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August 24, 1929 The Story of Benjamin Hurwitz, killed at age 19 in The Hebron Massacre

August 23, 1929 Hebron MassacreOn Shabbat, the 18th day of the Hebrew month of Av, 5689 (Saturday, August 24, 1929), 19 year old Benjamin Hurwitz, an American studying in the Knesseth Israel Yeshiva in Hebron, Israel, was killed, along with many other people, in an Arab riot. This is the story of his life.

Benjamin Hurwitz was born on May 4, 1910 in New York City. He attended the Rabbi Jacob Joseph Yeshiva elementary school.

His father, Rabbi Yekusiel Raphael Hurwitz, who had learned in the Volozhin Yeshiva in Europe, was an ardent Zionist who spoke Hebrew with his children and had purchased an orange grove in Raanana. After graduation from High School, Benjamin went to The Land of Israel (Eretz Yisroel) to continue his studies in Talmud.

After studying with a cousin for a few months, Benjamin entered the Yeshiva in Hebron. This school of advanced Talmudical studies had been founded a few years earlier by world-renowned Rabbis from Europe. The Jewish population of Hebron had existed in that city for several hundred years and were on good, if not close, terms with their Arab neighbors. However, certain elements in the Moslem world, in particular the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem (during World War II he collaborated with Hitler), had been preaching against the Jews. There were a number of anti-Jewish riots that broke out from time to time during the early 1920’s. However, the Summer of 1929 was to become the bloodiest period of all. The British were notoriously anti-Jewish and pro-Arab and did very little to stop the Arab riots, although they did eventually set up an investigatory commission.

Letter written by 19-year old Benjamin Hurwitz two days before he was murdered

“Terrible, terrible, terrible. How terrible are the happenings that occur daily in Jerusalem, our Holy City in our Holy Land. Things happen here that do not occur in the Galus [all those lands outside of the Land of Israel]. There are attacks on the Jews, the government ignores them … and the world is quiet. Is this why we have returned to rebuild our desolate land? Have we returned to see our sons killed?  Absolutely not!  We hoped to build our land and the land has become transformed into a country for the English. We hoped to set up a just country and it has become the opposite.

“There are three fronts in which the Jews are pitted against the English and the Arabs. In only one of these have the Jews been successful. This is in the area of autonomy. When the English attempted to wrest control of internal affairs, both the Jews and Arabs objected so strenuously that the English gave up on the idea. [He then describes several instances of English attempts to harass the Jews.]  For example, they appointed a brutal, Jew-hating English officer to be in charge of the access for Jews to the Western Wall [which at that time was essentially a narrow alley]. On Yom Kippur, the holy Day of Atonement, he restricted access. On Lag B’Omer [in the Spring] he beat a Jew. Thirty witnesses to the beating came to court and the presiding judge stated there was not sufficient proof to indict him. Can you imagine, thirty witnesses are not enough!  Have you ever heard of such a thing, that thirty witnesses are not sufficient proof in a court of law!   Can you imagine a person [i.e., the judge] not being embarrassed to declare himself a liar!  Also, you are not allowed to even touch an English child. These are some examples of the front facing us with respect to the English officials.

The second front is the antagonism of the British government to the building of a National Homeland. This was discussed at length at the Zionist Congress in Zurich. The government has not kept its promise as regards the land. They give land to the Arabs but the Jews are forced to purchase whatever land they need for educational and health purposes. And so on …

The third front is Arab vs Jew. The main problem which disturbs the Jewish and Arab minds and which causes the arguments between them is the question of the Western wall. On Yom Kippur of this year it all started. The English could not wait three hours until the sun to set and they had to desecrate our holy place on this holy day. Their needs were “holy” but the Western Wall, the last vestige testifying to our glory in ancient times, is not holy. All the Jewish communities protested but the British ignored them and ruled in favor of the Arabs.

[The British attempted to control things by stating that no changes could take place in the way things had been done in the past, i.e., no change in the status quo.]

“But still, all was quiet until about two months ago. The Arabs began to realize that the Jews could manage without upsetting the status quo, but the Arabs started to build. They built a new gateway near the Western Wall, they opened a doorway so that they could disturb the Jews, and they declared that the status quo pertained only to the Jews and not to them. The Jews protested, but to no avail. The Arabs began to disturb those engaged in prayer. The British government was silent!  Only the Jews were causing trouble!  On last Thursday, youth from the Trumpeldor legion rallied against the government regarding access to the Western Wall. They marched to the wall and decried the Zionist leaders for their weak stand. But they did not hit or even touch anyone. The next day the Arabs rallied too. But this was an entirely different protest. They marched out of the new gate and hit Jews in the midst of prayer, tore up prayer books, and removed the notes of beseechment that had been placed in the crevices of the Wall. The British police did nothing, not only that but they did not even permit the Jews to approach the Wall to pray. And this is the status quo?!  Then the British issued a statement that equated the two protests!

On Shabbos [Saturday] there were many attacks on the Jews by Arabs. One young man was stabbed and died that night. Then on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, there were more attacks on the Jews in various places and the British did nothing. The daily bulletins relate terrible occurrences. Jews are hit, they complain to the British police who ignore them, although at times they incarcerate the Jew who was hit and free the Arab who attacked him. This is the situation.

“But today there occurred something that goes beyond all this. This morning was the funeral of the boy who was stabbed on Shabbos. A large group accompanied the body and as they passed the main Post Office [located on Jaffa Street in the heart of Jerusalem] and started to head towards the Jaffa Gate [of the Old City], the police started to direct them towards Damascus Gate [called Sha’ar Sh’chem in Hebrew, which is the heart of the Arab sector]. Suddenly, the British officers started to hit the Jews brutally, terribly brutally. Jews, old and young, were hit and started to run, if they stopped they were hit by the police. The British are more brutal than the Cossacks. At least twelve people were hospitalized in Hadassah Hospital. Whoever hears this will not believe it – that in this land such a thing should occur, who would believe it!  It looks like they will change the name of this country to the Land of the English.

“I arrived in Jerusalem about half an hour after the beatings and I did not see any of it except for one small event. A British policeman was walking along the street and came upon two young Jews talking to each other. The Englishman pushed them both aside and said in English: ‘Stop blocking the way, I have to pass’. He brutally shoved them aside and continued walking. Later I went to the Western Wall alone to see what was doing there. There I saw 30 English policemen, one Jewish policeman and one Arab policeman, but not a single Jew praying. Every day there are people praying there and now no one!  Only policemen! I cried when I saw this. All this at the time we are rebuilding our land, at a time when people think of democracy and freedom. Yes, yes, of this we never dreamed.

“The Jewish community in Eretz Yisroel [Land of Israel] is terribly agitated, and, especially in Jerusalem, the condition is bad. And who knows what today will breed? Last night I returned to Hebron and today I went back to Jerusalem to pick up the passports, I have mine and I sent mother hers [in those days they usually had the whole family on one passport]….According to their plans, they will arrive in New York on October 17. They could not leave earlier because she has many things to arrange…. I know you think they have left here already, but I am informing you that they will be here another three weeks. Man makes his plans, but if God decrees otherwise, there is no response.”

“Your son who cries over the destruction of our Holy Temple,

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