(May 30, 2018 / JNS)
At a recent graduation of Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, novelist Michael Chabon berated the Jewish community of Hebron:
“I abhor an enclave, too, a gated community, a restricted country club, or a clutch of 800 zealots lodged in illusory safety behind a wall made from the bodies of teenage soldiers, gazing out in scorn and lordly alarm at the surrounding 200,000 residents of the city of Hebron,” he said.
So, here are a few points to consider in answering Chabon:
- While today Hebron Jews number only 800, consider that together with our adjacent sister city Kiryat Arba we are a block of 10,000 Jews. Furthermore, we are a tourist destination for 700,000 visitors and pilgrims yearly, including 35,000 just on Shabbat Chayei Sarah. The Israeli government coalition has backed Jewish rights in Hebron and recently normalized purchase of Arab properties, given authorization to build 31 new apartments, and given the Jewish community of Hebron status as an independent community. Moreover, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has consistently stated that the U.S. government’s decision to leave UNESCO was a direct result of that organization’s effort to rebrand the Tomb of the Fathers and Mothers in Hebron as a Palestinian World Heritage Site. Michael, while you may try to marginalize us, the people of Israel and the U.S. government stand with Hebron!
- The IDF defends Hebron for two reasons: Jews have every historical right to be in Hebron, and at the same time we are under constant attack from the jihad. It is not our zealousness that provokes violence, but rather a hateful ideology that has taken hold of our region. Michael, why do give the attackers a pass while blaming the victim?
- The Jewish community of Hebron does not “gaze out in scorn” at our Arab neighbors. We have many friends and colleagues among the Arab community—those who reject jihad. We often meet with sheikhs and mukhtars in Hebron and in nearby villages. It is people like Michael Chabon, who don’t know much about the reality on the ground, that prefer to paint Hebron as endlessly violent and in conflict. Michael, look past your bias and see that there is also much hope in Hebron!
- In general, Chabon commencement speech is reflective of a man who, on the one hand, is desperate to assimilate, hating all Jewish separateness as he does, yet possessing a great arrogant urge to condescend, to look down at his people and be judgemental. The Jews of Hebron don’t suffer from this inner-hypocrisy identity crisis. Unlike Chabon, we are not opting out of Judaism, but rather staying true to 3,800 years of Jewish history in this place, and instead of assimilation, we remain committed to the vision of the founders of our peoplehood buried here as a testimony to faith, courage and humility. Maybe Michael Chabon hates Hebron Jews because he resents Jewish continuity?
- The Jewish community of Hebron has written to HUC the following letter:
Shalom Dear HUC,
It will not surprise you that Michael Chabon’s much-talked-about speech at your L.A. commencement was certainly disappointing to us here in the Jewish Community of Hebron. In our mind, his harsh onslaught missed many truths about our community including the fact that Jews have lived here for 3,500 years, that the tombs of the founding fathers and mothers of the Jewish people are found here and that we are its caretakers, and that we have many good relations with our Arab and Muslim neighbors.
I believe and would urge you to consider, that after such a harsh denunciation of our community at your institution, that we the Jews of Hebron, should have an opportunity to redress those condemnations.
If you would amenable, I would like to discuss the possibility of giving a talk at Hebrew Union College about the historical Jewish narrative of Hebron.
Looking forward to your reply,
Jewish Community of Hebron, Israel