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An encounter with Miriam Levinger

“Hebron is mine,” was the clear, unrelenting message she conveyed – and got a claim on my heart.

Martin Hoffman
September 29, 2020

It was years ago when I met her. I’d just extracted a cold beer from the fridge when I saw her, suddenly, at the end of the news. She was shouting at a burly Israeli policemen as he dragged her to the police van. What in heaven’s name was someone like that doing in Hebron?!

Surrounded by screaming, fist-clenching Arabs, by gun-slinging Jewish settlers: a brief cacophony of threats, accusations, profanities, and then she was gone as the sports news flashed the latest basketball scores. The smiling weatherman came along, predicting sunny skies, yet the image stuck there in my brain – a middle-aged housewife clashing with the tough Israeli police.

As though that ten-second flash on the screen had revealed a hidden element that encompassed the blacks beaten in Mississippi; the draft resisters mauled by police; the women, in America, decades ago, demanding to vote. In those ten seconds, her voice carried so much pure anger and pain, it arrested me, diverting thought and feeling; provoking amazement and wonder. I stared at the still untouched beer, a sudden irresistable urge to question her sweeping over me.

I spent an entire day worrying about the trip: it was the bus ride from Jerusalem to Hebron that kicked off the sharp twinges of fear. The road there ran a gauntlet of Arab villages where stoning, Molotov Cocktails, and shootings were regular fare – as though Hebron housed a hard core of unmitigated Arab hatred for Jews, untouched by official codes and designs. The unprovoked bloody massacre of their longtime Jewish neighbors in 1929 was not that long ago.

I rode there in a bullet-proof bus, past hordes of Arab workers, vineyards, massive Mercedes trucks, piles of stone, steel concrete blocks, rusted-out cars with the fear tingling in my bones and thoughts of Hemingway courting danger, standing before a charging lion. Or the infamous games of “chicken” with two hopped-up cars roaring toward each other.

The bus rumbled along past countryside that the ancient Hebrew spies had come through thousands of years ago. A land, they reported, with frightening prospects, with giants and fierce tribes; a land that would, they told the wandering Jews, eat them alive. There it was: my own fear was the voice of the ten spies, mesmerizing me with horrific postures and unchecked terror.

I got off the bus just before sunset, beside a small enclave of Israeli families guarded by a handful of soldiers. And as I stood there, I suddenly saw her husband, Rabbi Levinger, on his way to the synagogue for the afternoon prayer. His raised eyebrows were the only indication of surprise. He opened the car door and motioned me in. It seemed perfectly natural – as did the two soldiers in the front seat, M-16 automatic rifles, flak vests, and the flashing blue light as we roared off to the Cave of the Patriarchs.

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