V’Shavu Banim l’Gvulam
by David Wilder
The Jewish Community of Hebron
November 24, 2005
This morning, while eating breakfast, my eye caught an article in a local paper. Submitted by Kiryat Arba resident Yeshovev Friedberg, it relates a true story which I don’t recall having heard before. By the time I’d finished reading, it had caught not only my eye, but also my heart. I like to relate it to you.
Dr. Max Nordau, one of the founders of the World Zionist Organization, was named at birth Meir-Simcha. However, he was known as Max, a children’s doctor in Paris. The following story was told by Avraham Shmuel Yehuda, a Jerusalem Orientalist professor, in his book, “Ezer HaRav,” describing how Nordau became interested in Zionism.
On the second night of First Zionist Congress in Basel, Nordau spoke in German, giving a long speech. He mentioned several times, as a motto, three words from Jeremiah, in Hebrew, “v”Shavu Banim l’Gvulam,” “Our Children Have Returned to their Borders.” When asked by a young representative at the congress how he found this verse, and especially in Hebrew, for this did not fit Nordau’s educational background, Nordau replied: “I know these words from the person to whom I am obliged all my Judaism and Zionism. A person whose name I don’t even know. A person who was, in essence, only a little boy of eight or ten. And this is what happened:
“I have a children’s clinic in Paris. A woman, an immigrant from Poland, her hair covered with a scarf, came in with a pale boy, 8 or 10, sick for three weeks. Someone recommended that she bring him to me. I took out a form for a new patient and tried to speak to him in our local language, but he could hardly understand French. I asked his mother, who was also very poor at French, and she said, ‘no he doesn’t go to a regular school, he goes to a “Heder,” a Jewish religious school.’
I scolded her harshly. ‘This only causes anti-Semitism. We have opened the door for you, the gates to the country, to refugees from Poland. Why doesn’t your child learn the national language here?’
She apologized and said that he is still young and that her husband is from the ‘old generation,’ but that he will grow and study in the ‘gymnasium’ (modern school), and will learn the language.
In anger I asked the child, ‘in Heder, what did you learn?’ His eyes lit up, and in Yiddish, which I understood because of my German, told me what he had last studied in Heder.
“Ya’akov,” he said, “was dying and he invited Yosef and commanded him, swearing him, pleaded before him, please, don’t bury me in Egypt. There is Ma’arat HaMachpela, Avraham, Yitzhak, Ya’akov, Sarah, Rivka, and there I buried Lea. Take me from Egypt and bury me with them. And when I came from Padan , Rachel died in Eretz Canaan, on the way to Efrat, and I buried her there, on the way, in Beit Lechem.
“Why, in the middle of Ya’akov’s request, does he tell the story of Kever Rachel?” “Rashi says,” and this is all the child talks about, 8 or 10 years old, speaking about the ‘Sages’ that Ya’akov felt a necessity to apologize to Yosef and say, I bother you like this, to take me from Egypt to Hebron, and I, mysef, didnt bother to take your mother Rachel. And despite that I was very close. Next to Beit Lechem, Even into the city I didn’t take her, I buried her on the way.
But I’m not guilty and didn’t act wrongly. G-d wanted it this way. He knew: the murderer Nebuchadnezzar would, in the future, exile the sons of Rachel, her sons, during the first destruction, and then she would leave her grave and weep and wail and her voice would be heard: Rachel weeps for her children. But the L-rd responds to her: “Stop your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, because there is a reward for you actions, and a hope for the future, and the children will return to their borders v’Shavu Banim l’Gvulam.”
“And I,” says Dr. Max Nordau, “I didn’t know what to do with myself. I turned to the window so that the mother and child wouldn’t see the tears rolling down my cheeks, and I said to myself, ‘Max, aren’t you ashamed of yourself? You are an educated man, known as an intellectual, with a Doctor’s degree, but you don’t know anything about the history of your people. >From all of the holy scriptures, nothing? And here, this sick child, weak, an immigrant, a refugee. And he speaks of Ya’akov and Yosef and Jeremiah, and Rachel, as if it was yesterday, it all lives in front of his eyes?'”
“I wiped the tears from my cheeks and turned to them and said, in my heart, ‘a people, with children like this, that actually live their past, they will have a sparkling future.”
“In the weekend newspaper I saw an advertisement, “Whoever believes that the fate of the Jewish people is important to them, please call to help find an answer. Dr. Theodore Hertzl.” I called immediately.
When we founded the Zionist Congress, at the first one, when I was honored to speak and give a speech, the figure of that little boy, whose name I don’t even remember, stood in front of my eyes. But those words I will never forget, because they are the foundation of Zionism, they are the pillars of Judaism, V’Shavu Banim l’Gvulam and the children will return to their borders.”