Chronicles from Home

Part  8


November 24, 2003

The time had come for me to write about Chevron (Hebron) and my first visit
to the Cave of Machpela where Avraham, Ytzhak, Yaacov, Sara, Rifka, and
Leah are buried.

It all started with a phone call from our dear friend from Los Angeles
Steven Berger.  He was in Israel on one of his frequent visits.  He had
organized several trips to Chevron during Sukkot, and thoughtfully invited
us.  I was very eager to go, but didn't feel very enthusiastic about
bringing our children along.  The possibility of hateful Palestinians
throwing stones at us, in the best case, was not, I thought, the most
appealing vision for them to have.

Therefore, Rich kindly offered to keep them at home so I could go to see
with my own eyes the very beginning of our history.

A wonderful bonus to the trip was the presence of our dearest Isabelle
Chemla, who had just arrived from Los Angeles the night before.  She jumped
at the opportunity to come along, suitcase still in her hand.

We left in the morning, after having met our travel companions at the King
David Hotel.

I was telling Isabelle how much I was longing to visit as well Rachel
Immenu's Kever (Rachel's Tomb) in Bethlehem, when I heard Steven's voice
telling us we will be stopping there on the way to Chevron.  I then
double-checked how many tissues I had in my purse.  I knew I would be using
them all.

We arrived in Bethlehem, after having been warned, the windows being
bulletproofs only up to a certain height, not to stand up in our armored bus.

I couldn't believe the sight of this city.  It was a ghost town, with the
streets deserted and full of dust.  Ironically, the Palestinians, who live
there now, don't seem to care too much about their city.  The land they
claim to cherish to the point of giving up their lives seems abandoned and
forlorn.  Not only do they not care for Bethlehem but, as I was about to
find out, they don't want anybody else to care about it either.

I remembered having visited as a teenager, when a busy market filled the
streets.  I couldn't help but feeling a cold chill in my back thinking of
what could happen to other cities with the benediction of the
U.N.A.I.  (United Nations Against Israel).

As we left the protection of our bus, right at the entrance of the Kever,
soldiers recommended us to run quickly inside.  Although all people must
have free access to their cults' edifices in Israel, only the Jews must run
under escort by their own soldiers to be able to pray.  We have to avoid
bullets.  We also have to avoid angering the whole world, which tends to
see our desire to pray at our most holy sites as a provocation.  But please
forgive me for digressing.

Anyway, the Kever looks more like a blockhouse than a tomb; everything is
barricaded.  I can remember when the Kever stood outside, along the
road.  Poor Rachel.  Is she crying more now than before, seeing her
children being forced to become soldiers, faithfully guarding her
grave?  It is said that her tears will appeal HaShem's mercy to bring us
back from exile.  Although they are not visible, I am certain that her
tears and ours combined flood the entire area.

Passing in front of the tiny room built so the soldiers can rest, my eyes
caught a sight of a drawing on the wall.  It was written "Shabbat Shalom"
with a picture of a smiling face.  I held back my tears.  It was time to
leave.  We were waiting to get back on the bus outside when a young soldier
told us to go back inside.  It is dangerous waiting outside.  I couldn't
help but asked myself: "but who is going to tell him with his rifle and
bulletproof vest finally to go inside?"  How much longer do we need to
sacrifice our youths?  I begged Rachel to cry louder so HaShem would heed
our pleas.

Steven had brought some cookies to give to the soldiers.  I have to admit
that it is one of the very rare occasions that I felt resentful for being a
woman.  I would have liked to go talk to them, share the cookies as well as
their stories, their worries and their hopes.  Instead, I let some of our
companions, Yeshiva Bachurim, feed the troops.

We continued our journey in our armored time machine, heading to Chevron.

Once there, we were allowed to walk in the heavily guarded streets in the
tiny Jewish enclave.  We could do so because of a curfew on the Palestinian
population during Chol Hamoed.  It made it possible for the Jews to go to
the very first portion of land bought in the Jewish history by Avraham
Avinu in order to bury Sara Immenu.  (Some people still contest the
Jewishness of the place!)

Part of the tour included visiting some families in their
homes.  Admiration is not a strong enough word to describe how I feel about
those people, assuring a Jewish presence in Chevron with little
consideration for their own safety.  I will cherish for a long time the
beautiful face of the woman who welcomed us in her house.  She didn't seem
to be troubled by the hole above her head left by a bullet shot through her
window by some of the "victims of the Zionist occupation".  Her children
were playing in the room and her smile has, without any doubt, caught part
of the Light created by HaShem on the first day of the creation.  Needless
to say that when she knew I had just made Aliyah, she invited me
immediately for Shabbat.

After a friendly lunch under a Sukkah, we headed to the Cave of Machpela.

Somewhere under the edifice built by human hands, is the cave where our
patriarchs and matriarchs are buried.  The monuments have been edified
later around 700 CE.  This fact saved me from total despair when I realized
that everything written on the walls and funeral monuments was written in
Arabic.  Not just Arabic, but verses of the Koran!  And yet, I was standing
in the heart of our past, narrated so precisely in our Torah.  I felt a
tremendous pain realizing that our forefathers were surrounded by Koran

I wished there would be a Pinhas among the Jewish People who would rise in
order to protect HaShem's Honor.  But maybe we are not ready yet.  Maybe we
are not worthwhile yet.

This discovery distressed me greatly for many days.  I then realized that
maybe, after all, peace could be achieved.  If the Muslims seemingly had
honored so much our forefathers and foremothers as to build them such a
magnificent edifice, so there could be allowed a spark of hope that just
need to be fanned somewhere, somehow, someday.

After davening, we boarded the bus and started on our way back to
Yerushalayim.  I felt depressed, despite the ice creams than Steven had
bought for everyone.  I felt guilty, too, to have left those people behind
"to hold the fort", despite the disapproval of the entire world.

But I also felt almost relieved when I recognized the outskirts of
Yerushalayim.  It is ironic to know that some people are nervous about
coming to Yerushalayim when, in comparison of what I have witnessed, I felt
like returning to safety.

Even the sudden realization that I invited 12 people for diner for 5:30 and
that it was almost 5:00 didn't help me to rise from my gloomy mood.

When Rich called me on my cellular phone to let me know that some of our
friends already arrived, I knew I needed to react and fast.  I left the bus
caught in traffic with Isabelle and we started to run back home.

Running towards my house, I suddenly froze.  There were 3 police cars right
in front of the gate of our home.  My first thought was the realization
that nobody is safe anywhere.  I rushed to talk to the policemen.  They had
found a suspicious package in front of our door and they were about to blow
it up.  I ran inside to make sure the children and Rich were all right.

Welcome to Israel, Isabelle!  Together, we stormed the kitchen and later on
we were all seating in our Sukkah.  It was a nice meal, the perfect way to
end such an intense day.

That night I felt that the mitzvah of seating under the Sukkah made me
become whole again.  Every bracha I recited helped me close each hole of
doubt I could have had.  By the end of the meal, I didn't feel so
depressed.  My strength and faith not only came back, but were renewed with
a new vitality.

I never felt so strongly the power of doing a mitzva.  A little light
fighting a big darkness. I know that one day the sun will shine again even
by night upon all of our Land and upon all of our People.  It will dry
Rachel's tears and will make Chevron ours for the eternity.

Sara Brownstein


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