Tomorrow marks the 90th anniversary of the murder of 67 Jews by an Arab mob in the city of Hebron. Many of its victims were students of the city’s famed yeshiva, which had been relocated there from Lithuania in 1924. Among them was Aharon Dovid Shainberg, a native of Memphis, Tennessee—one of several American Jews who came there to study. Akiva Males discovered Shainberg’s letters to his family, and has published some excerpts. Signed “Dave,” and addressed to “Dearest Dad,” “Dearest Mother,” or “Dear Folks,” they end on August 20, 1929—just four days before the massacre.
On his visit to the Western Wall, and the British police presence there, Shainberg wrote:
So think of it! That the holiest & most sacred spot of the Jewish people is controlled by the heartless and brazen Esau! For the few feet remaining of our holy Temple we must regard the English soldiers as the “Baale Battim” [owners or bosses]—Oh! I tell you it is heart rending!
On his fellow students:
The Yeshiva itself is a revelation to me. The boys surely fall far short of the popular conception of what a “Yeshiva Bacher” [student] is. They, for the most part, are neatly and modernly dressed—although a bit shabby, of course. In manners and deportment they are perfect—the Yeshiva is insistent upon a high standard of etiquette within the Yeshiva and outside as well. The character of each of the 200 students is of the highest imaginable. Even I was surprised at what I have found. The student body is composed of the purest type of idealists.
From his letter of December 19, 1918:
Thank G-d, I hear no firecrackers or any other evidence of a “Xmas” holiday here in Hebron. (One great advantage of living in an Arab settlement.) The Arabs nurse an intense hatred for the Christians because of their missionary activities, & rightfully so.
Four years ago when the Yeshiva moved from Slobodka [the suburb of Kaunas where it was founded] to Hebron, there occurred not a little trouble from the Arabs here. Stones were thrown into the institution buildings; students were attacked on the streets, etc. The present state of affairs speaks much for the excellent character of the Yeshiva student body. By the sheer force of refinement of action and nobility of heart the Yeshiva Bacherim have won over the Arabs as their staunch friends from former enemies. In every step, in every word—in speech & action the student is a gentleman. Even Arabs were conquered by these weapons.
In a letter dated June 17, 1929, Shainberg describes the wedding of the daughter of Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein, the yeshiva’s dean:
I literally tore myself away from the greatest affair of my experience in order to get off this weekly note. Hebron resounds with the voices of merry makers—the streets are overflowing with dances, confetti, Hebron’s best (only) brass band, and a stray violin or mandolin. . . . Every notable of Hebron—both Arab & Jewish attended the affair: the English Governor, chief of police, the police commissioner of the Hebron district, many Arab sheiks arrayed in their turbans and glistening silk robes. Then the entire Jewish community of course turned out—the Sephardi Jews with every one of their “Hahams” [the Sephardi term for rabbis]—etc.