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Beyond the Checkpoint – Menorah Lighting at Abu Sneneh

By Aliza bas Menachem

Maaras Hamachpela in Hevron

It’s over. I knew it would end. When was the last time two and half weeks lasted forever? Memories and a few pictures – those will last – but the experience is behind me – left to be cherished and hopefully processed into
something productive.

I chose the timing my trip to Eretz Yisroel so I could participate in the Menorah lighting on top of the hill known as Abu Sneneh.

All year, in my work with Chabad of Hevron, I record and publicize the Rebbe’s Peulos, Judaism strengthening projects, in and around Hevron. Each and every activity makes me wish I was on location to cover the story. I love the Rebbe’s work and I love Hevron. There are times when it is painful to be so close (knowing all the details) and yet so far (operating from Crown Heights.) But how can I complain? I try to minimize the ‘so far’
and I thank Hashem and the Rebbe for being ‘so close.’

Of all the activities of Chabad of Hevron, the one that attracts me most is the Menorah lighting on Abu Sneneh.

For most of my two and a half week trip I stayed with my friend Shaena in Yerushalaim. I know that the road from Yerushalaim to Gush Etzion experiences delays for odd and sundry reasons (e.g. high alerts with back ups at check points) so I wanted to get to Hevron early in the day. I was not taking the chance of jeopardizing my Abu Sneneh lighting because of road problems.

I arrived in Kiryat Arba just before noon. I had arranged to use my time to tour the new Beis Chaya Mushka Chabad House currently under construction. Beis Chaya Mushka Kiryat Arba – Hevron is a joint project of Rabbis Danny Cohen, Victor Atiyah and Yossi Nachshon of Chabad of Hevron.

The project manager and the on site foreman showed me around and answered my questions. The concrete for the roof had just been poured. They explained to me how they made a wooden form and used pieces of metal. They made it sound simple but to me it was fascinating. The shell of the building was reaching completion.

On the second floor there will be a Shul. It was nice to see a completely separate entrance and outdoor landing for the women to enter the building on the level of the third floor and go directly to the woman’s gallery. The space where the third floor is open, overlooking the Shul below, will have a skylight above it.

In front of the building there is a large plaza. Knowing Victor’s ‘Pied Piper’ reputation for drawing a crowd to his programs for children, I could picture the plaza filled with happy Neshamale’s. In the center of the plaza there will be a stone mosaic depicting 770. The exterior of Beis Chaya Mushka is not a replica of 770 but its design strongly represents the 770 design.

After the tour I stopped by to visit Sara and Boruch Nachshon. Beis Chaya Mushka is very close to their home. It is being built in memory of their granddaughter, Chaya Mushka Atiyah, who perished in a fire on the twentieth of Chof Av, 5766. It seems to me that she has a lot of Zechusim, merit, because the building is coming along so beautifully.

Once at the Nachshon’s home, I used the opportunity to look at some of Boruch’s smaller works of art. There was one I really related to. It showed a single Chosid standing on the ground – well, not exactly on the ground – but he was grounded – as opposed to some of Boruch’s paintings where the Chassidim seem to be floating. The Chosid was facing upwards, with one arm extended and the other holding a tambourine. The colors above the Chosid were warm colors, fiery oranges and yellows. Without words this painting described to me a Chosid bridging the material and the spiritual worlds through prayer and Simcha.

I have noticed that some of Boruch’s paintings have names, so I asked if this one had a name. He said he will call it Aliza. Aliza means joy.

We sat down for some tea and Boruch started enumerating the inconsistencies, fallacies and evils of the government in Eretz Yisroel. I had found that most people I had come in contact with on my trip did not want to talk about the dangers being initiated and reinforced by the political powers. Boruch’s insightful and cutting comments were said without emotion. At intervals he would look heavenward and he would say ‘Boruch

The hours were passing. It was time to complete the last part of my journey to Hevron. I could use the expression ‘it’s a stone’s throw’ to describe the distance between Kiryat Arba and Hevron, but on this route ‘a
stone’s throw’ could mean something else, so I’ll skip the expression and say it was a short ride. I had a Tehillim, Tanya, Siddur and Pushka in the car – the very things the Rebbe said would be a spiritual protection – and I had remembered to say T’filas HaDerech, the prayer for travelers, when leaving Yerushalaim. My personal feeling is that Hashem is everywhere – especially in the land where “Hashem’s gaze does not cease from the beginning of the year to the end.” I take all precautions and I feel safe. If Hashem gives a person a Nisayon, a challenge, it could be in Crown Heights, Kfar Chabad, Hevron, or anywhere. So we pray we should be blessed with revealed good and that Hashem should redeem us through Ahava, love.

One time I had a passenger who was worried about safety. I told her to sing. She chose the song that goes with the Posuk in Parshas Vayechi: “HaMalach HaGoel Ousi…” In the Chumash, it is Yaakov saying “May the angel who redeems me from all evil, bless the lads, and may my name be declared upon them and the names of my forefathers Avraham and Yitzchok, and may they reproduce abundantly like fish within the land.” Without giving a complete commentary, I find this Posuk very appropriate because it speaks about the Avos who are buried in Hevron and the angel that was sent to guard Yaakov from all perils and, one more thing, if they have a Brocha to reproduce, they will be safe… as the Posuk says, ‘within the land.’

When I arrived in Hevron, Danny and Eli Eichenblatt – a Bochur doing Shlichus in Hevron – were connecting the large electric Menorah in front of Maaras HaMachpela, known as the Cave of the Patriarchs, burial place of the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish nation. That done, we took two, meter high, free standing Menorahs and placed them at strategic corners where soldiers are stationed.

Then Danny and Eli ran to Mincha and I locked myself in the caravan office/guest room for a much needed power nap.

At 5pm I went to the Cohen apartment where they were lighting their Menorahs. Our Rebbe has molded his Chassidim to be all encompassing in the most wonderful ways. On one hand, Chabad Chassidim light their Menorahs in interior doorways in contrast to others who place their Menorahs on the windowsill to publicize the miracle – and then the Chassidim put Menorahs on their cars and parade around, and they light giant Menorahs together with public figures.

In the Cohen home, the one large Menorah lit by Danny, surrounded by the smaller Menorahs lit by his sons, created a special Chanukah atmosphere. The children were excited with their new Dreidles that lit up as they spun around. The youngest child was not yet skilled enough to spin a Dreidle, so he had a remote control. Really. All he had to do was press a button and his Dreidle dutifully began to spin.

Before it was time to start the evening’s Mivztaim, Danny’s wife Batsheva served us homemade lentil soup. Being that she is a gourmet cook, she apologized for the modest fare. But I could not think of anything better in preparation for venturing to a barren hilltop on a chilly evening.

I first heard of the hilltop Abu Sneneh in the early months of 2001. That was a year of increased terror attacks throughout Eretz Yisroel. In particular, the Jewish community of Hevron was targeted with intense gunfire. Miraculously, the bullets seemed to fly between the people – or as the Hevronim like to say – they were walking through the bullets in the Zechus of Rebbitzen Menucha Rochel, who walked between raindrops. 1

As deaths and injuries were mounting all over Eretz Yisroel during the 2001 Intifada, Hevron was spared for many months until the day when ten month old Shalhevet Pass suffered a direct hit while in the children’s playground of the Avraham Avinu neighborhood. The bullet came from the abandoned building atop the hill called Abu Sneneh. This hill is part of the Holy City of Hevron, part of the Holy Land, but after the death of Shalhevet, Abu Sneneh came to represent darkness and evil. The name Shalhevet means flame. A flame brings warmth and light. From Abu Sneneh, Shalhevet, a pure Jewish Neshama’s earthly presence, was extinguished.

An hour after the Cohen’s lit their Menorahs, I went with Danny and his eldest son Menachem Mendel, ‘Menni’, to the meet up with the bullet proof van designated to take us to the crest of Abu Sneneh.

Our meeting place was Gross Square, the junction nearest Avraham Avinu. Earlier we had placed a Menorah on this corner. Now that it was dark we took the opportunity to have the soldiers on guard light it and say the three Brochas of the first night of Chanuakah.

Jewish civilians are restricted to very specific, limited areas of Hevron. Abu Sneneh is not within the permitted boundaries. Each year Danny negotiates with the army to bring guests with him when he lights the Abu Sneneh Menorah. The army insists we travel in a bulletproof vehicle with an army escort.

Once the Menorah in Gross Square was burning we climbed into our van and pulled up behind the army Jeep that was positioned in front of a checkpoint/roadblock. The roadblock was moved aside and our two-vehicle convoy crossed over to the ‘occupied’ area of Hevron. As we began to negotiate the rough, windy roads we passed unkempt streets with homes and stores and barber shops. Men on the streets turned to watch us. Their expressions were of suspicion and hostility. My eyes saw darkness, my heart felt it.

When I lived in Crown Heights in the 1970’s, homeowners were putting bars on their windows and venturing out at night with extreme caution. I used to think of it as the good people being locked up behind bars while the criminals roamed the streets freely. Kal V’Chomer (if it is applies in a light case for sure it will apply in a more severe case) on our ride up to Abu Sneneh we wouldn’t dare stop the van and get out. We were prisoners locked in our van, with our guards, traveling through the city of our forefathers, in the land that was promised to Yitzchok and Yaakov – not to Yishmael!

We reached a clearing at the top of the hill. There I saw an army mini-fortress and a pillbox lookout and our Menorah!

1) Rebbitzen Menucha Rochel was the daughter of the second Lubavitcher Rebbe. She was the matriarch and spiritual leader of the Chabad community in Hevron from 1845 to 1888, when she was buried in the Chabad cemetery in Hevron. At the time of Menucha Rochel’s departure from Russia to ascend to Eretz Yisroel, she was concerned about road conditions because it was the rainy season. Her cousin the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek gave her a Brocha to travel between the drops. Her trip went smoothly and from that time she could go out in the rain and not get wet. The wagon driver who took Menucha Rochel to Hevron reported that road conditions on his return trip were very difficult due to rain, but on the way there he did not have any problems.


Girl soldiers love it when Hevron Shlucha Batsheve brings around Shabbos candles

The clearing on top of Abu Sneneh – the Menorah facing Hevron

View of the Menorah from the Maara

Music at the Rhodes’ home in Bat Ayin

Rabbi Victor Atiyah entertains the soldiers with tricks at the Chanukah party