"Walk Between the Raindrops" - How Menucha Rochel Slonim United Hebron
The story of Chabad-Lubavitch and the Jewish movement to return to the land of Israel is exemplified by Rebbitzin Menucha Rochel Slonim and the hasidic community of the 1800s.
Photo: Rebbetzin Moshke Devora Epstein, daughter of R. Yehuda Leib Slonim, eldest son of Rebbetzin Menucha Rochel. Born in Hebron, she inherited her grandmother’s home when she married.
Menucha Rochel Slonim (1798 - 1888) was a daughter of Rabbi Dovber Schneuri, also known as the the Mitteler Rebbe, the second Rebbe of the Chabad Lubavitch movement.
She is regarded a matriarch to the Chabad family as well as Hebron's Jewish population in general. She was also a matriarch/founder of the Slonim family that was instrumental in revitalizing the Jewish community in Hebron. She was famed for her wisdom, piety and erudition, honored and esteemed by famous rabbis of her time a well as the non-Jewish population of Hebron who sought her advice.
(Photo: This handwritten letter is from Menucha Rochel Slonim and hangs in the historic Menucha Rochel Slonim synagogue in Hebron's Avraham Avinu neighborhood.)
Known as Rebbetzin Slonim, a title given to the wives of rabbis, she was born on Yud Tes Kislev, the 19th of Kislev, 1798. It was the same day her grandfather, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, was released from imprisonment in S. Petersburg, Russia. Today this date is still celebrated as a "new year" in the hasidic movement.
Her father chose the name Menucha because in Hebrew it means "peace and quiet". He said, "henceforth we shall have a little Menucha." She was named Rachel (or Rochel, as it was often pronounced) after an aunt that died in her youth.
Her husband's last name was originally Griver. He was a descendant of Rabbi Moses Isserles, the famous rabbi from Poland known as the REMA. They chose to change it to Slonim and moved to Hebron.
(Photo: Rabbi Moses Isserles, the REMA. (1520 - 1572)
In 1815, her father sought to strengthen the Jewish community in Hebron, which was at one time, King David's capital city, but had now fallen into neglect. He dispatched groups of followers who established the Chabad community in the city. He bought the small synagogue near the historic Avraham Avinu synagogue along with additional parcels of land.
After Rebbitzin Slonim fell dangerously ill, her father promised that she would live to emigrate to the Land of Israel. In 1845, with the blessing of her brother-in-law, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, known as the Tzemach Tzedek, she and her family emigrated to Hebron. On the day they were to depart of the Land of Israel, it was raining. The Tzemach Tzedek advised her not to delay and to allay her fears, blessed her to "walk between the raindrops."
(Photo: Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn of Lubavitch, the Tzemach Tzedek. (1789 - 1866)
For forty-three years she served as the matriarch of the Hebron community. New brides and barren women would request blessings from her.
Before she died on the 24th of Shevat, 1888, she sent a letter to the current Rebbe of the time, Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn, the Rebbe Rashab, informing him of her imminent passing. She thus lived during the leadership of all of the first five Lubavitcher Rebbes. She was buried in the ancient Jewish cemetery in Hebron.
(Photo: Stones and candles left by well-wishers at the grave of Menucha Rochel Slonim in Hebron.)
Menucha Rochel's descendants were important leaders in Hebron which by now had a thriving hasidic community.
(Photo: This famous portrait has been reprinted in many books. It depicts Rabbi Mordechai Dov Slonim, son of Rabbi Ya’akov Slonim and Rebbetzin Menucha Rachel, with his great-grandson, Levi Yitzhak.)
(Photo: The Slonim family in Hebron)
Unfortunately, many of the family were caught in the riots of 1929. Shlomo Slonim (1928 - 2014), a survivor of the riots was 1-year-old at the time. His grandfather was Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Slonim, and his father was Eliezer Dan Slonim, the respected director of a local bank who spoke fluent Arabic. Shlomo Slonim went on to join the Irgun Tzvai Leumi, the Haganah, and the Israel Defense Forces. He worked for Bank Leumi for almost 50 years, was married for 50 years, and had 4 children.
(Photo: This picture of Shlomo Slonim was taken about a year after the riots. The scar on his forehead where he was stabbed is still visable.)
(Photo: Chana Sara and Eliezer Dan Slonim, parents of survivor Shlomo Slonim.)
Menucha Rochel Slonim's grave was one of those destroyed during the infamous riots. It was rediscovered by Prof. Ben-Zion Tavger who in the 1970s and early 1980s was instrumental in excavating historic areas such as the Avraham Avinu synagogue which had been used as a sheep pen.
In 1982, with the encouragement of the 7th Lubavitcher Rebbe, a memorial ceremony was initiated and continued every year at her grave-site in Hebron. This has grown over time, and her grave-site has become a popular site for prayers. The annual event has been organized for the past thirty years by Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Halperin, director of the Organization of the Descendants of the Alter Rebbe. Over the years, the leaders of the rebuilt Jewish community and the Chabad House of Hebron have joined together to establish a yeshiva at her grave-site, known as “Colel Menucha Rochel.”
(Photo: The refurbished grave-site of Rebbetzin Menucha Rochel.)
Menucha Rochel made headlines in 1997, when the H1 and H2 sections of the city were created. Concerned residents and supporters protested the government to ensure that the cemetery and Menucha Rochel's final resting place were not left outside of the designated area. Other famous Jewish leaders buried in the cemetery include Eliyahu de Vidas, Solomon Adeni, Elijah Mizrachi and Yeuda Bibas. Ishtori Haparchi, the well-known Jewish physician and traveler reported visiting the cemetery around the year 1322.
(Photo: Rabbi Tzvi Slonim speaks at a recent memorial gathering for his ancestor, Menucha Rochel, in Hebron.)
Today, countless people come every year to visit the site as well as the Tomb of Machpela, Beit Shneerson, Beit Hadassah and other sites where the Slonim family lived, worked, taught and raised their families.
(Photo: Three generations return to Hebron for the gathering.)
(Photo: A hasidic musician performs at the annual gathering)
(Photo: Rabbi Mordechai Dov-Ber Slonim in another in a series of famous portraits done of the Slonim family in the 1800s.)
Thank you to all those who participated in the Charidy matching campaign and our generous matchers! Check out the results at www.charidy.com/hebronfund.
Thank you to the volunteers and staff both in Israel and in the USA. It was a great team effort. Here's a link to some of us on JM in the AM.
Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook and Hebron
The Chief Rabbi's fiery speech at the 1929 massacre memorial inspired many, as did his refusal to shakes hands with a British official.
Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook was the first Ashkenazic chief rabbi of Israel and an influential leader who sought to unite religious and secular Jewish society. Family members live in Hebron today including a great-granddaughter, Tzipi Schlissel who heads the Hebron History Museum in Beit Hadassah.
Torah scrolls rescued from the 1929 Hebron massacre today are in use at the Beit HaRav Kook center in Jerusalem. Recently they have been rededicated in memory of the soldiers of Operation Protective Edge.
THE 1929 MASSACRE
Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, also known as Hebron... Abraham came to eulogize Sarah and to weep for her. (Genesis 23:2)
A somber gathering assembled in Jerusalem's Yeshurun synagogue. The large synagogue and its plaza were packed as crowds attended a memorial service for the Jews of Hebron who had been killed during the riots six months earlier, on August 24th, 1929.
On that tragic Sabbath day, news of deadly rioting in Hebron reached the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. Yitzchak Ben-Zvi, then director of the National Committee, hurried to Rabbi Kook's house. Together they hastened to meet with Harry Luke, the acting British high commissioner, to urge him to take action and protect the Jews of Hebron.
The Chief Rabbi demanded that the British take severe and immediate measures against the rioters.
What can be done? Luke asked.
Rabbi Kook's response was to the point. Shoot the murderers!
But I have received no such orders.
Then I am commanding you! Rabbi Kook roared. In the name of humanity's moral conscience, I demand this!
Rabbi Kook held the acting commissioner responsible for British inaction during the subsequent massacre. Not long after this heated exchange, an official reception was held in Jerusalem, and Mr. Luke held out his hand to greet the Chief Rabbi. To the shock of many, Rabbi Kook refused to shake it.
With quiet fury, the rabbi explained, "I do not shake hands defiled with Jewish blood."
This incident is also recorded in the book An Angel Among Men by Simcha Raz, translated by Rabbi Moshe Lichtman, pp. 191-194.
(Photo: Rabbi Kook (right) with Mayor William O'Dwyer of New York (center) and Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein (left) of the Slabodka Yeshiva in Hebron. The rabbis traveled to the United States together in 1924 as part of the Central Relief Committee (CRC) Emergency Campaign. Rabbi Kook helped the Slabodka Yeshiva relocate from Europe to Hebron. Several of the students were later killed in the massacre. The school, still known as the Hebron Yeshiva, relocated to Jerusalem where today is it one of Israel's largest Torah institutions. Credit: Wiki Commons.)
The day after the rioting in Hebron, the extent of the massacre was revealed. Mobs had slaughtered 67 Jews including yeshiva students, elderly rabbis, women, and children of both Ashkenazic and Sephardic backgrounds. The British police had done little to protect them. The Jewish community of Hebron was destroyed, and their property looted and stolen. The British shipped the survivors off to Jerusalem.
The "tzaddik of Jerusalem" Rabbi Arieh Levine accompanied Rabbi Kook that Sunday to Hadassah Hospital on HaNevi'im Street in order to hear news of the Hebron community by telephone. Rabbi Levine recalled the frightful memories that would be forever etched in his heart.
"When the Rabbi heard about the murder of the holy martyrs, he fell backwards and fainted. After coming to, he cried bitterly and tore his clothes over the house of Israel and God's people who had fallen by the sword. He sat in the dust and recited the blessing, Baruch Dayan Ha'Emet (Blessed is the True Judge)."
For some time after that, his bread was the bread of tears and he slept without a pillow. Old age suddenly befell him, and he began to suffer terrible pains. This tragedy brought about the illness from which the Rabbi never recovered.
THE MEMORIAL SERVICE
Six months after the massacre, grieving crowds filled the Yeshurun synagogue in Jerusalem. A mourning atmosphere, like that on the fast of Tisha B'Av, lingered in the air as they assembled in pained silence. Survivors of the massacre, who had witnessed the atrocities before their eyes, recited Kaddish for family members murdered in the rioting.
Rabbi Jacob Joseph Slonim, who had lost his son (Eliezer Dan Slonim, who was fluent in Arabic and a member of the Hebron municipal council) and grandchildren in the massacre, opened the assembly in the name of the remnant of the Hebron community.
(Photo: The Slonim family of Hebron, 1928. Most were killed in the massacre. The bearded Rabbi Slonim is seated under his son, Eliezer Dan Slonim, a well-connected community leader. Residents fled to the Slonim house for protection. When the mob reached his house, they demaded him to bring out "the strangers," to which Eliezer Dan replied, "there are no strangers here, they are all family." Credit: Wiki Commons.)
"No healing has taken place during the past six months, he reported. The murder and the theft have not been rectified. The British government and the Jewish leadership have done nothing to correct the situation. They have not worked to reclaim Jewish property and resettle Hebron."
Afterwards, the Chief Rabbi rose to speak:
"The holy martyrs of Hebron do not need a memorial service. The Jewish people can never forget the holy and pure souls who were slaughtered by murderers and vile thugs.
Rather, we must remember and remind the Jewish people not to forget the city of the Patriarchs. The people must know what Hebron means to us.
We have an ancient tradition that The actions of the fathers are signposts for their descendants. When the weak-hearted spies arrived at Hebron, they were frightened by the fierce nations who lived in the land. But Caleb quieted the people for Moses. He said, 'We must go forth and conquer the land. We can do it!' (Numbers 13:30)
Despite the terrible tragedy that took place in Hebron, we announce to the world, 'Our strength is now like our strength was then.' We will not abandon our holy places and sacred aspirations. Hebron is the city of our fathers, the city of the Cave of Machpela where our Patriarchs are buried. It is the city of David, the cradle of our sovereign monarchy.
Those who discourage the ones trying to rebuild the Jewish community in Hebron with arguments of political expedience; those who scorn and say, 'What are those wretched Jews doing?' Those who refuse to help rebuild Hebron they are attacking the very roots of our people. In the future, they will have to give account for their actions. If ruffians and hooligans have repaid our kindness with malice, we have only one eternal response: Jewish Hebron will once again be built, in honor and glory!
The inner meaning of Hebron is to draw strength and galvanize ourselves with the power of Netzach Yisrael, Eternal Israel.
That proud Jew, Caleb, announced years later, 'I am still strong... As my strength was then, so is my strength now' (Joshua 14:11). We, too, announce to the world: our strength now is as our strength was then. We shall reestablish Hebron in even greater glory, with peace and security for every Jew. With Gods help, we will merit to see Hebron completely rebuilt, speedily in our days."
THE RETURN TO HEBRON
While some Jewish families did return to Hebron in 1931, they were evacuated by the British authorities at the start of the renewed rioting in 1936. For 34 years, there was no Jewish community in Hebron until after the Six Day War of 1967. This return to Hebron after was spearheaded by former students of the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva, disciples of Rabbi Kook's son, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook.
(Photo: Rabbi Moshe Levinger (left) and Chanan Porat (right) dancing with students of the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva and others in 1975 after the government voted to repatriate abandoned Jewish lands redeemed after the Six Day War. Credit: Moshe Milner, Government Press Office National Photo Collection.)
In 1992, Rabbi Kook's grandson, Rabbi Shlomo Ra'anan, moved to Hebron with his wife.
Six years later, a terrorist climbed up a pole and into his bedroom window at night. The 63-year-old rabbi struggled with his attacker and was stabbed repeatedly and killed.
(Photo: Rabbi Shomo Ra'anan.)
His wife Chaya Ra'anan chose to remain in Hebron and her daughter Tzipi Schlissel and son-in-law Rabbi Yisrael Schlissel joined them. Today, Rabbi Schlissel runs the Ohr Shlomo Torah Study Center in Hebron and Tzipi heads the Hebron Museum of History at Beit Hadassah. Tzipi's maternal grandmother also has a Hebron connection to Hebron, being a survivor of the 1929 massacre.
(Photo: Tzipi Schlissel at the Hebron History Museum, now featuring the new 4D film "Touching Eternity")
Beit HaRav Kook, the home and yeshiva of Rabbi Kook, as mentioned above today houses a study center, museum and synagogue. The Torah scrolls at Beit HaRav Kook were some of those rescued from the riots, in which historic places such as the Avraham Avinu synagogue were ransacked and vandalized. In 2014 the Torah scrolls were rededicated in memory of the soldiers who fought in Operation Protective Edge.
(Photo: Torah scrolls at Beit HaRav Kook in Jerusalem. The Hebrew inscription reads "TARPAT pogram," an acronym for the year 1929.)
Today, visitors who come to Hebron are taken to the refurbished Avraham Avinu Synagogue where regular services are held. They are taken to the Tel Hevron neighborhood where Rabbi Ra'anan's widow still lives. There stand the archaeological excavations which sit next to a children's playground, a new generation living side by side with its ancient heritage. Rabbi Kook's dream to see the Jewish Community of Hebron reestablished has come true but much more is needed.
New Archeology Discovered in Tel Hebron
Just in time for Parshat Chayei Sarah, archaeologists uncover ancient mikvah, Jewish house in Hebron.
(Photo: Veteran Jewish community leader Uri Karzen joins archaeologists on the latest excavation of Tel Hebron.)
The Tel Hebron (Tel Hevron) / Admot Yishai neighborhood continues to reveal a treasure trove of archaeological artifacts dating back thousands of years. The most recent excavations were once again conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority and have uncovered a mikvah (Jewish ritual bath), and homes belonging to Jewish residents during the Second Temple Era.
The team also worked to clean up the heaps of garbage that has been dumped by local non-Jewish residents on the hillside.
(Photo: The slope in the empty field became a convenient place for citizens of H1 Hebron to dump garbage, which has sat for years.)
In 2014, the Israel Antiquities Authority and Ariel University led by archaeologists Prof. Emanuel Eisenberg and Prof. Shlomo Ben-David uncovered mikvot next to wine presses. Historians explain that the wine was for ritual use in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and thus the wine makers would immerse in the mikvah to become purified before beginning work. Next to the wine presses is an area where the workers would then package wine and olive oil into containers.
(Photo: The seemingly empty tract of land revealed remains of buildings from the Jewish community during the Second Temple Era.)
Both the 2014 discoveries and the new finds are located on the hillside near the ancient "Cyclopean wall" behind the Tomb of Jesse and Ruth.
Thousands of visitors are expected for the annual Shabbat Hebron on the weekend of Parshat Chayei Sarah. This year’s celebration is expected to be bigger than every thanks to an anonymous donor who is sponsoring a Chabad tent offering free meals in what may turn out to be the largest Shabbat gathering in history.
Last year’s Shabbat Hebron was marred by a terrorist shooting incident in which two people were injured by bullets. An American college student, 20-year-old Eli Borochov, was injured but nevertheless expressed interest in returning this year.
This year’s event will come on the tales of the latest vote by the United Nations UNESCO vote to condemn Israel which erases any Jewish connection to Hebron and Jerusalem.