SLAUGHTER THE JEWS!
Here is an excerpt from my novel, “Arise and Shine!” describing the slaughter of Tevye’s daughter, Hava, during the 1929 massacre in Hevron, and the unexpected reaction of Rabbi Kook.
That morning in Hevron, most of the Arab policemen didn’t report for duty. Some joined in the pogrom. British Police Commander, Cafferata, was alone against some eight-hundred bloodthirsty Arabs, who, as if possessed by the devil, had turned into savages overnight. The reinforcements Cafferata had requested never arrived. A little after eight o’clock, after the Jews had finished their Sabbath morning prayers, hordes of screaming Arabs, armed with staves, axes, knives, and sabers attacked the Jewish Quarter. They smashed down the door of the first home they came to and beat and stabbed the occupants to death. Cafferata arrived at the scene and shot two of the marauders. The others ran off deeper into the Quarter, shouting, “Slaughter the Jews!” The Jewish policeman, Itamar, stood guarding the entrance to the yeshiva when the frenzied mob approached. He managed to shoot three Arabs before they hacked him into pieces. That morning, barely a minyan of students had shown up at the yeshiva to pray. One of the Arabs who first burst into the study hall grabbed Rabbi Slonim, who was still wearing his prayer shawl. He pushed the Jew forcefully toward the back door of the building. “Come with me!” he said, leading the frightened and out-of-breath Rabbi through narrow alleyways to the door of an Arab home outside the Jewish Quarter. “Stay here with my brother,” the Arab told him. “You’ll be safe.”
“G-d bless you,” the Rabbi uttered in relief. “But what about my family?”
“Stay here!” the Arab repeated and ran off, shutting the door behind him. Quickly the brother led the Rabbi down a short flight of stairs to a basement where twenty Jews, men, women, and children were sitting cramped together on the floor, praying for the terror to pass.
The students in the yeshiva weren’t as lucky. The Arabs cut out their tongues, gouged out their eyes, and dismembered them in a merciless massacre. Pages were torn out of holy books, and the Aron HaKodesh overturned. One Torah scroll was stolen and the other was sliced into pieces. Setting the synagogue ablaze, the crazed rabble rushed off in search for more Jewish blood.
Cafferata ran from house to house, shooting in the air and firing at would-be killers. Later, he testified: “Upon hearing screams in a room, I rushed inside and saw an Arab chopping off a child’s head with a sword. He had already slashed him once and was about to strike him again when he saw me and turned to strike at me. I blocked the sword with my rifle, then shot him in the stomach. Behind him, one of my Arab constables on the police force clutched a blood-stained dagger in his hand. He stood over a woman who lay sprawled dead on the floor. ‘I’m a policeman!’ he begged, when I pointed my gun at his face. When he tried to flee, I shot him dead.”
The day before, Rabbi Slonin’s son, Eliezer, had hidden fifty Jews in the Anglo-Palestine Bank, adjacent to his house. The bank, which he managed, was closed for the Sabbath, but the rioters discovered the hideout. Eliezer ran for his revolver, but an axe crashed down on his head, shattering his skull. His wife and her parents met the same bloody fate. Their infant son, Shlomo, wounded badly in the head, was miraculously saved when the bodies of his butchered parents fell over him, hiding him from view. With wide screams, the axe-wielding mob massacred twenty-five Jews, including twenty yeshiva students and the family of one of the yeshiva’s Rabbis. They cut off fingers, hands, and feet, torturing the young Torah scholars, stabbing them again and again until death saved them from Ishmael’s ancient jealousy and hatred. Arabs slaughtered the Rabbi’s children with their axes, and repeatedly raped his wife, forcing him to watch until they pierced him with their swords, cut open his chest and tore out his heart which they paraded triumphantly through the streets, where there was not a policeman to be seen.
Hearing about the massacre from the wounded who reached the infirmary, Hevedke hurried to the Bank, where the rampage had already ended. He stared at the carnage in shock, feeling as if were about to pass out. Hearing a cry, “Allah Akbar!” he turned just as an Arab was raising a saber to strike him. Lunging forward, he managed to shove his attacker off balance. The Arab toppled to the floor. Hevedke grabbed the fallen saber and sank it deep into the assailant’s belly. Filled with rage, he ran outside where a mob of Arabs were attacking Jews in the street with their swords. Screaming and swinging his saber like a wild man, he managed to wound several Arabs until a blunt object crashed down on his head. Sprawling forward to the ground, he felt an excruciating pain in his arm and saw blood squirt in all directions. “Muhammed be praised!” his assailant shouted. Gunshots rang out, and the mob of Arabs scattered. British Police Commander, Cafferata, kept firing his rifle, killing one of the Arabs as the frenzied mob fled. Dazed from the blows, Hedveka managed to stand. Sunlight sparkled in a pool of blood on the ground where his left arm lay dismembered, its fingers still twitching. Spasms seized his shoulder. “Good G-d,” he thought in horror. “They cut off my arm.”
At the infirmary, Hava couldn’t keep up with the wounded. Her hands and white nurse’s uniform were splattered with blood. One of the Arab nurses had arrived to help bandage the cuts and the amputated limbs of the Jews. A man who had been emasculated screamed in agony, clutching a blood-soaked towel to his groin to stop the bleeding.
Rabbi Slonim, clearly in shock, sat on a chair in a corner of the clinic, repeating the same sentences over and over. “They killed my two sons, my wife, and her parents. They killed my two sons, my wife, and her parents. They burned my Torah, my holy Torah. ” Jews who had been expelled from Spain in 1492 had brought the Torah scroll with them to Hevron, thinking they had found a refuge. Hava bent over Rabbi Slonim and held smelling salt under his nose. Quickly, she moved on to the next patient. There was nothing else she could do.
“They killed my two sons, my wife, and her parents. They burned my Torah, my holy Torah,” the vacant-eyed Rabbi repeated, staring blankly at a wall.
Upstairs in the infirmary building, a mob burst into the homes of the pharmacist, Ben Zion Gershon, and Rabbis Hason and Kastel. The wild human beings massacred them all, except for a few children who managed to flee. Worse than animals, they raped Gershon’s daughter. Cutting off his wife’s hands, they raped her as well. Hearing their terrifying cries for help, Hava instinctively ran into the courtyard of the clinic. Immediately, an Arab grabbed her and threw her to the ground.
“It’s the nurse,” someone said.
“All is fair in love and war,” another responded, quoting an Arab expression.
Hava stared at her attackers in terror as they ripped off her uniform. She recognized the faces of people she had treated and whose children she had vaccinated in the past. Hands pinned her arms and her legs to the floor as she was raped again and again to the laughter and curses of one Arab after another. She fainted, just as she heard gunshots from the street. At the sound of the shots, her attackers fled.
As if in a nightmare, Hava opened her eyes as an Arab raised a long dagger and plunged it into her chest.
Outside, stripped to his waist, with his fringed garment tied around the stump of his upper arm like a tourniquet, Hevedke staggered through the war-torn street to the ransacked infirmary. Jews were frantically pouring basins and buckets of water on the flames which were engulfing the clinic and the synagogue on the second floor. Others carried the ill and wounded to safety. Hevedke searched through the infirmary, but Hava was nowhere to be seen. Clutching his makeshift bandage to his still bleeding shoulder, he mounted the stairs to the second floor where the fire was blazing. A blanket covered a corpse in the corridor. Bending down on a knee, he pulled the shroud from its face. It was Hava. Stripped naked, she stared up at him with the eyes he loved – now so cold and lifeless. His whole body shivered.
“Abba, Abba,” Akiva cried.
Hevedke reached out his right hand and gently closed his wife’s eyes with the tip of his finger. Then he stretched the blanket back over her face. His ten-year old son ran to embrace him.
“Abba, Abba,” the frightened youth sobbed. “Where is Ema? Where is Ema?”
With the only arm that he had, Isaac, the son of Abraham, hugged the boy to his bosom. “Come,” he said, holding his son’s hand. “Let’s go outside and look for her.”
On the street, Jews were staggering around in a daze.
“All Jews to the police station!” Cafferata yelled. “All Jews to the police station!”
Hevedke had been a Jew for ten years, but this, he felt, was his first real test.
“The L-rd gave, and the L-rd has taken away,” he said. “Blessed be the Name of the L-rd.”
In the middle of the afternoon in Jerusalem, Rabbi Kook was visiting the wounded with Tevye and Rabbi Aryeh Levine at the Bikur Holim Hospital on Chancellor Avenue (later renamed Strauss Street), a minute’s walk from his home. So far, according to the police, seventeen Jews had been murdered in Jerusalem and hundreds wounded in the ongoing riots. British police had killed ten of the marauders, and arrested a handful of others, but the Jews sensed that the actions of the police were largely for show. There were even rumors that the local British Authorities were behind the violent uprising against the Jews. Here and there, the Haganah had provided some resistance, but the volunteer defense force was caught unprepared, untrained, and without the necessary number of soldiers and weapons to stem the pillage and murder which spread all over the country. After the imprisonment of Ze’ev Jabotinsky years before, the leadership of the Haganah had fallen into the hands of the socialists, but Ben Gurion had been too busy strengthening the Histadrut and his political party to seriously develop a standing army, the formation of which was strictly against British law.
Meeting resistance in the Old Jewish Quarter, thousands of frenzied Arabs had swarmed through the Damascus Gate toward the Mea Shearim and Beit Yisrael neighborhoods. Frightened Jews grabbed sticks, stones, and hammers to defend themselves against the wild mobs. Local sheikhs and Mukhtars waved sabers, exhorting their adherents to wage holy jihad. Two Haganah volunteers, Aharon Alperstein and Binyamin Zev Yarden, garrisoned in the Mea Shearim flour mill, set out to face the attackers. Alperstein, whose real name was Aharon Fisher, was a Haredi Jew with long peyes. In Roumania, he had been an awarded marksman in the army and the chess champion of the country. When Sir Ronald Storrs, the District Commissioner of Jerusalem, discovered that he was in the country, he invited him to play chess with him at the Government Palace. Firing his pistol, Alperstein killed the lead attacker. Yarden lobbed a grenade into the charging mob. Panicking, the Arabs began to flee in every direction, causing a stampede, in which a dozen rioters were trampled to death.
In the small village of Motza, just beyond the western entrance to Jerusalem, an entire Jewish family was brutally slaughtered. Talpiot, the southernmost neighborhood of the city, suffered wide-scale vandalism and looting. The house of the famous writer, Shai Agnon, was burnt to the ground, including original manuscripts of his works and the hundreds of books in his library. While British police protection was glaringly absent in Jerusalem and Hevron, elsewhere, in Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jewish colonies around the country, the authorities occasionally came to the rescue, helping outnumbered Jewish defenders repel savage attacks in which 133 Jews were killed and more than 400 wounded.
While Rabbi Kook was blessing the heavily bandaged Jews in the crowded hospital ward, a doctor approached him with the news that violent riots had erupted in Hevron. Scores of Jews had been murdered, including yeshiva students and Rabbis. The Hevron District Commissioner had ordered that the bodies be buried in a communal grave, without any of the ritual procedures prescribed by Jewish law. Hearing the horrifying report, Rabbi Kook shuddered, fell backwards, and fainted to the floor before Tevye could rush forward to catch him.
“He’s fainted,” the doctor called out.
Tevye held his hand under the Rabbi’s head so that it didn’t rest on the floor. His furry, Sabbath head covering lay on a nearby tile. The face of Aryeh Levine was pale with astonishment and worry. Gently, Tevye moved the soft, fur spodik under Rabbi Kook’s head like a pillow. A nurse ran over with smelling salt. The doctor took it from her hand and held it under the Rabbi’s nose. He came to his senses immediately. Tevye and the doctor raised him to his feet. Verses of the Torah poured out of his lips like flames, as Tevye straightened the black skullcap on his head. Eyes glaring with a rare flash of anger, the Chief Rabbi declared:
“’He will avenge the blood of His servants; and He will take revenge on His adversaries; and he will placate His Land and His People.’”
Opening the top buttons of his satin Sabbath frock, Rabbi Kook grabbed his shirt and tore it in a sign or mourning. “Baruch Dayan HaEmet,” he said. “Blessed be the true Judge.” Everyone answered Amen.
Rabbi Levine handed him his spodik.
“We have to do something,” Rabbi Kook said, placing the crown-like hat on his head. Rushing toward the exit, he repeated the verse from the Torah with even more passion than before: “’He will avenge the blood of His servants; and He will take revenge on His adversaries; and he will placate His Land and His People.’”
Tevye and Rabbi Levine had trouble keeping up with the Chief Rabbi as he hurried with long strides to his home. As was his custom, so as not to be without Torah or prayer for a moment, he would recite pages of Torah, or chapters of Tehillim, in his head, all of which he knew by heart. This time, he recited a Psalm out loud.
“The kings of the earth and the rulers take counsel together and set themselves against the L-rd, and against His anointed saying, ‘Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their cords from us.’ He who sits in the heavens laughs; the L-rd holds them in derision. Then shall He speak to them in his wrath and terrify them in His burning anger….”
At one point, Rabbi Kook even ran, a most uncharacteristic behavior for a Chief Rabbi on Shabbat. Tevye wondered about the welfare of his own daughter, Hava, and her family, but there were almost a thousand Jews in Hevron, so the chance that they were among the wounded was slim. All the while, the Rabbi continued to recite verses.
“I have set my king upon Zion, My holy mountain. I will tell of the decree; the L-rd has said to me, ‘Thou are My son, this day I have begotten thee. Ask me and I shall give thee nations for thine inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shall break them with a rod of iron; thou shall dash them in pieces like a potter’s cup.’”
Yitzhak Ben Zvi, the head of the Vaad HaLeumi Zionist Commission was waiting for Rabbi Kook. Though they were not religious, Ben Zvi and his wife, Rachel, had come to admire the holy Chief Rabbi, respecting him for his vast knowledge and erudition, in art, philosophy, history, and in literature, as well as his unique and inspiring explanations of Torah, which connected the teachings of Sinai, and the visions of the Prophets of Israel, with the present revival of the Jewish People in their Homeland. With his all-encompassing, universal perspective, Rabbi Kook respected all people, and all worldviews, finding a place for them all in their contribution to the seventy faces of Torah. Whereas the Rabbis of the Old Yishuv rejected both secular Zionism and the Jews who followed its banner, Rabbi Kook received them warmly, emphasizing their valuable contributions to the Nation’s rebuilding, whose source, he said, was completely holy and rooted in Torah, even though their outward behavior of the secular pioneers was oftentimes scornful and profane. But, Rabbi Kook assured, just as a rosebud surrounded by thorns turns into a blooming flower, so too the secular Zionists would come to discover the holy source of their national endeavor.
“Even though it is still Shabbat, I suggest we phone the High Commissioner,” Ben Zvi said to the harried-looking Chief Rabbi. “I can make the call if the Rabbi prefers.”
Rabbi Kook’s wife and his aging mother appeared in the hallway, curious to hear news about the riots.
“We shall go there in person,” the Chief Rabbi declared. “Please, Tevye, go down to the street and summon a carriage immediately!”
“Avraham Yitzhak!” the old woman exclaimed. “A carriage on Shabbat?”
“Saving Jewish lives overrides the Sabbath,” her son answered.
Hearing that, his mother fainted on the spot. Rabbi Kook’s wife caught her and managed to guide her into a chair.
“Very well,” her obedient son declared. “Tevye, wait! Kibbud eim, kibbud eim. Out of honor for my Mother, we will walk to British Palace.”
Rabbi Kook sat at his desk. Quickly, without hesitation, he grabbed a pen and piece of paper and scribbled a few lines: “To All of World Jewry! All Jews in Eretz Yisrael are in mortal danger! Use all the means at your disposal to save us, as fast as you can!” Signing the letter, he handed it to Ben Zvi. “Please send this all over the world. To all Jewish organizations, agencies, congregations, Rabbis, and newspapers. And send it through Beirut to avoid the British censors.”
Tevye, Rabbi Levine, Yitzhak Ben Zvi, and the highly respected lawyer, Mordechai Eliash accompanied Rabbi Kook to the Government Palace. Dressed in a bowler hat, and with his wire-frame spectacles, bowtie, tailored suit, and pointed goatee, Mordechai Eliash could have easily passed for a wealthy European barrister. Fluent in English and Hebrew, the religious attorney often visited Rabbi Kook’s home to discuss legal matters affecting the New Yishuv. Respecting his expertise and allegiance to Torah, Rabbi Kook had asked him to write the official Jewish brief regarding the Kotel for the upcoming International Western Wall Commission.
Knowing that he might have to speak with British officials that day, Ben Zvi left his revolver at home, the mere possession of which was a crime that could lead to years in prison. A crowd of Arabs filled the street outside British Government Headquarters, but seeing the regal figure of Rabbi Kook leading the procession, the rabble made way without causing a raucous.
The acting High Commissioner, Harry Charles Luke, was sitting at his large mahogany desk, next to a British flag. When the contingent arrived, he set the cigar he was smoking on the ledge of a silver ashtray and rose slowly, as if it were an effort to greet the Jews.
“I have hardly slept since this distressing rioting has started,” he said. Glancing from one visitor to the other, he extended his hand to the Chief Rabbi whose silent anger filled the room. Rabbi Kook’s arm remained at his side, leaving the Englishman’s hand suspended in the air.
“I will not shake a hand which is stained with Jewish blood,” Rabbi Kook bluntly declared. “I hold you responsible for this rampage of murder. The honor that the British nation had in helping the Jews is now sanguine with treachery and disgrace.”
Tevye was startled. He had never heard the love-filled Rabbi speak with such wrath, nor seen such contempt on his face. The slightly balding, redheaded, British High Commissioner stiffened. His face reddened even more than his natural carroty complexion.
“I demand that you shoot the murderers!” Rabbi Kook exclaimed, glaring at the Jewish convert to Christianity.
“I have not received any orders to do so,” Luke replied.
“I order you!” Rabbi Kook told him, raising his voice.
The shouts of the Arabs below in the street could be heard in the large and opulently furnished office. Luke walked over to the balcony and swung closed its opened doors.
“You Jews should better respect the rights of others and not encroach on sites which the Muslims hold holy,” he remarked.
“Someone who violates the precept ‘Thou shall not kill,’ shouldn’t preach to the Jews. Our rule is, ‘If someone rises to kill you, kill him first.’ I demand that you arrest the murderers and vandals!”
Luke returned to his desk and sat in the High Commissioner’s chair, as if he were to be its permanent occupant.
“The police have arrested scores of rioters, I assure you,” he replied. “In fact, may Arab rioters have been shot and killed.”
Attorney Eliash spoke up. “Then why do they scream, ‘The government is with us!’? Where do they get that idea?”
Without answering, Luke gently extinguished the burning ash of the cigar against the edge of the ashtray, as if to save its expensive tobacco for later enjoyment.
“Not only that,” Ben Zvi added. “Instead of punishing the marauders, you reward them by limiting Jewish immigration.”
“If there are less Jews in the country, there will be less conflict with the Arabs,” Luke answered snidely. “Isn’t less conflict what you want?”
Tevye felt like grabbing the pompous goy and throwing him out the window to the Arab mob below.
“Mr. Acting High Commissioner,” Rabbi Kook said, emphasizing the word “acting.”
Luke stared at him with disdain.
“The only thing that will dissuade the Arabs from continuing their savage killing is by punishing the perpetrators and by making the Arabs suffer a political loss,” the Chief Rabbi insisted. “The British Mandatory Government must allow more and more Jews to enter the Land in accord with their chartered mission!”
The apostate Jew tried to look calm, but his body trembled under the Rabbi’s scorching stare.
He stood up from his chair. “Thank you for coming by,” he said, ending the meeting. “I suggest you write your suggestions and complaints to London.”
“We will,” Rabbi Kook assured him. “Today. To everyone I know, including the King. In the meantime, I bless you and wish you success on your next commission, may it be soon, in a faraway land.”