I’d like to dedicate tonight’s talk to a very special person, a man taken from us so suddenly exactly one month ago.
Haim Mageni first came to Israel in 1964, from Brooklyn, New York. There, he participated in the local Bnei Akiva youth group, growing up in the shadow of a previous member of the same chapter, Moshe Perlstein. Perlstein was a genuine hero, a New Yorker who moved to Israel in 1947 and is remembered as one of the famous Lamed Hey, one of the 35 Israelis who were killed on their way from Jerusalem to Gush Etzion, which was, in 1948, totally under siege. The “35” as they are called, in an attempt to save their brethren, brought food and medical supplies to the besieged Kfar Etzion community, but never reached their destination, being slaughtered by Arabs who cut them down in cold blood.
Haim Mageni followed in the footsteps of his heroic predecessor, and made his home in Eretz Yisrael. Studying in Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav during the Six Day War, Haim answered the call of duty, and became one of the first Israelis to help renew the first Jewish community in liberated Judea and Samaria, the community of Kfar Etzion, between Jerusalem and Hebron. There Haim spent a brutal winter, refusing to bow to the dictates of nature, proving his indubitable love for Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel.
In 1968 Haim returned to the United States for a short time, and after marrying, he and his wife Shoshana came home, to Israel.
Again, with the far-reaching vision that was so characteristic of Haim Mageni, the young family made their home, not in a spacious house in the center of the country. Rather, as pioneers, Haim and Shoshana made their way south of Jerusalem, south of Kfar Etzion. Together with a handful of other families, living in an Israeli military compound, amongst Israeli soldiers and jailed Arab terrorists, the Magenis took part in the renewal of the oldest Jewish community in the land of Israel, the city of Hebron. Living there until 1971, Haim then moved to the newly established town called Kiryat Arba, or, as he called it, “the upper part of the city of Hebron.” There he lived for the next 30 years.
Haim is best remembered as a tour guide. But that description of his job does not do him justice.
In the Bible, there are two words used to express knowing. L’hakir means to know superficially – Joe and I know each other. But there is a much deeper knowing, that used to express the relationship between a man and his wife, which is, in Hebrew, l’da’at – v’Adam yada et Hava ishto – and Adam knew his wife, Eve.
This is not a shallow knowing, it is, rather a profound expression of awareness. Haim did not know l’hakir – Eretz Yisrael. Haim knew – l’da’at – Eretz Yisrael. And when he traveled with tourists, whether to the Golan or to Jericho, whether to Jerusalem, Hevron or Eilat, Haim tried to convey his knowing of Eretz Yisrael to all those around him. Tried, and succeeded. He did not want people to hear about Eretz Yisrael. He wanted people to feel Eretz Yisrael – l’da’at – to know, on the deepest levels, the land of our people.
Haim’s expertise was, of course, Hebron. Here he lived for over 30 years years. He knew every nook and cranny, in the city, in the fields. Just as his energy was boundless, so too was his knowledge. Among the veteran residents of Kiryat Arba-Hebron, Haim is remembered for his Saturday afternoon hikes his tiyuli Shabbat, throughout Hebron. Every week, without fail, Haim would lead a group from Kiryat Arba to another neighborhood in Hebron. Sometimes, to ancient Hebron, today called Tel Rumeida, the one-time home of Abraham, and later, King David. Other times, to the famous Hebron yeshiva, whose students came from Slobodka in Lithuania in 1924, to study in the city of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. I remember being astounded when I realized that Haim not only knew the history of the yeshiva, but also knew which students learned together in pairs, called ‘hevrutot’ in Hebrew.
Haim was not only a tour guide. He was a Torah scholar. And he was a ba’al Hesed, a man of tremendous benevolence. So many people have told me “if it hadn’t been for Haim Mageni, I never would have stayed in Kiryat Arba. It’s because of him that I was able to successfully make my home here.”
I would like to read the words of a doctor from the United States, who wrote to Shoshana Mageni, shortly after hearing of Haim’s passing:
“Because of the time I had spent with Haim Z”L driving throughout Eretz Yisrael, his tours were not tours, they were classes. He was of course, a rebbe, a teacher, to all his clients and friends that listened to his talks. It could be exhausting to tour with Haim. Not so much because of the time driving and hiking but more from the incredible information flow that he “downloaded” to us. He had a love of Eretz Yisrael like no one I’ve ever met.”
“I once asked my rebbe, Haim Z”L, not for a blessing, but for some good advice. Please, tell me what my approach to being a good Jew should be? I feel like my life outside of Israel is problematic. Until I succeed in bringing my family home, what should I do? What should I learn?”
“He told me, what of course was his own personal approach. He told me: your problem is one of balance. You need to try to make each day balanced to succeed as a Jew no matter where you live. You need to balance your love of Eretz Yisrael with a commitment to Am Yisrael through the study of Torat Yisrael. Since that day I’ve tried to follow Haim’s advice every day.”
May his memory be blessed – y’he zichro Baruch.
With blessings from Hebron.