It's the middle of the night and I can't sleep. I'm not sure what woke me up in the first place but once I woke up I remembered that my son Ari is on a class trip Hevron and I couldn't go back to sleep.
This is definitely the kind of thing that couldn't happen in Canada. Where in all of Canada, from sea to sea, could you go on a class trip that would freak a parent out enough that they couldn't sleep?
For those of you who don't know, Hevron, besides being the largest city in the West Bank, is one of Judasims holy cities (along with Jerusalem, Sfat, and Tiberias). It was the place, according to the Old Testament, where Abraham bought the land (actually a cave) in which to bury his dead wife Sarah. Ironically, this is actually the root of the problem because Islam and Christianity also see Abraham as their original forefather.
Today, Hevron has a much more colourful place in Jewish history -- it is the home of approximately 166,000 Arabs and about 700 very determined and committed Jews. To say that it is not the most welcoming place for Jews is one of the country's ultimate understatements. Not only is it unfriendly, it is often downright dangerous.
So, now you are probably wondering what my son is doing there. (Well, for my Israeli readers, you aren't wondering at all. You know why he is there because many if not all of your children have been there as well.)
There are a few times during the Jewish year that Hevron factors into Jewish life in a more high profile way than otherwise. One of those times is the week that the Torah parshat (chapter) discusses when Abraham bought the cave. It's the only land transaction specifically mentioned in the Old Testament and for thousands of years, it has reinforced Jews' belief in their ownership of that land. (Needless to say, the Arabs don't see it that way.)
Tonight is also one of "those times" as Askenazi Jews (Jews of European descent) start to say special prayers in the week leading up to Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year. Other Jews say the same prayers, but their time frames are a little different.
And that is why my 14-year-old son is with his class and his rabbis in Hevron. It is an important, religious time and this is an important religious statement.
Of course, that's the simple part of the equation.
The more complex side is how I feel as a parent to let my son go to a less-than-welcoming place for Jews in the middle of the night with his school. Many of you are probably laughing now because you have long since put this internal debate to rest. I am new to this and I have not.
On the one hand are the questions: Why should a Jew NOT go to such an important place in his or her own country? Why should a Jew be fearful in a place of such historical importance that was bought outright by Abraham and therefore, the property of the Jews? And on the other hand there are the concerns for safety (despite the large IDF presence there) in an area that has, since 1997, been designated as part of the Palestinian Authority. Not all of Hevron is part of the PA, but a big piece of it is. In 2008, all of the remaining Jews were evicted. They didn't go, but that's another story.
There are supporters and detractors for each side of the debate -- inside Israel as well as outside. Hevron is definitely one of the most contentious and emotionally charged parts of Israel. One of the IDF soldiers killed there is the past six years was Hevron Brigade Commander, Colonel Dror Weinberg, who was home having dinner with his wife and six children when he got a call that there was an Arab ambush of Jewish settlers there. He left his dinner and headed to Hevron to do his job. He never came home. I didn't know him but he was my good friend's brother-in-law. His death was devastating on many levels for many people.
All this aside, Jews live in Hevron and many Jews visit the city regularly, albeit, frequently under heavy IDF protection. I am not going to tell my son that he cannot go to such an important place. And I am definitely not going to tell him that he should be afraid.
Instead, I am going to sit up for the rest of the night worrying and praying that he will be okay. And knowing full well that this is his first trip there without his parents, but definitely not his last.