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Settling the Score

28 October 2019

After the Six Day War of 1967 and the liberation of the Judea and Samaria territories, I became involved with building new settlements there. I decided to use my financial knowledge and the experience I had gained in political activism in the cause of developing Jewish neighborhoods in these regions. But, although I had good political connections, I had a hard time securing bank loans, which were essential for this purpose.

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The specific matter of Jewish settlement in Hebron really lit a fire under me. One of the reasons for this was that I had a personal connection to the city. I was born there on the 17th of August, 1929, and my brit was held on the 24th of August, the day of the Hebron massacre, when Arabs rampaged through the city killing sixty-seven Jews and wounding many others. So I really wanted to expand the small Jewish settlement there. I wanted to create a connection between Kiryat Arba and Hebron, two cities that were separated by an empty no-man’s land which was possible to purchase at that time. My idea was to call the new settlement “Kiryat Chabad,” in hopes of drawing Chabad chasidim to move there, to renew the historical Chabad settlement in Hebron which dated back to the 18th century.

After Menachem Begin became prime minister in 1977, I met with him and laid out my plan regarding Hebron. I explained my challenges with raising the money to purchase the land and getting the required insurance for investing in infrastructure in the settlements. I proposed that the government establish a national insurance company for this purpose. This company, Inbal, was established and, because of it, factories were built and both Hebron and Kiryat Arba benefitted.

At that same meeting, I also proposed another idea. We were then approaching the fiftieth anniversary of the Hebron massacre. And as my grandfather, Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank, had a connection with the Previous Rebbe (whom he met when the Previous Rebbe visited the Holy Land just prior to the massacre), I suggested that I travel to New York and invite the current Rebbe, on behalf of the Israeli government, to take part in a memorial ceremony for those massacred in Hebron and in laying the cornerstone for the new neighborhood there. I thought that such a visit would certainly encourage Chabad chasidim to settle in the city.

Begin was skeptical, but he was willing to support this move, and at the end of 1978, I traveled to New York, where a meeting with the Rebbe was arranged for me at 2 a.m. It was impressed upon me, that because of the Rebbe’s health – he had suffered a massive heart attack the previous year – the meeting could not last longer than fifteen minutes.

I arrived at the appointed hour and was greeted by the Rebbe’s secretary, Rabbi Binyomin Klein, who immediately brought me in to the Rebbe’s office. I will not forget the warmth with which he greeted me, “Shalom Aleichem Reb Yaakov!”

“I have warm regards from Prime Minister Begin,” I said, and the Rebbe responded, “How is he doing?”

After I filled him in, knowing that my time was limited, I tried to get directly to the point. I told the Rebbe about my plans regarding expanding the Jewish settlement in Hebron in general and about the idea of developing a Chabad settlement to connect Hebron with Kiryat Arba in particular.

But the Rebbe was first interested in my background. So I told him about the circumstances of my birth and also about my grandfather, Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank, who had been the chief rabbi of Jerusalem and who helped fulfill the Previous Rebbe’s wish to visit the Me’arat HaMachpelah, the Cave of the Patriarchs, where Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their wives, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah are buried. This involved pulling a lot of strings and bribing those who controlled the area.

The Rebbe seemed moved to hear this and he asked for more details of the Previous Rebbe’s visit – how long did the Previous Rebbe’s spend at the site, and if he managed to enter places that Jews are not allowed to enter today.

When I saw how much this meant to the Rebbe and how interested he was in the details of the visit, I said that today it is also possible to try and arrange such a thing if the Rebbe would come to Israel for a visit. I went on to describe in detail my plans regarding the unification and expansion of the Jewish presence in Kiryat Arba and Hebron, and I suggested to the Rebbe that we should get one hundred more families to settle there. I mentioned the attractions – not only the close proximity to the holy site of the Me’arat HaMachpelah, but also our plans to open factories and establish vineyards in the area. The Rebbe seemed to approve of this, and mentioned that the city of Hebron was known for its fine grapes.

I proposed that we have a festive ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone for Kiryat Chabad in Hebron on the fiftieth anniversary of the Previous Rebbe’s visit to the city. The Rebbe smiled and said that in his present state of health, it would be hard for him to travel and so he didn’t think he would be able to come. I told the Rebbe that Hebron itself gives one a lot of strength, and I also added that it will certainly not be a problem to visit the most hidden places inside the Me’arat HaMachpelah.

But the Rebbe explained that he was in middle of developing and fortifying his work of Jewish outreach around the world, adding, “I know this isn’t Eretz Yisrael, but we still need to take care of Babylon too.” He expressed concern that if he came to Israel, he might not be able to leave, as per Jewish law, and continue the work he had started in America.

I pointed out that the Previous Rebbe came to visit and left afterwards, but the Rebbe clarified that for the Previous Rebbe the visit was “a stop along the way” – as he was traveling from Latvia to the United States. To come specifically to Israel was something else altogether.

In any case, the Rebbe thanked me very much for the invitation, and he also said that the settlement plan was very interesting. I am not sure that he approved of the particular project I had in mind, because he felt that Chabad is meant to spread out all over Israel and the chasidim should not leave other places in order to commemorate one particular place. That said, he clearly approved of the settling of the territories, and he asked me about my plans for other sites in the region. I mentioned Elkana, Ariel, Ma’ale Adumim and others, and the Rebbe encouraged me to continue in this direction.

The meeting lasted much longer than the allotted time – about an hour and a half, ending at 3:30 a.m. I noticed that the Rebbe seemed to have all the patience in the world and was not in any rush to get me out the door.

I left with the Rebbe’s blessings for the health of Prime Minister Begin, and for success in all my endeavors. In blessing me, he added that it is impossible to describe the great importance of the work I was engaged in. He urged me to continue with vigor and to do more to settle all of Israel.

Rabbi Yaakov Frank is a community rabbi in Petach Tikvah, where he was interviewed in April of 2015.