Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Missing Mama Rochel

Last week, we celebrated the anniversary of our Aliyah. Our lives as Israeli citizens began 14 years ago on the 4th of Cheshvan. At the time, I couldn't have known that among our many adjustments would be some serious calendar transformations. Dates that had been just ordinary in the previous 40 years of my life were to become special in ways I never would have imagined. The very first of these was just one week after our arrival...

My dear friend Shoshana called to ask if I would join her for a trip to Kever Rachel Imeynu, Mother Rachel's Tomb. (Pronounced "Rah-cheyl" in Sephardic/Israeli dialect and Rochel - "Ruh-chul" - in Eastern European circles, Rachel was one of the four matriarchs and the mother of two of the twelve tribes of Israel.) It was the 11th of Cheshvan, the anniversary of her passing, and a visit to her burial place was the appropriate thing to do.
Artwork by Zevy, grade 2

I had been to Rachel's Tomb on previous visits to Israel but never on her yohrtzeit (that's Yiddish; yom petiratah, in Hebrew). I wish I could say that I jumped at the offer - it sounded wonderful - but I was exhausted and overwhelmed from our move so I politely declined. Still, the date was now etched in my mind as one to be remembered and commemorated.

That first year passed quickly and before I knew it, Shoshana was inviting me again. This time, I was ready for the journey – half an hour from home; about 4,000 years back in time. We drove to the southern edge of Jerusalem where we boarded a bullet-proof bus which took us into Arab Beit Lechem (Bethlehem). Soldiers surrounded us with rifles at the ready and we got on and off the bus.

Upon our arrival, I was swept into a sea of women from every slice of the Jewish spectrum. (I'm sure there must have been some men there as well but this was clearly a women's event.) There were so many women that I couldn't get into the building so I stayed outside with the overflow and let myself get lost in the crowd, in the emotion, in the prayer...of old women, young women, tenth-generation Israeli women and Western immigrants like myself, each feeling her own personal connection to the soul of Mama Rochel.

My trips to Kever Rachel would never be the same after that. Today, the security fence enables you to drive all the way there and park your car in safety right across from the tomb. Although the area is now surrounded by cement walls and bares no resemblance to what it looked like on my very first visit there 35 years ago
it is as tranquil and holy as ever inside. If you've never been, you must. If you have been, it probably wasn't recently enough.

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On our first 11th of Cheshvan back in the States I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the yohrtzeit of Rachel Imeynu was catching on here, too. Special events - almost exclusively for women - school assemblies and projects...but they just made me miss Mama Rochel - and my former proximity to her eternal resting place - all the more.

When I began this blogpost, I wasn't sure I'd have enough to say about Kever Rachel. Now my train of thought is transporting me to all sorts of related places...to the beautiful curtain inside the building made from a bridal gown that was never worn due to a terrorist bombing that took the bride's life...and my not-by-chance encounter with Adele who introduced me to the Har Nof women who visit Kever Rachel every Sunday...  The Mama Rochel song that hit the charts shortly after our return to the States is playing in my head - its haunting melody and lyrics touch every Jewish heart that hears it...

As of last year, the yohrtzeit of Rachel Imeynu took on an added significance for me as it comes just four days before the yohrtzeit of my father, z"l. Daddy, whose second yohrtzeit is this Shabbos, 15 Cheshvan, felt a very strong connection to his ancestors and a great appreciation for the opportunities he had to visit their grave sites. Needless to say, I'm missing him, too. May my father's neshama (soul) and Mama Rochel's both have an aliyah (spiritual elevation). And may every Aliyah (move to Israel) have a neshama (as expressed by Rabbi Pinchas Stolper, former executive vice president of the OU, at a good-bye party for a staff member making Aliyah).

To Remember Jerusalem today, the 11th of Cheshvan, is to remember Mama Rochel, who continues to cry for us, feel our pain, give us comfort, strength and hope - and whose spirit waits just beyond the border of the holy city to welcome all her wandering children Home.


  1. Beautiful post! Nice to see you blogging again :)

  2. You are right, I haven't been recently enough. Thank you for a beautiful, loving shove. I'll tell her you sent me.