Posts Tagged ‘Kever Rachel’
Anyone who has been to Israel is familiar with the countless religious, spiritual, and aesthetic attributes the land holds. The country is rich in Jewish tradition and historical significance abounds. There are awe-inspiring sights that leave indelible marks in our minds and souls. Israel is a land that has a special place in all of our hearts.
I have been extremely fortunate to travel to Israel on many occasions. While every trip is special in its own unique way, my most recent trip was the most meaningful one for me yet. I just returned home after traveling to Israel with my eleven-year-old daughter. This was my daughter’s first visit to Israel, and the effect the experience had on her was nothing short of spectacular.
She fell in love with the land the moment we stepped off the plane. Clearly exhausted after the long flight, during which time she was too excited about her journey to sleep, my daughter immediately perked up as her eyes took in the sights around her. Just walking through Ben Gurion Airport on the way to retrieve our luggage and viewing all of the Hebrew signage was exciting for her.
During our time in Israel, we stayed with close family friends who live in Efrat. To the international community, Efrat is simply another one of the “settlements” that many perceive to be an impediment to a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. In reality, Efrat is a flourishing and vibrant city that serves as a home to 10,000 residents.
My daughter immediately fell in love with Efrat. It was not just the city’s beauty that captivated her attention; it was the sense of community and camaraderie that permeated the air. The warmth of the families who make Efrat their home and the sense that you are in the midst of a community where Torah and a love for Eretz Yisrael is a fundamental part of people’s lives was not lost on my daughter. Although the rest of the world may consider a community like Efrat to be a nuisance due to its characterization as a “settlement,” to the Jewish people it is one of the backbones of our homeland.
According to my daughter, one of the highlights of our trip was the time we spent in Jerusalem. Whether it was walking through the streets in the center of town, perusing the wares at the Machane Yehuda open-air market, or strolling down the streets of Mea Shearim and Geulah, she thoroughly enjoyed it.
And then there was the Old City. Walking through its streets with my daughter was an experience I will treasure the rest of my life. Visiting the Kotel with her was extraordinary. We stood together at the crossroads of the Jewish universe and watched as Jews from all walks of life, hailing from all over the globe, came together to pray. My daughter was acutely aware of the fact that though people may have been speaking in many different languages, when they stood at that Wall they were all speaking to the same God.
Another highlight of the trip was our journey to Kever Rachel and the city of Hebron. Now that control of Bethlehem has been relinquished to the Palestinians, it has become somewhat of an adventure to access the holy site where our matriarch Rachel is buried. After passing through a security checkpoint and traveling through a colossal corridor of concrete barriers that separate the Jews traveling to Kever Rachel from the Arab residents of Bethlehem, we were fortunate to be able to enter the site and pray that our Mama Rachel will continue safeguarding the Jewish people.
The memory of our time in Hebron is something that will stay with my daughter and me for a long time. Thanks to the Hebron Fund, we were able to visit with some of the residents of Hebron. These people are true Jewish heroes who are on the front line of our ongoing battle to maintain control of a holy site that rightfully belongs to the Jewish people.
Walking with our heads held high through the streets of a city where the small Jewish community is surrounded on all sides by a huge Arab community, and where the signs that adorn many of the storefronts are in Arabic, was a special experience for my daughter. When the voice of the local muezzin shattered the silence with the Islamic call to prayer just as we were ascending the steps leading up to Mearat Hamachpela where our forefathers are buried, it was a stark reminder that though Jews are a minority in Hebron today, they remain an integral part of this holy city that somehow, some way, must always remain in the hands of the Jewish nation.
A young man and 12 of his friends went to Kever Rachel to daven for his very sick mother. She had leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant. The mother’s family was tested to see if someone was a match. One relative’s marrow matched with 9 out of 10 factors. This was good, but the optimum was 10 out of 10 factors.
After this young man poured his heart out to Mother Rachel, his mother received a call that a perfect match had been found. The donor lived in Eretz Yisrael. Needless to say, the mother was overwhelmed with joy, and felt fortunate that her personal redemption had been found in the Holy Land.
Before the transplant took place, the mother’s rabbi advised her to add a name, as people do when they are very ill.
The mother discussed this issue with her family and, after a few days, they decided on the name Leora, meaning, “To me, there will be light.” She hoped that the transplant would bring her from darkness to light, from illness to good health. When she called her daughter-in-law to let her know about her new name, the daughter-in-law exclaimed, “Ma, I just thought of the same name!”
The fact that both had independently thought of this name made them feel secure that Hashem was overseeing everything, and that He would bless Leora with a full recovery.
Today Leora is home, recuperating from her long illness and feeling very positive.
All mothers make extraordinary efforts for their children. And Mother Rachel did the same for Leora, her special great-great-granddaughter.
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.
“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.
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 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.
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 hosted a yahrzeit commemoration at the Manhattan Beach Jewish Center.
Evelyn Haies is president of the Rachel’s Children Reclamation Foundation located at 60 West End Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11235, (718-648-2610)
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 ( 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.
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.
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.
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 toKever Rachel, or to arrange for a Bat Mitzvah celebration at Rachel’s Tomb, log on to www.rachelimeinu.org or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.