Hebron Strengthens Ties with Local Help

On a sunny day, a crane is putting up a large Chanukiah on top of a building with an Israeli flag flying above.
Philadelphia-based philanthropist Jeffrey Barrack and International Spokesperson for the Jewish Community In Hebron Yishai Fleisher erected a Chanukiah which could be seen throughout the city of Hebron during Chanukah. | Courtesy of Jeffrey Barrack

Yishai Fleisher, the international spokesperson for the Jewish community in Hebron, is working to strengthen that city with the help of Philadelphia-based attorney and philanthropist Jeffrey Barrack.

In late October, Barrack met Fleisher and suggested he erect a Chanukiah on top of the city’s Beit Hadassah Visitors Center and Museum. Hebron, a city nestled in the Judean Mountains in the West Bank, is host to only 10,000 Jews among more than 200,000 Palestinians.

The day after Barrack suggested the idea, Fleisher came back to him with a price estimate from a local metal shop.

“And within three weeks, we have this giant, gorgeous Chanukiah at the very top of all of Hebron,” Fleisher said.

Israel President Isaac Herzog visited Hebron on the first night of Chanukah and lit the Chanukah candles at the Cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. Fleisher said there was “no question about it” that Herzog would have seen Fleisher and Barrack’s Chanukiah.

“Putting up that menorah was a celebration of Jewish life and coexistence in Judea,” Barrack said.

But Fleisher’s job is more than just putting up a Chanukiah for the city’s Jewish population. Since assuming the position in 2015, Fleisher has been responsible for maintaining Jewish-Palestinian relations in the city, advocating for Hebron as a place of profound Jewish import and encouraging aliyah.

“My job is, on the one hand, to push off some of the negative imagery that is associated with Hebron,” Fleisher said. “There’s a concerted effort to delegitimize Israel constantly, and we all know that, but Hebron is one of the main ways through which that delegitimization happens.”

Hebron is home to the Cave of the Patriarch and Matriarchs — the tomb of Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, Rebecca, Sarah and Leah — making it the second-holiest city to Jews behind only Jerusalem. But its West Bank location and the reputation of terror attacks occurring there has taken it off many Jews’ to-visit lists.

Jeffrey Barrack is a white man with short, greying hair wearing a jackat and jeans. He has his arm around Yishai Fleisher, a white man with grey hair and beard wearing a kippah and tzitzit.
From left: Jeffrey Barrack and Yishai Fleisher in October | Courtesy of Jeffrey Barrack

Fleisher and Barrack want to change that narrative.

“In Judea and Samaria, there is an amazing phenomenon that most American Jews only see on a bumper sticker, and that is coexistence,” Barrack said.

Fleisher frequently interacts with his Palestinian and Arab neighbors, including co-chair of the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce Ashraf Jabari, with whom Fleisher has shared glatt kosher Iftar meals in Jabari’s home. Jabari agreed to buy and set off a series of fireworks for Fleisher’s daughter’s bat mitzvah.

Earlier this month, Fleisher received a call from a teacher in Israel hoping to bring her students to the Cave of the Patriarch and Matriarchs, but who couldn’t afford transportation. Fleisher called the bus company and paid the class’ bus fare.

Fleisher and Barrack met through Melissa Jane Kronfeld, founder of Passion for a Purpose, a New York-based social impact consultancy. Kronfeld has worked with Fleisher for three years, when she made aliyah, and is inspired by his “doer” personality and “endless capacity to find the humor in any situation.”

“The end goal is to make sure that there is a future for Hebron where the world is inspired by us the same way they’re inspired by Jerusalem, by the Kotel,” Kronfeld said.

Barrack hopes to further Fleisher’s mission in the U.S. He’s developing an Israel mission trip called the No Lines Tour to show Jews what Jewish-Palestinian coexistence looks like. Beta testing for the trip will take place this spring.

“My hope is that many people can get lit like a candle from this trip,” Barrack said, “and then come home and light up our community.”

srogelberg@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0741


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