While many Israelis fly off to various destinations around the globe for Passover, those of us who stay home and are fortunate enough to have some time off during the week-long holiday use the time to explore and get to know the country better.

One group that’s helping make that happen is Mishkefet (Binoculars) whose motto is “The Land of Israel is Waiting for You to Get to Know Her.”

Mishkefet organized dozens of buses on Sunday, the first of the intermediate days of Passover, traveling north of Jerusalem to Samaria and south to Chevel Yatir, the southern Hebron Hills area that contains Israel’s biggest and arguably most beautiful forest — the Yatir Forest.

On the way, we stopped off at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron — mercifully early, before the crowds descended on the tiny Jewish area at the edge of the city whose Arab population now numbers some 170,000.

Special prayer to be recited at the Cave of the Patriarchs

Jews have access to just three percent of the city, including the Cave of the Patriarchs, but Jews purchasing and moving into one new house in the area near the holy site can create an international news story, as evidenced by last week’s Beit HaMachpela expulsion.

Today, as visitors made their way up the stairs to pray at the ancient holy site, few even glanced at the heavily guarded house behind the barricades opposite the parking lot.

Beit Hamachpela, Hebron

One person was there who takes an extraordinary interest in every move of the “settlers.” Haaretz reporter Gideon Levy showed up with his notepad and a photographer, glaring at the busloads of Mishkefet visitors and at the group of IDF soldiers securing the property.

Haaretz reporter Gideon Levy in Hebron

(How did I recognize Levy? That’s a story that goes back to the dark days of the Al Aksa intifada — we shared a podium at a journalists conference in Italy in May 2001.)

A few yards away, in the protest tent set up by the Hebron Jews who were kicked out of their home, under a sign reading “We bought it. We Paid for it. It’s Ours,” sits an iconic Hebron figure — Rabbi Moshe Levinger, who led the return of Jews to Hebron on Passover 1968.

Rabbi Moshe Levinger (center) at the Beit Hamachpela protest tent

Despite his frailty, Rabbi Levinger is still making his presence felt, just as he did 44 years ago, when he led a Seder for 88 people in a Hebron hotel — an act that ultimately led to the renewed Jewish presence in Hebron that so irks journalist Levy.

Rabbi Moshe Levinger (left) at the protest tent

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Click here for more photos of Passover in Hebron, and the beautiful Yatir Forest.

[All photos © Judy Lash Balint. All rights reserved]

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