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Hebron: Beit Hadassah

The first floor of this building was constructed in 1893 with the contributions of North African Jews. It served as a charity institute and clinic, called Hesed Le'Avraham.

In 1911, another story was added, thanks to the contributions of Jews from India and Baghdad. Subsequently, the Hadassah Organization opened a clinic there, providing free medical care for all, Jews and Arabs alike. In the adjoining house lived the pharmacist Ben-Zion Gershon, the Rabbis of the Jewish community and Rabbis Hanoch Hasson and Yosef Castel and their families.

During the 1929 riots, the Arabs attacked these homes, torturing and murdering all their inhabitants. The Hadassah Clinic was destroyed. The British authorities, who displayed no concern whatsoever for Jewish safety during the riots, later evacuated the remaining Jews. The Jewish community exerted great efforts to return to Hebron and families actually did so in 1931. But when the Arabs began rioting in 1936, the Jews were again driven out by the British. Jewish homes were seized by the Arabs and an Arab school was opened at Beit Hadassah.

When Hebron was liberated in 1967, Jews began striving to return to these houses. Kiryat Arba was established in 1971. Families lived in temporary dwellings for more than two years in the Israeli Military Compound outside Hebron, until the first buildings were constructed and completed. But the heart of Hebron, home of Jews for thousands of years, remained Judenrein. Jews were not allowed to return to the city of Abraham.

Until 1979. In early spring, immediately after Passover, a group of ten women and 40 children proceeded in secret from Kiryat Arba to Hebron in the middle of the night. Arriving behind Beit Hadassah in the heart of the city, the women and children climbed into the vacant structure through a small window on the rear side of the building.

The morning after the women and children entered, soldiers patrolling in the area heard singing coming from the building. Investigating, the soldiers, to their great surprise, found the building's new Jewish occupants.

The Israeli Government led by Prime Minister Menachem Begin was agitated by the nerve of Kiryat Arba's Jews and their mentor, Rabbi Moshe Levinger and his wife Miriam. Begin opposed renewing the Jewish Community in Hebron, but was disturbed by the thought of forcibly removing women and children from the building. So the Israeli Government ordered the army to surround Beit Hadassah, effectively placing the building under siege. No one was allowed inside, and anyone leaving was not allowed to return. Even food, water, or medical supplies were not allowed through the blockade. When it was pointed out to Begin that during the Yom Kippur War, when Israeli forces surrounded the Egyptian Third Army, he allowed them food, water, and medical supplies, he relented.

One of the women in the building, Shoshana Peretz, was pregnant. When there was an outbreak of hepatitis in Beit Hadassah, brought on by lack of running water and less than primitive hygienic conditions, the other women insisted that Shoshana leave the building, fearing for her health. Shoshana refused, stating that if she wouldn't be allowed to return, she wouldn't leave. As her due-date approached, once again the other women urged her to leave, to give birth in a hospital in Jerusalem. However Shoshana persisted: "If I cannot return, I will not leave".

The Israel Government finally backed down and agreeing to allow Shoshana Peretz to return to Beit Hadassah following the birth. Shoshana left for the hospital, gave birth to a daughter. She named the baby Hadassah, and returned to Beit Hadassah. The government subsequently gave its blessing to the reestablishment of a permanent Jewish civilian presence in Hebron.

Every Friday evening, Erev Shabbat, the women were treated to a special event. Yeshiva students studying at the Nir College for Jewish Studies in Kiryat Arba came into Hebron to pray at the Cave of Machpela and then sang and danced to Beit Hadassah. There, they danced in front of the building, said Kiddush for the women, and then returned to Kiryat Arba.

In late spring of 1980, after the women had been in Beit Hadassah for over a year, Arab terrorists attacked the Yeshiva students. The attackers began shooting and throwing hand grenades from the roof of the building facing Beit Hadassah. Six young men were murdered and many others were wounded. As a result of this terrorist attack, the Israeli Government decided to allowed the women to reunite with their husbands and children in Beit Hadassah. The old Beit Hadassah building was repaired and extended under the auspices and with the assistance of the Israeli Government. Just as Hebron’s Jews had been evacuated following bloodshed fifty years earlier, Jewish blood was responsible for their return.

Today, Beit Hadassah and its neighboring buildings, Beit Hasson, Beit Castel, and Beit Shneerson are home to 25 families.

Sources: Hebron