A Legacy Held Hostage

May 30, 2024

Imagine the terror gripping Shiri Bibas as she clutches her young sons Ariel and Kfir in a dark, dank underground tunnel – stale air thick with fear, the chilling uncertainty of if they’ll ever see daylight again. Wondering how she’ll keep her hungry children alive until tomorrow. Doing everything she can to avoid the wrath of the Hamas terrorists, tracking her every move. Where is her husband, Yarden? He was kidnapped too. Is he still alive? This is far worse than a horror movie. This is the harsh reality for the Bibas family, who are among 125 innocent civilians held hostage by Hamas after the tragic October 7th massacre. Little Ariel is just 4 years old, baby Kfir only 1 – their sweet faces, and beautiful red hair, are haunting images of suffering and unbearable loss of childhood innocence.

The Bibas family’s plight is especially poignant given their direct lineage to the legendary Rabbi Yehuda Bibas (1782-1852). Rabbi Bibas was a pioneering visionary who passionately advocated for establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine nearly a century before Theodor Herzl’s political Zionism. So much so that he was dubbed “the first Herzl.” However, the connection between Rabbi Yehuda Bibas and the Bibas family goes beyond a family tree.

Rabbi Yehuda Bibas was born in Gibraltar in 1789 to a distinguished Sephardic rabbinical family. He was a visionary leader who tirelessly advocated for the Jewish people’s return to their ancestral homeland in Palestine. After receiving a prestigious Jewish education in Italy, Bibas returned to the Iberian coast to lead an influential international yeshiva, attracting students from across Europe and North Africa.

Inspired by the Greek and Serbian uprisings against the Ottoman Empire, Rabbi Bibas began passionately promoting the idea of Jewish repatriation to Palestine as early as 1839. He championed the concept of “political teshuvah,” emphasizing the moral obligation of Jews to return to their ancestral homeland. His movement echoed the words of the prophet Malachi: “Return to me, and I will return to you.”

As the Chief Rabbi of Corfu, Greece, from 1831-1850, Rabbi Bibas traveled extensively throughout Europe and North Africa, encouraging Diaspora Jews to embrace their connection to the Land of Israel. He believed that the physical return to Israel was a necessary component of spiritual redemption and actively opposed reformist movements that sought to remove nationalist and Zionist elements from Jewish identity.

Rabbi Bibas taught that Jews needed to gain practical skills in science, technology, and military prowess to attain national liberation and rebuild Zion. These ideas of self-reliance would later become cornerstones of the future Jewish state. Despite leaving behind few written works, his profound oral teachings deeply influenced his most renowned student, Rabbi Yehuda Alkalai, who went on to write important texts that formed the basis of religious Zionism.

After the passing of his wife in 1851, the 63-year-old Rabbi Bibas led by example, boldly immigrating to the Land of Israel himself. He arrived in Jaffa to a warm welcome from his many students before settling permanently in Hebron, where he continued his influential teachings until his death just months later in 1852. Buried in the ancient Jewish cemetery in Hebron near the graves of his forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob Rabbi Bibas’s legacy became forever intertwined with the history and destiny of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel.

The harrowing ordeal of the Bibas family, who are being held hostage by Hamas terrorists, serves as a poignant and painful reminder of the ongoing challenges and threats faced by the Jewish people. It also shows the vital importance of Rabbi Yehuda Bibas’s vision for a sovereign Jewish state – a place where Jews can find refuge, safety, and the freedom to live according to their values and traditions. The suffering of innocent children like Ariel and Kfir at the hands of their captors is a heartbreaking reminder of the cruelty faced by the Jewish people. This emphasizes the critical need for a secure homeland where Jews can find safety from those who seek to harm them.

The words of the prophet Jeremiah, spoken thousands of years ago, offer a powerful and timeless message of hope and redemption.

This prophecy reminds us that even in the darkest times, there is always hope for a better future and that the suffering of the Jewish people will not be in vain. Our children will return to their rightful home in the Land of Israel, just as Rabbi Bibas taught and exemplified through his life and actions.

The Bibas family’s story reflects the larger narrative of the Jewish people – one of resilience, determination, and unwavering faith in the face of adversity. Just as Rabbi Bibas and other Jewish leaders have inspired the Jewish people to persevere and return to their homeland, we pray that the Bibas family will emerge from this ordeal stronger and more determined than ever.

Their struggle is our struggle, and their pain is our pain. As we pray for their safe return and healing, let us draw strength from the unbreakable spirit of the Jewish people and the power of faith, hope, and unity. Let us honor the legacy of Rabbi Bibas and all those who have worked tirelessly to bring the Jewish people back to their rightful home, and let us continue to support and pray for the safe return of the Bibas family and all those held captive by our enemies.

The Israel365 Charity Fund is dedicated to strengthening and supporting the people of Israel who need our help, including the extended family members of the Bibas Family. Donate to the Israel365 Charity Fund today.

Sara Lamm

Sara Lamm is a content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. Originally from Virginia, she moved to Israel with her husband and children in 2021. Sara has a Masters Degree in Education from Bankstreet college and taught preschool for almost a decade before making Aliyah to Israel. Sara is passionate about connecting Bible study with “real life’ and is currently working on a children’s Bible series.

Sara Lamm

Sara Lamm is a content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. Originally from Virginia, she moved to Israel with her husband and children in 2021. Sara has a Masters Degree in Education from Bankstreet college and taught preschool for almost a decade before making Aliyah to Israel. Sara is passionate about connecting Bible study with “real life’ and is currently working on a children’s Bible series.

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