I’ve only had the good fortune to visit Hebron once so far and was blown away by the powerful atmosphere of this inspiring city. The very word Hebron means chibbur, or “connection.” You feel that connection down to your toes and deep in your soul.

Hebron is one ofThe very word Hebron means “connection” Judaism’s four holiest cities—Jerusalem, Tzfat and Tiberias being the other three—a place where so much foundational Jewish history took place. The site of amazing spirituality, it’s also a place known for intense political and security challenges, even today. About 500 Israelis live in part of the old city of Hebron under continual protection of the Israel Defense Forces.

Hebron is where the first piece of the land of Israel was purchased by a Jew, our father Abraham. He bought the Cave of the Patriarchs (or Me’arat HaMachpelah) to bury his beloved wife, Sarah. Thousands of tourists visit this holy site every year, where Adam and Eve, Abraham, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah are also buried. It is a special place of such palpable holiness that the Zohar—the foundational work of Jewish mysticism—calls it the portal to the Garden of Eden and of the highest spirituality.

Long before my visit, we received brochures about the work of Batsheva and her husband, Rabbi Danny Cohen, who are Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries (shluchim) there. In addition to local residents and the throngs of national and international visitors to the city, the Cohens serve the large numbers of young men and women in the IDF who are stationed for months at a time in Hebron, holding classes and activities such as challah-baking and safrut (traditional scribal writing). They also offer the opportunity for men to wrap tefillin and women to light Shabbat candles, in addition to providing kosher meals, Shabbat dinners, prayer services, moral support and more. Batsheva always looks engaged and lively as she welcomes Israeli soldiers into her home and goes to their posts with cookies, beverages, and when needed, hot soup.

As a mother, I can’t help but wonder: What’s the story beyond the great photos and meaningful outreach? She’s got to shop, cook, clean, tuck her kids to bed at night and build a home. It can’t be easy to raise her family in the midst of ongoing political tensions, not to mention security concerns.

But Batsheva dispels my awe right off the bat with an easy smile. “Don’t see our life as a big mesirat nefesh [‘self-sacrifice’] story. We love it here! If you’re looking for a hero story, you’re looking in the wrong place.”

She acknowledges that her hometown is often the focus of media attention—and often, not positive media attention, particularly when tensions between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs spill over or are deconstructed with a decided spin. At the same time, she realizes how powerful the area’s compelling charm and magnetic resonance are. She encourages visits, saying: “When people are scared to visit, we tell them, ‘Just come once. See my kids walking freely and confidently. You’ll feel differently.’ ”

And what play spaces they have! A series for young readers called “Young Lamplighters” visits children of Chabad emissaries in various posts around the world, including Siberia, Japan, Norway, Venice, Paraguay and Wyoming in the United States. One installation, “Shneur of Hebron,” features one of the Cohens’ six children. Shneur is seen meeting friends in front of the gravesite of Yishai and Rut, the father and grandmother of King David. The boys were preparing colorful bounce houses for a Sukkot gathering. The bright, rainbow-colored plastic material looked jarring next to the ancient stones—the incongruous blend that is modern life in the biblical homeland.

The Cohen children’s confidence is a tribute to the thoughtful upbringing that is the challenge of every parent. Batsheva shares her approach. “While most settlements are gated and may have soldiers on or near the perimeter, Hebron is unique. We live in it. We pass through or by the base all the time, every time we go somewhere. You might step outside or take out the garbage, and there are soldiers on duty. They, along with their uniforms and weapons, are an integral part of our daily life. So it’s very important for me to keep our routine as normal as possible. We want our kids to feel that they have a regular home, even if soldiers are all around. They have all kinds of clubs and activities. They love living in Hebron; they ride their bikes, play football . . . they don’t live with constant fear.”

Being involved with their parents’ work instills pride and a sense of mission. The children often interact with the soldiers, bringing them hot coffee and soup, cookies and warm clothing; Shabbat candles to the female soldiers; menorah kits and jelly doughnuts during Chanukah—whatever the season and need call for.

The Cohens’ primary work is with the soldiers and army base that are literally a hop, skip and jump away from their home. Batsheva explains that “about 65 to 70 percent of our work is with soldiers; 20 to 25 percent with tourists, both tour groups andSuch important responsibility represents an opportunity individuals; and about 10 percent with the local Jewish community. We also take care of the Chabad properties around the city, which were purchased in the early 1900s, when many Chabad Chassidim established a community in the city.” About 1,500 security personnel are stationed in the vicinity at any given time, and thousands of soldiers rotate throughout Hebron every year as part of their mandatory service. The young men and women represent every religious, cultural and socio-economic background with the country, and the Cohens aim to meet their various needs, spiritually and practically.

Batsheva feels that such important responsibility represents an opportunity. “Every combat soldier will spend part of their service in Hebron. We stopped counting the number of soldiers that pass through our home long ago. We have the zechut [‘merit’] to see all the combat soldiers in the IDF.”

Adds her husband: “We want them to leave here not only with military experience, but the experience of connection.”

Their rooftop Shabbat dinners are famous throughout the army, with hundreds of soldiers joining for abundant home-cooked food, uplifting song and lasting camaraderie.

Since it’s the military, things are always changing, and the Cohens have learned to roll with it. “This Shabbat, for example, was supposed to be a quiet Shabbat,” explains Batsheva. “The entire meal ended up being musical chairs. Since the army had just rotated platoons and the new soldiers were just getting orders and being acclimated, we were told not to expect anyone. Then there were 25 guys, then a shift of another 10, then another shift of 15. We constantly have to be ready for any possibility, and have a large container of cooked chicken and cookies at hand. You never really know for sure what’s going to be happening.”

She describes associated challenges living in Hebron. “There are no stores, no shops for meat, chicken or most of the food and things we need. We have to plan ahead and travel, and the children have to commute an hour to an hour-and-a-half each way for school. One day this fall, for example, there was a demonstration blocking traffic for hours. But I had to shop, because Parshat Chaya Sarah was that weekend, when more than 3,000 supporters converge on Hebron.”

This is the parshah that discusses Abraham’s purchase of the cave, recording the transfer of deed and payment of 400 gold coins in detail. Visitors show their support for the vital Jewish presence in Hebron, camping in tents and overflowing the small city.

The Cohens say that working with soldiers keeps them young, as they have to relate to 18- to 25-year-olds at this formative time in their lives. At the same time, there is no way to build up a stable community since platoons change rotation every four months.

One of the groups that is stationed every while is the Nachal Brigade. This group tends to have a high percentage of youth exploring alternative lifestyles—very “out there,” as Batsheva puts it. She remembers when a group of them were sent over before the meal to help set the tables. She surprised them with an atypical request: “First, you need to relax, eat, drink and play air hockey. Then I’ll let you help.”

Their genuine connection for soldiers breaks down preconceived stereotypes about religious life and people.

“They were shocked that I really cared about them, understood them and really wanted them to be comfortable,” she continues. “By the time they left Hebron, they had become so at home in our warm atmosphere that they messaged the next group telling them they had to come and get to know us, we were so great and so different than what they had thought ‘ultra-Orthodox’ people would be like.”

Batsheva focuses on the women soldiers, going to their bases and befriending them, and offering content-filled workshops, classes and parties, especially before the holidays. During the often challenging time of army service, far from home, many young women gravitate to her not only as a friend or teacher, but as a welcome mother in absentia.

Recently, a paratrooper sent a message to a friend who was about to serve in Hebron. “There’s a lady you’ll always see at the post with cookies and treats, a Chabad lady; she’s really nice and caring. There’s nothing better you can do than go to the Beit Chabad. It’s one of the best experiences you can get as a soldier.”

The message went viral, and was soon all over WhatsApp and Facebook.

While all theThere’s nothing better you can do than go to the Beit Chabad attention may be great for the soldiers, how does Batsheva manage? Having cookies and fresh soup at the ready, with a welcoming smile at the drop of a hat . . .

She shares some of the tips she’s learned. Ironically, the source of her workload has become the source of the mindset she has adopted to make things work. “Being around the army has taught me to think like a soldier—like a commander, actually. I’ve learned to take charge. I have to be on top of things, and always have snacks and supplies ready for a gathering.”

She also finds the military model helpful not only for supplies, but for dealing with the flux of life in this intense bastion of holiness. “A combat soldier has to be ready for constant change, and not numb their brain or space out. I also have to stay on alert.”

Still, the work invigorates and inspires the whole family. “My kids love it, too. Every once in a blue moon, we have a Shabbat without soldiers and it feels funny to us—like something significant is missing. I see very clearly that we get back much, much more than we give.”