Poem of the Week

Is Abraham Turning Over in His Grave?

Attention, Nobel Peace Prize committee: Erika Dreifus nominates a Palestinian from Hebron.

Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg

Ode to a Rescuer

Erika Dreifus

Attention, Nobel Peace Prize committee,
I have a nomination for you:
In Hebron, that volatile place,
a Palestinian rescued five Jews.

Five American students from Brooklyn
seeking to visit one holy site.
Accidentally, they strayed from their path,
then encountered some too-ready to fight.

Faiz Abu Hamdiah saw the stones and the fire;
he knew the five Jews were in peril.
He quickly ushered them into his home,
giving refuge from crowds going feral.

Then he telephoned Israeli police;
forty minutes passed till they arrived.
Were it not for this rescuer’s act,
these five people may not have survived.

“That’s how everybody should behave,”
the savior was quoted as saying.
For a world where such sentiments reign
the rest of us should well be praying.


This poem retells an incident that occurred this September and draws a moral from it. The story was considered newsworthy both in the “man-bites-dog” (i.e., totally unexpected) category because a Palestinian rescued Jews from rampaging neighbors and in the “oh no, not again” category because the police screwed up on the phone.

The backstory and recent violent incidents in the Hebron area pertain to the big picture of the conflict here. Genesis 25:7-11 reports that “Abraham expired and died in a good old age. And Isaac and Ishmael, his sons, buried him in the cave of Machpelah” in Hebron along with his wife Sarah. Genesis 49:31-33 adds Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah and a midrash places Esau’s severed head there too.

For added value, Jewish and Sunni Islamic traditions inter Adam’s remains at the site as well.

Both Judaism and Islam developed cultic practices there on the assumption that with the intercession of the patriarchs and matriarchs, God is especially likely to grant prayers uttered there. No doubt Abraham/Ibrahim, who is credited with concluding that God does not reside in any object or particular place, is turning over in his grave.

Both religions claim exclusive possession of the truth and a divine right to that real estate – the Tomb of the Patriarchs or the al-Ibrahimi Mosque, depending on whom you ask.

Its environs, where Jews are said to have lived continuously except during Crusader times and between 1948 and 1967, have long been a locus of conflict. The Jewish settlement movement there began in 1968 when Rabbi Moshe Levinger led a group of followers who, claiming rectification of the 1929 massacre in the city of Hebron by Arabs of 59 Jewish residents, set up housekeeping there. The settlers have never looked back.  http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.662793 .

An arrangement for Jews and Muslims to "share" the tomb broke down in 1994, when in an attempt to scuttle the Oslo accords, Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish doctor from Brooklyn, massacred 29 Palestinian worshippers there and was himself killed in the ensuing melee.

Erika Dreifus is a writer and editor in New York. She is the author of Quiet Americans: Stories, which was named an American Library Association/Sophie Brody Medal Honor Title for outstanding achievement in Jewish literature.

*Musing: If the violence here is indeed rooted in a religious conflict centering on prayer site access, how will more prayers help resolve it?

*Bonus: The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings “Rock My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham".

Courtesy