Chanukah at Rachel's Tomb...
...And the Children Return to Her Borders!
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Chanukah - In Our Days?
(December 3, 2013 - 6th Day of Chanuka)
by David Willner

Times change. Before the "Peace Accords" we used to drive through Bethlehem to get to our home in Efrat. We'd stop and buy fruits and vegetables, household items, bric-a-brac. My wife - ever the bargain hunter once bought dining room chairs there.

Before I got married, I'd go with friends studying the laws of
shechita (kosher slaughter) to the butcher shops. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement. If the shechita was done properly, there'd be meat for a barbecue, Shabbat, or holiday. If the animal was unfit according to Jewish law, it was still okay to qualify as "Hallal" and the local Arabs would buy the meat.

Leaving Jerusalem and heading south on Highway 60 meant passing the Tomb of Rachel - on the northern end of Bethlehem. The tomb was set in a small, simple, unassuming stone building, surrounded by open fields and olive trees. It had been an iconographic symbol for centuries - and, like Hebron and Jerusalem - featured on calendars, charity boxes, and other items often found in Jewish homes throughout the world.

I remember as a child in 1960's LA, visiting my grandfather's small apartment. Usually the grandchildren would visit on Shabbat, but on the times that we visited during the week there'd be a small neat pile of mail on the kitchen table. And next to the mail would be Grandpa's check book. All kinds of organisations and yeshiva's were the beneficiaries of his - five dollars here, ten dollars there - sometimes eighteen dollars or more. Grandpa would send a small check and in return, he received their new calendar or small book ahead of the Jewish New Year. And one of the most ubiquitous symbols gracing the item or the envelope would be a drawing, photograph or etching of Rachel's Tomb.

There is something seriously sweet in our collective history/memory of Rachel. The bible recounts how she died young giving birth to Benjamin, and was laid to rest near Bethlehem - on the way to Efrata. The Book of Jeremiah (31:14) says:

"Thus says the Lord;
A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children
- refusing to be comforted for her children, for they are gone.
Thus says the Lord;
Refrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded, says the Lord;
and they (your children) shall return from the land of the enemy.
And there is hope for your future, says the Lord that your children shall return to their borders."

In the midst of the destruction Jeremiah spoke of the restoration of Israel in terms that resonate through the centuries and millennia of Diaspora. Rachel, our Mother, cries for her children. Yet there is hope.

Yesterday, I took my two youngest sons to visit "Mama Rochel". Times do indeed change. It's hard to make out the charming little building that used to sit by the side of the road. Today, the tomb is a fortress. Tall concrete walls, guard towers, large metal doors. A compound has been build around the little building, for one reason, and one reason only. The security measures are there to prevent Jews, coming to pray, and shed tears, from being attacked by Arabs. As we parked the car we started to feel our eyes tearing and our throats burning. I explained to Yair (15) and Yashar'el (11) that it was tear gas and that they should cover their noses and mouths with their shirts or cloth to work as a filter.

Yashar'el took the brunt of it. His tears and frustration were all too apparent. A Chanukah trip to a sacred site had been robbed by the reality that is symbolic of today's "peace". Jews do not drive through Bethlehem anymore. Those days are gone. Bethlehem is Area A, and driving through Area A means taking one's life in one's hands. Rachel's Tomb - like the other historic, religious, and archaeological sites were meant to remain open - with free access for Jews, Moslems and Christians alike.

Eventually the tear gas dissipated, the tears were dried, and we prayed the afternoon prayer in the shadow of Rachel's Tomb. And once again that voice echoed deep within me. Peace cannot mean removing Jews from their homes. Peace cannot mean that Arabs can attack Jews, and that we will build walls and guard towers. If Chanukah teaches us anything, it must be that we must be willing to stand strong and respond with force to those that would deny the rights of Jewish people in the Land of Israel. And that is something worth fighting for.

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