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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Kever Rachel’

Rabbi Porush’s Noble Legacy

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

The passing of Rabbi Menachem Porush in Jerusalem on Sunday night brought to mind many memories of my childhood. He was a close friend and working colleague of my father, Simcha Unsdorfer, z”l, who served as secretary general of British Agudah.

Always impeccably dressed in kapota and cufflinks, Rabbi Porush had an almost regal bearing and was a frequent visitor to our London home.

I particularly remember him being with us in the week before the start of the Six-Day War in 1967. I recall him sitting with my father watching the somber news bulletins on our black and white TV. A map with three thick black arrows was on the screen, each arrow representing a massive Arab army pointed toward the tiny sliver of Eretz Yisrael.

I watched as my father, an Auschwitz survivor, became ever more stressed with each bulletin. In contrast, Rabbi Porush’s measured tones and kindly features exuded a reassuring calm that was rooted in a belief system greater and stronger than is the case for most people.

The sad news of his petirah also reminded me of a piece I had written for The Jewish Press some years ago. Titled “Joseph – The Second Betrayal,” it was about the preservation of Jewish rights of access to our patriarchal burial sites. The following extract is particularly apt to reprint as a tribute to the life and work of Reb Menachem of blessed memory:

It was during the summer of 1995 that a fateful encounter took place in the Knesset, outside the office of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Rabin’s government was putting the final touches on the second Oslo agreement that was to hand over a further tranche of West Bank towns to the new Palestinian Authority. This included Bethlehem, site of Rachel’s Tomb, at which Jews have prayed for thousands of years. National Religious Party member Hanan Porat realized that the tomb was slated to fall into “Area A,” that is, under full Arab civil and military control. He decided he must speak with Rabin and try to change his mind.

Another MK, Jewish Press columnist Rabbi Menachem Porush, happened to walk by and saw his friend standing outside the prime minister’s office carrying a large aerial photograph of the tomb compound and the Bethlehem-Gilo border.

“What are you doing here?” asked Porush.

“I have come to lobby for Rachel’s Tomb,” Porat responded.

Porush asked if he could join him at the meeting and Porat agreed.

For the greater part of the meeting, Porush sat in silence. He listened to Porat, who drew lines on the aerial photograph and illustrated how short was the distance and shooting range between Gilo and Bethlehem. Porat also asked Rabin if he would be willing to give the Palestinians the grave of Ben Gurion or that of his Palmach commander, Yigal Allon.

Rabin was preparing to respond when Porush stood up and embraced him. Addressing him as “Reb Yitzchak,” Porush tearfully beseeched him not to give up Rachel’s Tomb.

“It was beyond words,” Porat recalled in a later interview. “Reb Menachem sobbed, crying real tears onto the prime minister’s shirt. Rabin begged him, ‘Reb Menachem, please calm down.’ Reb Menachem retorted: ‘How can I calm down? You are planning to give away Mama Ruchi’s grave. The Jewish people will never forgive you if you abandon Mama’s tomb.’ ”

Rabin relented and promised the two Knesset members that he would re-examine the issue. Just a few days later, the 463 meters separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem were restored to their “Area C” status under complete Israel security and civil control. The Palestinians agreed to be compensated with other territories.

On the last morning of Reb Menachem’s life, the usual Sunday cabinet meeting took place in Jerusalem. On the agenda: a discussion and vote on a proposal to provide government funding to specially designated sites of Jewish heritage. Reb Menachem would have been delighted and touched to hear Prime Minister Netanyahu add Kever Rachel to the list.

Some would call it a happy coincidence; others an irony. But sooner or later most Jews come to realize there are no coincidences in the Land of Israel. This was a parting gift to a remarkable human being – a rabbi who devoted his life to the defense of Torah and the upholding of a plethora of educational institutions and charitable causes.

In The Embrace Of Mama Rachel

Friday, November 7th, 2008

“Mama Rachel, I missed you!” I half-sob. “Mama Rachel . . . how could I have waited so long to visit you?!”  Tenderly, I stroke the navy-velvet covered Tomb of Rachel – the Mother of Jews through history.

Women, from all walks of life, fill the anteroom. They converge around Rachel’s resting place, to weep . . . to plead . . . to unburden their hearts . . . on Mama.

The low wailing and whimpering of the worshippers punctuates the feeling of comfort and awe, which hovers over the room.

In the men’s section, a group of boys loudly chant Psalms in sweet, youthful voices while the members of Kollel Kever Rachel sway over their Gemaras.

For years, my friend had been trying to persuade me to visit Rachel’s Tomb. “There’s an ar-mored bus,” she cajoled. “It takes you right to the site.” Fifteen years I put off visiting the holy tomb. Armored buses made me nervous. I was fearful about the intifada. Hundreds of people flocked to the tomb daily. I couldn’t push myself.

But I was ecstatic when I heard that security permitted private vehicles access to Rachel Imeinu’s Tomb during the auspicious period be-fore Rosh Hashanah and until Yom Kippur, when Jews flock to graves of tzaddikim, entreating for a blessed, sweet year.Now was my opportunity.

Our car wound its way towards Beit Lechem through Jerusalem’s glorious view, where grassy hillocks meet the skyline, roads awash with the history of our people. We saluted the soldiers at the checkpoint and in a matter of minutes pulled up in the designated parking lot.

Even though I was aware that the tomb’s original fa?ade had been changed due to security reasons, I couldn’t help but search for that familiar oblong-shaped building with the domed roof that Sir Moses Montefiore had built in 1841.

That building is now encased in another modern brick building. A long hallway brings us right up to the rooms preceding the tomb. The original main entrance is now the entrance to the men’s section where the domed roof begins and stretches over the women’s side.

 

Rachel’s Sacrifice

Of all our righteous Patriarchs and Matriarchs, why did Rachel merit G d’s acceptance of her plea that the Jews be returned to Israel after the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed?

It was sisterly love. Rachel refused to shame her sister Leah, at great personal sacri-fice. She revealed the signs that Yaakov had pre-arranged with her to Leah. Yaakov, who was to marry Rachel, suspected that Lavan would switch his daughters and have Yaakov marry Leah, so he gave Rachel signs. To not let Leah get embarrassed, Rachel gave her the signs.Hashem listened to Rachel’s prayers. And they continue to be heard until this day.

Yaakov buried Rachel in a roadside grave between Efrat and Beit Lechem and not in the family burial plot – the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. He foresaw that his descendants would pass Rachel’s Tomb while being driven in captivity to Babylon and the tomb would be a place of comfort for them.

 

The Return

The rise of the intifada decreased the flow of visitors to the tomb. The only Jews there were our soldiers who devotedly guarded the site. For years Mama Rachel lay desolate, aching for the return of her children. Until a young Torah scholar, Rabbi Moshe Menachem Kluger, couldn’t bear Rachel’s solitude. He initiated the Kever Rachel Institution and inspired friends and rela-tives to join him at the site.

He arranged for scholars to learn and pray at Kever Rachel, and paid for armored buses to bring worshippers back and forth.

“Doesn’t it get overwhelming?” I asked Mrs. Kluger, who mans the Kever Rachel yeshuos hotline.

“Of course,” Mrs. Kluger chuckles. “My fam-ily is roped into answering the phone. My chil-dren are updated on all information concerning Kever Rachel.

I feel Mama Rachel’s strength behind me, helping me.”

 The Kever Rachel Institution ensures 24-hour Torah study at the tomb, daily minyanim, and that Sefer Tehillim is completed each day. It also maintains the on-site mikveh, and ensures that armored buses bring hundreds of people each day, and many thousands on the 11th of Cheshvan, Rachel Imeinu’s Yahrzeit.

At her last Yahrzeit, an estimated 50,000 Jews visited the kever, and a live web cam was set up.

 

The Miracles

According to the story, once the phone rang at Kever Rachel hotline. “How much is a chicken?” a voice inquired.

“Ehh, you have the wrong number, this is not a butcher shop,” answered a puzzled Mrs. Kluger.

“I know; it’s Kever Rachel,” insisted the woman. “How much is a chicken? I want to pay for a Yahrzeit meal.”

This woman’s son had a physical disability and thus was having difficulty in finding his shidduch. A friend suggested praying at Kever Rachel. At the site, this woman met an acquaint-ance who related that she was helped after she prayed at Rachel’s Tomb and promised to sponsor a meal for the Yahrzeit.

“If my son is helped,” prayed this woman, tears rolling down her cheeks. “I will also donate money to Kever Rachel.” Two weeks later, her son met his bashert.

Now that woman was calling to fulfill her promise.

*   *   *

 ”I desperately need a salvation,” Zahava said in a choked voice. “My mother is sick with cancer. As for me, I’m in my 40′s and childless. My husband and I are only children of Holocaust survivors. If not for us, there’ll be no continuation.”

She requested that people learn Torah for her and her mother’s sake, at Rachel’s Tomb at chatzos – midnight.

Two months later, Zahava called again. “There’s news!” she whispered excitedly. I just received the test results. I’m pregnant!” Within the year, Zahava called to relate the joyous news of the birth of her healthy baby boy, and that her mother was in remission.

*   *   *

 Rachel’s Tomb is desolate no longer. Mama Rachel has been reunited with her children.The website is keverrachel.com. The num-ber for the hotline is 02-580-0863 in Israel, and 888-2-ROCHEL in the U.S.

Rachel’s Children Reclamation Foundation Commemoration

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

         Rachel’s Children Reclamation Foundation hosted a yahrzeit commemoration at the Manhattan Beach Jewish Center.
 
         From a lone “We Are Rachel’s Children” song in 1995, many new Rachel songs have been recorded. From one kollel on site, today there are many groups learning in Kever Rachel, during the day and evening. From fighting to save one bus, there are eight Egged buses running to the Kever every two hours, daily.
 
         Elissa Grunwald, who visited Beit Bnei Rachel on her daughter’s Bas Mitzvah on Rosh Chodesh Elul, introduced the program. Rabbi Yossi Baumol of Efrat, executive director of the Hebron Fund, gave a memorial recognizing one of the greatest Jewish leaders of our times, HaRav Avraham Shapira, former chief rabbi of Israel and rosh yeshiva of Merkaz HaRav Kook. A branch of Merkaz was launched in 1995 to save Kever Rachel.
 
         Keynote speaker Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein, founder of Ohr Naava, spoke about activism making a difference and congratulated the Rachel’s Children Reclamation Foundation for its devotion and activities on behalf of Eretz Yisrael and in particular, Kever Rachel.
 
         Two girls, who were the first to celebrate the milestone of their Bas Mitzvah at the only Jewish owned property in the Rachel Tomb Walled Complex, were also honored. Malky Grunwald, of the Crown Heights Yeshiva of Mill Basin, and Tamar Klein, a student at Torah Academy for Girls of Far Rockaway were credited for being an inspiration for more Bas Mitzvahs and other smachos at the Bnei Rachel Simcha Center at Rachel’s Tomb.              Several prominent members of the community were honored, including Councilman David Weprin, who was awarded the RCRF’s Community Leadership Award for advocating for the needs for his constituents. He was introduced by Jan Fenster, president of the Queens Jewish Community Council.
 
         Shaya Dear was given the Community Service Award; and Rebbetzin Judith Greenwald, after being introduced by Vivian Singer, daughter of the late Rabbi Dr. Joseph I. and Rebecca Singer, received the RCRF Greater Israel Chesed Award.
 
         Jeffrey and Barbara Kelman were this year’s Rachel Imeinu Activist Awardees.
 
         During the evening Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz’s exquisite proclamation re-acknowledged Jewish Mother’s Day, which was first inaugurated by Howard Golden, former Brooklyn Borough President, seven years ago.
 
         Donations to and participation in RCRF’s activities will help actualize its cherished dream for a Jewish-owned property within the walled Rachel’s Tomb complex, that will include a post-ulpana, a museum of Jewish aliyah, and a simcha reception and garden wedding center, whose chuppah will replicate the ancient Kever Rachel architecture of four pillars and a dome. Donations for an Aron Kodesh will expedite its planned installation on Tu B’Shevat, January 22, 2008.
 
         The planned ceremony will consist of marching the second RCRF Sefer Torah from Kever Rachel to its permanent address in Beit Bnei Rachel on Derech Chaya Rachel.
 
         RCRF is also seeking a donor for a permanent daily mini-shuttle bus to run constantly to Kever Rachel so visits for all will not be so rushed.
 
         “Remember, a visit to Israel without going to Kever Rachel is like going home and not seeing your mother.”
 

         Evelyn Haies is president of the Rachel’s Children Reclamation Foundation located at 60 West End Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11235, (718-648-2610)

First Bat Mitzvah Held At Rachel’s Tomb Complex

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

Nearly 100 people from Israel and the U.S. gathered at Kever Rachel (Rachel’s Tomb) on the outskirts of Bethlehem earlier this month for what is being described as the first ever Bat Mitzvah celebration held in the kever and the recently acquired adjacent building. The celebration was organized by the Rachel Imeinu Foundation (www.rachelimeinu.org), which aims to strengthen the Jewish presence in and around the complex housing the tomb, revered as the traditional burial site of the Biblical Matriarch Rachel.

Festive music and dancing greeted Tamar Klein, 12, as she marked her passage into adulthood. While she gave a short drashah, her proud parents, Penina and David Klein of Cedarhurst, New York, and other invited guests, looked on.

The Bat Mitzvah festivities took place in the building known as Beit Bnei Rachel, which lies immediately adjacent to the structure housing the tomb, both of which are enclosed within a loop in the separation wall constructed by Israel.

Tamar and her parents signed up with the Rachel Imeinu Foundation’s Bat Mitzvah program months ago, and planned it in coordination with the president of the Rachel Imeinu Foundation, Chaim Silberstein. The preparation for the big event took place under the guidance of the Israeli Bat Mitzvah coordinator, Tsipi Egert, both by phone and email, enabling the family to arrange the event, from the comfort of its own home, down to the smallest detail.

 
Tamar Klein and guests celebrate her Bat Mitzvah at Rachel’s Tomb.
 

The Bat Mitzvah girl was sent worksheets, relating to Rachel Imeinu, which she learned with her mother on a weekly basis. Other components of the Bat Mitzvah program included a chesed project, a unique scrapbook, treasure hunt, volunteering for Israeli soldiers, and arts and crafts connected to Kever Rachel. Catering was supplied by the Beit Orot Yeshiva, also a part owner of the complex.

“This is an historic event,” said Silberstein. “It is the first time that a full-fledged Bat Mitzvah celebration, including catering, music, photographers and dancing, took place in the center adjoining the tomb.”

“Our goal is to establish a World Bat Mitzvah Center in the building that will provide young Jewish women with a special venue to celebrate their Bat Mitzvahs, just as young Jewish men mark their Bar Mitzvahs at the Western Wall.”

The site, designated to be the Rachel Imeinu Educational Campus, consists of one acre of land and a 9,000 square-foot building. It was purchased from its Arab owners several years ago by a consortium of Jews, who felt very strongly about securing Kever Rachel, the success of which revolved around bringing a permanent Jewish presence to the area.

By expanding the site of the Tomb (which is surrounded on three sides by a Muslim cemetery) and building educational and ultimately residential facilities, it is hoped that Rachel’s Tomb will not befall the fate of Rachel’s son Yosef’s Tomb in Shechem, which was deserted by the IDF in late 2000 and destroyed by Muslims soon thereafter.

The IDF had occupied Beit Bnei Rachel for four years until the security barrier/separation wall was constructed surrounding Kever Rachel and the new property. After the wall was completed in August 2006, the IDF handed over security responsibility to the Israeli Border Police who agreed to return the building to its owners. This process has been going on for the past year, with the Police determining security measures in the compound, making visiting the area safer than ever.

The process has been very challenging both during the acquisition itself (whose details are confidential) and post acquisition, due to the bureaucratic, security and political obstacles concerning Judaism’s third holiest site.
 
 
Recent aerial of Kever Rachel, the security fence and Beit Bnei Rachel.
 

For example, just weeks ago, Malky Grunwald, granddaughter of one of the major donors toward the acquisition, Evelyn Haies of Brooklyn, planned to have her Bat Mitzvah in the building her grandmother helped purchase. The very day before the planned simcha, the new chief of Jerusalem police, Aaron Franko decided to place a restriction on access to the building as he wanted to “learn the situation” before implementing his predecessor’s permit.

Nevertheless, the Bat Mitzvah celebration still continued in the kever itself with the proud grandmother surrounded by her family and friends. Malky had celebrated her first birthday at Kever Rachel, so it was very appropriate to have her Bat Mitzvah there too.

Now that the complex is accessible by regular buses (since August 1, the IDF dropped the bullet- proof requirement, although private vehicles are still not allowed into the complex) the number of visitors is on the rise, so much so that Egged is sending in double-buses, which are full on almost every trip. The added security, coupled with the completion of the Rachel Imeinu Educational Center (which will include the World Bat Mitzvah Center, a museum, visitors center and learning institutions), will encourage even greater numbers of Jewish girls and women (and of course, men), to visit  Kever Rachel. The building is expected to undergo a full makeover to a beautiful and modern educational and simcha facility.

This is expected to attract a wide spectrum of Jewish visitors, including those who do not normally have Kever Rachel included in their touring itinerary. Through experiencing a meaningful Bat Mitzvah, or visiting the center and museum, they will strengthen their ties to their country and heritage.

The Rachel Imeinu Foundation is accepting reservations for Bat Mitzvahs, even though the new building has not been completed. “Because of the high demand from both Israel and the Diaspora, we will still have events in the building as long as construction constraints permit. If not, we have alternate venues available for the festive meal, while the ceremony is still held at the kever. Tamar Klein’s Bat Mitzvah was a great step toward adulthood for her, and a large leap toward the blossoming and expansion of Rachel’s Tomb for Am Yisrael,” Silberstein said.

“This,” he added, “is the first of what I hope will be many more meaningful and joyous celebrations at the compound.”

For more information, to take a tour to Kever Rachel, or to arrange for a Bat Mitzvah celebration at Rachel’s Tomb, log on to www.rachelimeinu.org or contact chaim@rachelimeinu.org.

Kever Rachel In Our Hands?

Monday, April 2nd, 2007

        Those of us who made it to Kever Rachel Imeinu in the last six months found it almost unrecognizable. I have watched how hundreds of Jews have visited this Holy site despite difficulties in accessing it, spilling out their hearts to Ema Rochel and praying for her intervention with the Holy One in all areas of life. Rachel’s Tomb has been a place that pilgrims have visited for millennia and is dear to our people today as then. We must make sure that Kever Rachel is secured and thrives as it continues to be a place of  spiritual and strategic importance.
 
         In 1998 the Israeli government completed a fortified corridor that totally hides the original building we all remember so fondly, and now they have built a 25 foot high wall that encloses the complex. A special road, for Jewish use only, lined by the security wall on either side has been constructed from the Jerusalem border all the way to the Kever. The area outside the Kever has been tarred and prepared for vehicular access and new bathrooms have been built where the small army base used to be. This area is also surrounded by the wall. There are about seven watchtowers in the area manned 24/7 by border police guards.
 
         So Kever Rachel has been placed in a fortified enclave, with private road access and an unprecedented level of security.
 
         The question I ask is:
 
         Is it ours, but not in our hands, or is it in our hands, but not ours?
 
         There is no doubt in my mind that the answer is a combination of both. Kever Rachel is certainly ours and has been since Rochel died while giving birth to Binyamin as described in the book of Bereishis. But being ‘imprisoned’ in a walled enclave, that can be cut off or closed in an instant (as the IDF did on several occasions during the Oslo intifada) does not make it totally secure in our hands. On the other hand, we have full control of the complex, no Arabs can access it and there is strong security – so it is in our hands.
 
         Kever Rachel is Judaism’s third holiest site, has been visited by pilgrims for thousands of years, yet today you need a bullet proof vehicle to access it. Right now only a small minority of Jews visit this important site because of its cumbersome access, security concerns and because many Jews are simply unaware of the segula and importance of Kever Rachel. So can we really say it is ours?
 
         We can either accept the present situation, or we can turn Kever Rachel into the Holy Site it deserves to be with thousands of people visiting our Ema Rochel daily.
 
         How to change the reality?
 
         There is a solution!
 
         I have had the privilege of facilitating a group of motivated Jews in buying the property adjacent to Kever Rachel from its Arab owners. Details of this deal remain classified, but Jews now own an acre of land, including a 10,000 square foot building just footsteps away from Kever Rachel and well within the security wall surrounding the complex. Evelyn Haies, President of Rachel’s Children’s Reclamation Foundation has been a major force in helping make this a reality.
 
         We now have an opportunity to make an historic revolutionary change at Rachel’s Tomb – the establishment (on our property) of an educational campus, consisting of a visitors center and museum, a world bat mitzvah center and a yeshiva as well as a unique place to celebrate simchas in the building and it’s spacious yard.
 
         This will bring thousands of visitors to the site on a daily basis and give Rachel Imeinu some of the consolation for which she has been crying for centuries.
 
         By significantly increasing the number of people visiting the complex on a regular basis and by bringing a permanent Jewish presence to the area – we will be able to bring about a reality where Kever Rachel Imeinu will both be ours and in our hands!
 
         How to make this a reality:
 
         ·  We renovate and makeover the building on the property, it needs to be converted into a beautiful building serving the Jewish people. We are in advanced stages of negotiations with the IDF to finalize starting the work.
 
         ·  We raise sufficient funds to renovate the building and furnish it with the materials, staff and exhibits needed to facilitate the programs.
 
         ·  We carry out a major marketing and publicity campaign, both in Israel and the Diaspora, bringing this new message of hope and success and the incredible educational and spiritual opportunities available at Rachel’s Tomb.
 
         How you can help:
 
         ·  Come and visit Kever Rachel with us when you visit Israel. Join one of our tours, see details on our website. As Evelyn says: A visit to Israel without visiting Kever Rachel Imeinu is like going home and not visiting your mother. Encourage your friends and family to visit too.
 
         ·  Give financial support and encourage others to do so.
 
         ·  Be in contact with the Rachel Imeinu Foundation and tell us how you can help.
 
         Our Mother Rachel gave up being buried in Hebron so that she could return us to our borders in Eretz Yisrael – let us do what we can to return, with honor, to hers.
 

         For more information go to chaim@rachelimeinu.org  or www.rachelimeinu.org.

Israel Kaleidoscope Thoughts From A Solidarity Mission

Wednesday, October 27th, 2004

Want to be awakened from the galut slumber? Want to be rejuvenated spiritually and emotionally? Want to free yourself from the lethargy, the apathy and the emptiness of chutz l’aretz? Go on a Solidarity mission to Israel.

Want to show you care? Want to rid yourself of that gnawing guilt feeling of “They’re giving up their lives and I don’t lift a finger to help?” Want to show your brothers in Israel you feel their pain? Want to tell them we’ll never let them down? Go on a solidarity mission to Israel.

We did just that. A group of about forty of us recently returned from a three-week solidarity mission to Israel. Ours was not an ordinary mission. We were not sponsored by any organization, nor are we affiliated with any.

We are just a group of tayere Yidden, zisse Yidden, whose love of Eretz Yisrael, Torat Eretz Yisrael and every Jew is deeply rooted in our hearts. What better way to translate this love into concrete deeds than to go, hear the people and see the land with our eyes and our pocket books?

Our group (called Rabbi Greenberg’s Group) has visited Israel every year for the last thirty years. We’ve traversed the land from north to south, east to west, our main objective being to aid and abet, and strengthen and encourage, our brothers in distress. People in Israel tell us that just the fact that we come gives them chizuk and shows them that we care.

Although we primarily came to give, we were also able to get. Our interests centered on the religious, the historical and on chibat ha’aretz. We met with gedolim. We visited yeshivas, talmud torahs, kollelim and the holy sites.

Of course, we were very interested in the history of the land and its people. We visited ancient and recent battlegrounds, excavations, universities, museums and Yad Vashem. We met with government officials and ministers, and we talked to common people.

As far as chibat ha’aretz goes, we visited frum and non-frum kibbutzim We spent time in the settlements trying to absorb the people’s mesirat nefesh, their vitality, their resolve, their resilience. We shepped a lot of nachat observing the development of a vibrant society with yeshivas, supermarkets, synagogues and malls.

* * *

Some impressions of this year’s Israel solidarity mission, starting with Yerushalayim. How can I not start with Yerushalayim, the crowning point of our mission? Yerushalayim! The most beautiful city in the world. The breathtaking views, the intoxicating beauty, the bright blue skies that last forever. You never forget them. Yerushalayim! The city whose air reverberates with the echo of the prophets. The “Palace of the King.”

Generations of Jews yearned to have the merit to see Yerushalayim, to touch its stones and to feel its kedusha. Moshe pleaded with Hashem 515 time to grant him entry, but did not succeed. And here we are viewing its rebirth and grandeur with our own eyes. It’s like a dream come true.

Yehuda Halevy, the poet and author of the Kuzari, lamented:  “My heart is in the East [Yeushalayim] and my body is in the end of the West [Spain].”  But we have the zechut to be in Yerushalayim with our heart and our body. What a glorious feeling.

And how can one be in Yerushulayim and not go to the Kotel? Just seeing it from a distance one becomes transfixed on our glorious past. Holiness fills the air. The Kotel! The only place the Shechina never left since the destruction of the Temple. The realization that we are walking the hallowed grounds, that we are tracing the footsteps of our forefathers, is beyond awesome. We felt so connected – so at home.

I recall, with great affection, our first trip to Israel. I prayed at the Kotel on Friday night with the Vizhnitzer minyan. You know, the minyan at the left corner. The emotions of that prayer session cannot be described. No doubt it was the confluence of three unforgettable events: My visiting Israel for the first time; my hearing the famous Vizhnitzer Lecha Dodi; and my hearing it at the Kotel. It was my most emotional experience since I recited Hallel on rosh chodesh at the end of the Six-Day War.

* * *

Can one see the Kineret and not burst out in song? How can one marvel at the crystal sky, reflected in the glittering blue waters, and not break out singing V’ulai? How can one walk these grounds and not see the young pioneers of yesteryear with their dreamy eyes and visions of a bright future? How can one not see them drying out the swamps and dying from malaria or Arab bullets? All the poetry and songs written about the Kineret fail to do it justice.

My heart goes out to those who gave their lives so that we can enjoy the fruit of their labor and their pain. It was the will of Hashem that they did not die in vain. The magic of the Kineret and the surrounding cities and villages, teeming with Jewish life, are witness that their visions of a bright future have been fulfilled with the help of Hashem.

* * *

Do you look for the highest level of idealism? Visit the settlements. Do you yearn for courage, for heroism? Get involved with the settlers. Do you search for self-sacrifice, for the willingness to give up one’s life to save another Jew? You will find it in the settlements.

Oh, idealism! That precious, beautiful word, the word that tells a thousand tales . Idealism – the ingredient that most Israelis, unfortunately, lack these days – is so abundant in the settlements, so cherished. It is the rock upon which all the settlements are built.

Itamar, for example, is a settlement near Shechem (Nablus). Thirteen of its members were massacred by terrorists, including an entire family. Does this deter its inhabitants? Does this weaken their resolve to fight on, to endure, to build? Not the slightest bit. Idealists never abandon the barricades. And with the help of Hashem they will prevail.

Gilo, in the belly of the beast is exposed to constant firing by a bloodthirsty enemy. Bullet-proof windows? Yes. Steel-reinforced concrete fence? Yes. But not one iota of despair. Not one iota of defeatism. The idealism of the residents, along with their courage and self-sacrifice, will enter the annals of this heroic period.

* * *

We hired a bulletproof bus and we went to Mother Rachel’s tomb. The feelings, the emotions, that the shrine evoked in me are difficult to describe. Mother Rachel! I get goose bumps just writing the words.

Mother Rachel! Rivers of tears, rivers that dwarf Niagara Falls, have been shed at your grave from time immemorial. Feelings that fill the oceans have been expressed at your tomb since you consoled our forefathers on their way to galut in Babylon. Mountains of prayers have been murmured at your shrine by thousands upon thousands since then.

And to us, dear mother, have you no consoling words? No motherly smile? No motherly hug? Haven’t we suffered enough? Were not the Crusades enough? Was not the Inquisition enough? Were not the pogroms enough? And above all, was not the Holocaust enough? Think of the Holocaust, dear mother…

But why talk about history? Look at your children today. When they leave their homes they are not sure if they will make it back again. They are being butchered by a brutal enemy. Entire families are being wiped out. The guts and brains of your children are being splattered on the walls of buildings. Your wounded children, legless and armless, are crippled for life. Does this not deserve your consolation? Does this not deserve your intervention at the Throne of Hashem? How could you not? How could you not?

I was jolted from my thoughts by a call to return to the bus. We were led out by soldiers in combat gear – machine guns, helmets, the works – with their fingers literally on the trigger. This is reality, I thought to myself, the cruel reality that in our own land we have to be protected from Arab terrorists – even at our holy places, and even during prayer.

Who could have imagined in 1967 that Kever Rachel, the symbol of compassion and motherly love, the quintessence of peace and serenity, would become a fortress? Not in our wildest dreams could we imagine that we would require bulletproof buses, and soldiers armed to their teeth, to protect us from Arab killers.

* * *

How does Israel solve the problem of ‘kids at risk?’ Israel’s answer: Take them to the army. The IDF has an Orthodox unit known as Nachal Charedi – a combat battalion created for soldiers from the haredi sector of Israel’s population. Nachal Charedi accepts haredi youths who, for various reasons, do not find their place in yeshiva study halls.

Nachal Charedi accepts with open arms these unfortunate individuals who’ve been rejected by society. They are enrolled in programs consisting of army service combined with a Torah education. These youths quickly regain their self-esteem. They become revitalized. They feel a sense of purpose now that they have re-entered mainstream society. It was a pleasure to see them daven with zest and with the realization that they were saved from the brink of the abyss. Nachal Charedi defenders have succeeded in preventing several terrorist attacks.

* * *

After visiting the front lines of ‘fortress’ Kever Rachel and Nachal Charedi, we realized that the Israeli people are not involved in a struggle to defend just themselves. They are in the midst of ferocious struggle to defend us well. Yes, us. To whom did the Argentinean Jews turn when they were set upon? To whom are the French Jews turning now that they are being set upon? Our Israeli brothers are manning the barricades and giving their lives for us. And I dare say that ‘us’ includes we Jews here in America.

The next time you come to Israel, therefore, hug the first Israeli you meet. Thank him for defending you. Tell him that you love him, whether he wears a kippa or not. Because according to Torah giants like Reb Moshe Kordovero and the Chazon Ish, it is a mitzvah to love every Jew – even the wicked (check it out). Please, never let the extremists and the maximalists convince you otherwise.

* * *

Our visit with Reb Chaim Kanievsky was one of the highlights of our trip. We’d made every effort to meet with this man whom many consider one of the greatest of our generation. As told to us by one of his ardent admirers – a woman who appeared to slip into a trance when she mentioned his name – the Shechina rests in his house. Reb Chaim listened very attentively to all our individual requests before sending us off with his fervent blessing and wishes that our requests should be fulfilled by Hashem. Our wives were received by the rebbetzin, a lady extraordinaire who left an indelible impression on everyone.

* * *

What an experience! I am referring to the massive human chain connecting Gush Katif with the Kotel. This was our chance to actually practice solidarity with the people of Israel, not just talk about it. So many Jews holding hands. So many Jewish hearts beating in unison. So many Jewish souls telling Sharon, “Don’t do it, don’t uproot Jewish families from their land in Aza (Gaza).”

We said to Sharon “Don’t do it” with the same emotion, the same fervor, that Elie Wiesel told President Reagan “Don’t do it” when he was determined to go to Bitburg, Germany, to visit a gravesite that contained remains of Nazi soldiers. Our message to Sharon concluded with, -Don’t surrender Gaza to Hamas. It will be the beginning of the dismantling of the state of Israel? – G-d forbid.

* * *

I would never have believed that bricks and mortar could inspire me to tears of joy. I am referring to Har Choma. Har Choma! The symbol of the ‘occupied territories.’ Har Choma! The symbol of Jewish stubbornness. A God-blessed, holy stubbornness not to give away anything that belongs to us.

My heart melted when I saw, from a distance, the sprawling compound perched on a hilltop like a lioness watching over her cubs. The quickly moving cranes were like dancing angels that fulfill the will of Hashem to perform the mitzvah of yashuv ha’aretz. The crane symphony, as I called it, was like music to my ears.

* * *

We brought back a very important message from every Jew in Israel to every Jew in galut:

Your mother land is crying out for her children to come home. We love you. We need you. We need your children. We will embrace you with open arms and open hearts.

Come see our beautiful land! Come witness the spirit, the vitality, the hope, the idealism and the heroism. Come see with your own eyes how much Torah there is here. There has not been so much Torah in the land of Israel since the days of Destruction.

Come take part in the rebuilding of the land. Take part in reconstructing the “Palace of the King.” Come become part of a young, vibrant country where every blade of grass, every drop of dew, every grain of sand bursts forth with the voices of rebirth and rededication, and heralds the imminence of the final redemption.


Bezalel Fixler, a survivor of the Transnistria death camp and a musmach of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, is a contributing columnist to Dos Yiddishe Vort and the Algemeiner Journal. He can be contacted at bfixler6@aol.com

Just Another Morning

Wednesday, March 31st, 2004

I have often read Lessons in Emunah. When several of my friends told me I ought to submit the following I decided to follow their advice.

My husband and I made aliyah three and a half years ago to Efrat. We are both retired and are very happy with the quality of life here in Efrat. The community is friendly, warm, and active. There is something here for every age, taste, and need.

I wrote the following on Nov 18, 2003:

I made the decision last night to forgo my usual Tuesday morning swim. Instead, I decided to go with the women of Efrat (and neighboring areas) on their weekly bus trip to Kever Rachel. There were three reasons for this change of mind. Firstly, I hadn’t been there in a while and I always feel better after talking out my feelings and anxieties near Rachel Imeinu. Secondly, we have some very dear people I wanted to say special Tefillot for, and last but not least, our weekly shiur was going to be in English and given by the young women whose shiur I attend every Wednesday at the Women’s Bet Midrash of Efrat.

Every Tuesday, since Sarah Blaustein HY”D was murdered, there has been a bulletproof bus that takes us to Kever Rachel. This is in her memory, since she went to Kever Rachel every Tuesday morning, from the day she made aliyah until the day she was murdered. The bus to this holy site was arranged under the direction of some dedicated women in Efrat. To add more meaning to the morning davening and saying Tehillim, a shiur is given in either Hebrew or English by one of the very talented women or men of Gush Etzion and/or Yerushalayim.

For the longest time, we were denied permission to go to Kever Rachel by the Israeli forces, on the theory that they couldn’t protect us. But B”H, people desired to visit and pray at Kever Rachel and we now have a bulletproof Egged bus that runs several times a day from the Yerushalayim central bus station. A soldier who boards the bus at the checkpoint protects us. We have to strictly adhere to the schedule because there is only room for one bus to wait (under security) while we board or leave the bus.

You see such an amazing group of people coming there. Israelis, tourists, the old, the young, some carrying infants or toddlers, the sick, the handicapped, the poor, and the wealthy, Sefardim and Ashkenazim, all kinds of Jews coming to pray at the Kever of our beloved mother Rachel.

When I awoke this morning, November 18, I heard the seven o’clock news. There was a report that there was yet another sniper attack on the Gush Etzion/ Yerushalayim road. This is the highway that runs right outside of Efrat, going north through two tunnels to Yerushalayim. It sounded from the reports that the two people involved were lightly injured and the traffic was at a standstill. This wasn’t going to stop me from going, because I knew within an hour (we leave at 8:30) the traffic would have been cleared and all would be normal.

Yes, it was normal, but not the normal we look forward to. As I waited at the bus stop with another woman, I found out that there were two chayalim (soldiers) murdered at the checkpoint. (That’s where my husband and I always stop to give the soldiers goodies to nosh). It seems that an Arab had a rifle hidden in a prayer rug and after the soldiers gave him
permission to pray there, he took the rifle out and fired point-blank at two soldiers. Shlomi Bielsky HY”D and Shaul Lahav HY”D were murdered that morning. The Arab jumped into a getaway car and fled the scene. So obviously it was planned in advance, and not that some guy went crazy and decided to kill some Jews today.

We have recently been ordered to be more lenient to Arab population and so we now have donkeys, cars, buses and taxies filled with them on our roads. They walk on our roads, ride on our roads, and kill our children.

We couldn’t get into Kever Rachel for a while because of the checking of all the cars, so one of the organizers took out a set of Tehillim and we all sat on the bus and said Tehillim. You should have heard the silence. The bus was full of chattering women. Suddenly, we all stopped, and began to say Tehillim. (What is amazing is that these are everyday women, like me, like you, the kind you meet in the supermarket, swimming pool, and in shul. There we were, thrown into circumstances that no one should be asked to contemplate, and how do we react? We pray. And it helps us and we hope it helps those for whom we are praying.

We arrived at Kever Rachel and I davened. My davening was extraordinarily intense probably because of the tears, that I couldn’t stop and all the thoughts that I had. It was O K. I was in good company. Mostly everyone there was praying with such intensity that the sobs of some were audible. (There was a group of New Yorkers from the G.A. convention there, and they also seemed very subdued and touched by the tragedy.)

On the way home, we stopped at the checkpoint where today’s attack took place. The bus driver got out to ask permission from the officer in charge for us to stand there, and we got out of the bus and said Tehillim. There were reporters there and loads of cameras, but no one took pictures of us. I guess we weren’t newsworthy. We got home safely B”H to carry on with our normal activities.

Just another morning!

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