Our First Victim of Terror (1851)

Mt. Herzl, also known as Har Hazikaron (Mount of Remembrance) is Israel’s National Cemetery located on a hill of honor in Jerusalem. Thousands of martyrs and fallen soldiers who gave their lives in defense of our country are buried there.

The mountain was named for Theodor Herzl, founder of the Zionist movement, who died in 1904. He was buried in Vienna but in his Will he requested that his body be interred in the Land of Israel when it became an independent Jewish State. In 1951, his remains were transferred and he was re-buried in the national cemetery which bears his name.

All but four of Israel’s leaders are buried there. Chaim Weizman, our first President is buried at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot. David Ben-Gurion, our first prime minister is buried in the cemetery of Kibbutz Sde Boker in the Negev. Golda Meir, our former outspoken prime minister is buried on Mount Scopus and our beloved prime minister, Menachem Begin, is buried on the Mount of Olives.

Victims of Arab terrorist attacks are also buried in our National Cemetery on Mt. Herzl.

Recently I read an interesting story by Nadav Shragai in the Haaretz newspaper. He tells the history of the first Jewish victim of Arab terror to be buried there. It was Rabbi Avraham Shlomo Zalman Tzoref who was murdered by an Arab in Jerusalem 164 years ago in 1851.

Rabbi Tzoref was born in Lithuania in 1785 and arrived in Palestine, the city of Akko, in 1811. Shortly after, he moved to Tzfat. Due to an epidemic in the city, he and ten other Jewish families relocated to the Old City of Jerusalem. It became his obsession to rebuild the destroyed Hurva Synagogue which had been burned down by Arabs in 1721.
He succeeded in obtaining permits from the Egyptian ruler, Muhammed Ali and from Turkish officials.

Somehow, he discovered that the statute of limitations cancelled all the debts of Rabbi Yehuda HaHasid who bought the land on which the Hurva Synagogue was to be built. Rabbi Tzoref won a court decision to get back some of the land which had been confiscated and used by local Arabs. It was his intention to rebuild the synagogue for use by the Ashkenazi community.

The court’s decision in his favor angered the Arabs and Rabbi Tzoref was murdered in 1851. His grave is on our National Cemetery, Mt. Herzl.

Rebuilding, which he did not live to see, began in 1856 and for some 90 years it was the central Ashkenazi place of worship in the Old City of Jerusalem until it was blown up by troops of the Jordanian Legion in 1948.

A few years ago reconstruction began and the old Hurva Synagogue was rebuilt, a showplace of Jewish religious institutions in Jerusalem, and visibly identified by the original stone arch which graces entrance to the synagogue.

The most recent victims of Arab terrorism, the young Henkin family, Eitam and Naama, shot to death in their car while their four young children looked on, have been laid to rest with the thousands of other victims in the quiet sanctity of Mt. Herzl.

From 1851 to 2015, Jews who were the victims of Arab aggression and terrorism, sleep peacefully in that holy place. But when will there ever be a real peace?

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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