Hebron. The media loves to talk about Hebron. Just this afternoon, as I strolled through Manhattan, Hebron flashed before my eyes. The fire engine red news ticker on the Fox News building displayed an urgent story about Hebron. Something about settlers, building permits, casualty counts. I quickly turned the corner. Hours away from the 87th anniversary of the 1929 massacre and ethnic cleansing of the ancient Jewish community of Hebron, faux controversy over building permits for Jews seemed pretty grotesque.
The stories of Arabs storming Jewish homes while police casually watched has been written many times over and I won’t elaborate on the details, but the barbaric savagery which left 67 murdered and dozens injured is beyond belief. Over a couple of days, the Hebron community was wiped out and Jews in Jerusalem, Safed, Tel Aviv, Haifa and moshavim were attacked, maimed, raped, robbed, looted and murdered in a variety of creative ways. The casualty list is a lengthy one.
This massacre isn’t just a blurb in a history book for me, it’s personal. My grandfather Rabbi Ephraim Rubin zt”l rarely opened up about his childhood in Jerusalem, but after my first trip to Israel, he shared a shocking story. He was nine in August of 1929 and his 17-year-old first cousin from Petah Tikva came for a visit, accompanied by his mother. His cousin was traveling from Jerusalem to his yeshiva (seminary) in Hebron after a break. Rumors of Arab unrest were circulating and his aunt asked her son to stay home for a few more days, but Eliyahu Yissachar Senderov zt”l was eager to get back to his learning and insisted he’d be fine. His mother’s intuition kicked in, and, increasingly agitated and upset, she ran back and forth between her sister (my great-grandmother and namesake Chaya Rochel Rubin zt”l) and the bus stop at Sha’ar Yafo hoping to change his mind. This went on for several hours, as the bus only left when full. Unfortunately, the bus filled up, Eliyahu Yissachar zt”l left to Hebron, and he was soon after brutally murdered.
Eliyahu Yissachar zt”l was born in Jerusalem on December 18, 1911 and was raised in Petah Tikva where his father was a shochet. He was a Torah learning Jew, with deep roots in his ancestral homeland. His father Alter Gershon Senderov zt”l was born in Gaza (yes, that Gaza), and his mother Chana Devorah Rosenthal zt”l was born in Safed. Her parents were native Yerushalmi; her father (my great, great, great-grandfather Rabbi Yisrael Moshe Rosenthal zt”l) was a revered Torah scholar and teacher, as well as one of the first homeowners in Yemin Moshe, Jerusalem.
In December 1917, the family suffered a double tragedy. Sixteen-year-old Dovid Aryeh zt”l and ten-year-old Roiza zt”l were killed in a WWI bombing. Eliyahu Yissachar zt”l, the youngest, was a bright child, who gave comfort to his grieving parents. He earned a reputation for his talent and perseverance, and was at the top of his class. As he got older, he would learn deep into the night and wake up to study by lantern after a brief sleep. His desire to get back to Hebron quickly, was not an act of teenage defiance, it was a mature young man following his calling.
Over Shabbat, the violent Arab mob moved from home to home, torturing, raping, looting and murdering the defenseless Jews. They eventually made their way to Beit Burland, where many of the yeshiva students stayed, and after surrounding the building, began breaking down the doors. Avrohom Dov Shapira zt”l grabbed a knife and fought back valiantly, but was killed. Then they went after Zvi Heller zt”l and Shmuel Izak Bernstein zt”l. Moshe Aron Ripps zt”l asked for a brief moment to say vidui (‘confession’), but they cut him down before he could finish. My cousin Eliyahu Yissachar Senderov zt”l was reportedly so badly wounded, he was nearly cut in half, but languished painfully for almost a full day. Horrifying. His final whispers were “I am the third victim in my family.”
The small Jewish community of Hebron today understand the history of our people and the massive crime that took place over that bloody Shabbat. That’s why they have staked their spot in Hebron in lieu of a much cozier life. They are bravely standing up to world opinion, to those who smear them and try to portray them as some sort of obstacle to world peace. On this day, the 87th anniversary of the ethnic cleansing of a 3,000 years old Jewish community, I am asking you to please think of Eliyahu Yissachar Senderov zt”l and the 66 other Jews martyred during the Hebron Massacre of 1929. There is no legitimate reason that a Jew should be unable to live safely in Hebron or anywhere else in the world. If anyone suggests otherwise, tell them about my cousin and his friends who were murdered for the crime of being Jewish, decades before “occupation.”