Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Joseph's Tomb

My grandson and daughter-in-law in front of Kever Yosef
My first to visit Kever Yosef, Joseph’s Tomb, was in 1984. After praying at the site of our forefather’s grave, my husband and I drove up and down the streets of Shechem, also known as Nablus, looking for a pay phone. That was years before the Oslo Accords and I felt no fear whatsoever.
Shechem is one of the three places whose purchase by our forefathers is recorded in the Bible. In Beresheit, Genesis, Chapter 23, verse 19, it is written that Jacob bought the land from Hamor, Shechem’s father. Later in Shemot, Exodus, Chapter 13, verse 19, we read that Moses took the bones of Joseph with him to bury them in the land of Israel. Finally in Joshua, Chapter 24, verse 32 we learn that Joseph was reburied in Shechem in the parcel of land which Jacob bought.
During the Six Day War it was not hard for Israel to regain sovereignty of Shechem. My neighbor was in the army unit that entered the city and he retells how the Arabs of the city thought he was part of the Iraqi army and joyously greeted him with flowers. For his part, he was full of joy to be able to visit Kever Yosef again, after being forbidden during the nineteen years of the Jordanian occupation.
In time, the yeshiva, Od Yosef Chai, was established at the site and after my oldest son  finished his army service he began learning there. This was in 1998, five years after the Oslo Accords and the situation had changed drastically from our visit fourteen years earlier. The boys were not allowed to sleep at the yeshiva except for special occasions. Their dormitory was in Yitzhar and they daily came to learn via a bulletproof bus and army escort, coordinated with the permission of the PA, the Arab police force that had been armed by the Israeli government.
It was during this period that my husband and I again visited Kever Yosef. We drove to a nearby army camp and waited for the fortified IDF army bus. Once on board we needed more patience as there was a long wait for the PA clearance. Finally that came and we were escorted by armed IDF soldiers who were escorted by armed PA policemen.  It was not a positive experience. I felt as if I was in a war movie. Once we finally arrived at the tomb and I finished my visit, there was still more waiting for the return trip.
This was the situation until Shabbat Shuva of 2000. Although the Oslo Accords had guaranteed free access and protection for Jews to all of our holy sites, that all became null and void as Arab rioters overran the yeshiva, killed one of the guards, and set fire to Joseph’s Tomb. Rabbi Hillel Lieberman, hy’d, a devoted teacher at the yeshiva, saw the smoke from his home in Elon Moreh and went running to save Kever Yosef.
Although almost eleven years have passed since then, I remember that motzei Shabbat as a nightmare. After Shabbat we turned on the news and learned of the horrible happenings. Among all our other emotions was concern for our son. The phone did not stop ringing with friends also concerned about him. Each time they called I hoped it was our son and each time it was not I cut the friends off to keep the line free. Finally, after what seemed like forever, he did call. He was okay. However he told us that they had found the bullet ridden body of his friend, Hillel Lieberman. The funeral would be after Yom Kippur.
My husband went with my son to the funeral in Yitzhar. On the way to the cemetery the funeral procession was shot at. Joseph’s Tomb was closed to Jews, a reward for the Arab rioters.
Finally, on Chanukah in 2008, the Israeli government bowed to pressure and allowed renovations on Kever Yosef to begin. Monthly visits, coordinated with the IDF, were allowed. Due to security reasons these visits were usually in the middle of the night. They were crowded and had to be signed up for weeks in advance. Many were impatient with the system and resentful that they could not visit their forefather’s grave freely. Some made their own, independent visits without permission or coordination with the IDF. 
And then, less than two weeks ago, during Chol Hamoed Pesach, the PA attacked a carload of these unarmed, impatient young men. Several were injured and Ben Yosef Livnat was murdered. I did not know the young man but Israel is a small country. Two of my boys knew him and two of my girls learned in school with his sisters. Even without that I would have been affected by his death.
I feel sorrow for his family, but, more than that, I feel anger. I am angry that our government has made it so easy for our Arab enemies to attack us. I am angry that it is difficult to visit so many of our holy sites. I am angry that the press blames Ben Yosef for his death.
Yes, it would have been prudent for him and his friends to have waited for clearance from the army. However, no responsible journalist should have ignored the fact that following the shooting, Arab rioters again set fire to Joseph’s Tomb.  It is very difficult for me to believe that the shooting was an accident and not an act of terror.
I do not know why we had to have this tragedy. I cannot understand why it happened on the last day of Chol Hamoed Pesach. Perhaps it is so we should learn to value our forefathers’ graves the way Ben Yosef Livnat, hy’d, did.  
Od Yosef Chai: Joseph still lives  
Shabbat Shuva: Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur
motzei Shabbat: Saturday night
Chol Hamoed Pesach: intermediate days of Passover

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