At 9:15 we met at a hotel and boarded our bus to Kever Rochel, the tomb of our matriarch Rachel. I wanted to begin our visit by going to the places that were most important, and visiting the graves of your great grandparents is right up there at the top of the list. I’ve been there only twice before – once when it there was only the original domed building there, and last time about 11 years ago, when the extra building had been done all around it for security purposes. I wasn’t prepared for the immense cement walls that surrounded the Kever – they had all been built since then since it was necessary for even more security.
What I did last time I was there was travel with a few women in a private car, park a couple of blocks away, then walk through the streets of the town until getting there – something I was uncomfortable with safety-wise doing on my own this time. I didn’t realize when I made my plans for this trip that it’s no longer an option; due to the local Arab hostility, you can only go in the area within the cement walls, just the Kever and a parking area.
I had an emotional davening (prayers) there – though it was very crowded, I was right next to the Kever. It’s so awe inspiring to be able to be right there, to pour your heart our and know that the spirit of our great grandmother Rachel, who is known for her special prayers on behalf of her children, is right there.
We reboarded the bus, and traveled to there to Hebron. I wanted to visit Maaras Hamachpeilah (Cave of the Patriarchs), somewhere I’ve never been before, and I chose a tour in which we could learn about the Biblical history of Hebron as well as see the current Jewish neighborhoods within Hebron. We traveled past the Jewish towns of Gush Etzion, then continued through Arab villages, until we reached Kiryat Arba. To me, Kiryat Arba is really on the frontier, but then we went on to Hebron, and I saw what the frontier really looks like.
We entered the town of Hebron, navigating hairpin turns and steep hills, and on each side there were Arab buildings that seemed close enough to touch. During those first few moments and throughout the day, I continued to marvel at the courage and idealism of Jewish families who live in a hostile Arab area, in order to preserve the Jewish presence there. (All Jews were forced to leave Hebron in 1929, following the Arab riots in which 67 Jews were slaughtered and many others wounded, and were finally allowed back in small numbers several decades ago.)
Due to the Wye Accord, 80% of the land of Hebron was turned over to the Palestinian Authority, and Jews are now forbidden on the penalty of death to enter that 80%, making all the Jewish holy sites there off limits. The remaining 20% is where 83 Jewish families (about 1000 people) and 15,000 Arabs make their home. We began our tour in the neighborhood of Tel Rumeida, where 19 Jewish families live. In this area we learned about the Biblical beginnings of the area, and visited the gravesite of Yishai (Jesse, father of King David), and Ruth, great grandmother of King David. Then we continued on to the other two neighborhoods, visiting the home of our host before going to Maaras Hamachpeilah.
When we got to the Mearah (Cave), we saw a huge crowd of Skverer chassidim, who had traveled from the States to accompany the Skverer Rebbe to Israel. It was amazing to hear his very emotional tefillos (prayers), which were amplified over the speakers for the crowd. He prayed outside the Mearah, by the famous Seventh Step (this is outside the Cave, where for 700 years was the closest Jews were allowed to come to pray). This spot is the closest spot from the outside to where our ancestor Yitzchak (Isaac) and Rivka (Rebecca) are buried. It was an incredible merit for us to be there at just that time.
When we got back it was almost dark, so we did some shopping at the outdoor market again (this time for clothes), then headed back to our studio apartment for another late dinner. It was a beautiful day, and dd16 and dd14 both found the tour interesting and inspiring, as did I.