize these men, but that dream is now a reality.