By Michele Justic
After centuries of longing, what a z’chus to be able to visit our ancestral home. Har HaBayit b’yadeinu! Chevron b’yadeinu! Kever Rochel b’yadeinu! Yet how many reach for the spiritual peaks of our nation?
To celebrate my daughter’s bat mitzvah, my husband and I finally took the plunge and decided to take our whole family to Israel in August. Lots of little feet pounded the Jerusalem cobblestones. A countless number of Milky and Kinder snacks were purchased. My husband received a certain inspiration from the Kotel he had never experienced before and davened almost every minyan there. We learned the modern history in Tel-Aviv and felt the ancient history in the air in Jerusalem. We enjoyed the modern amenities of the Mamilla Mall. But something was missing. How can you have a family reunion without your Mothers and Fathers?
The Hebron Fund made a trip to this contentious area easier than finding parking in Tel-Aviv. A simple Web form, eâ€‘mail confirmations, meeting at a hotel one morning, and voilÃ (or yallah, to be more authentic)–off we went in a bulletproof bus with expert tour leader Reb Simcha Hochbaum to Kever Rochel, a few sites in Hebron, and Me’arat HaMachpelah.
To the uninitiated, it is surprising how close these sites are. Those that argue for land transfers and peace treaties would have you think this is on the far end of Israel, easy to cut off and then move on with modern life. While spiritually that would be like removing your heart in a failed effort to keep alive, simple geography illustrates that these locations are so close, it would be like removing Hewlett from the Five Towns. (Sorry, Hewlett; just an example.)
In less time than it takes to traverse Rockaway Turnpike, we arrived at Kever Rochel. I suddenly felt immersed in holiness and that the Heavenly gates were wide open for our tefillos. Our mother Rochel sits with us in galus and cries for us. I felt protected by her, by Hashem, and of course by the many courageous soldiers who serve there. We could have easily spent all day there, as you can just feel your neshamah delighting in the kedushah there. But there was more to see.
We went on to Hebron to learn of some brave families that had to fight for each brick they built with, a crazy only-in-Israel situation. At some point, seven trailers were allowed to be built, and now these families that are, baruch Hashem, growing are still not allowed to build beyond these trailers. A tragedy led one widow to create a kollel in her husband’s honor, built on top of the excavation of the steps traveled by Avraham Avinu. Later, we met another family that purchased a home near the me’arah only to have all kinds of criminal and political complications interfere. Their story is reported constantly, giving the impression of some troublemaker building a high-rise development, but, lo and behold, a simple yet brave woman standing in front of her simple and well-guarded home told of their situation.
Beit Hadassah has had many transformations–medical clinic in the 1800s, a site of tragedy in the 1929 riots, rebirth of the community in the 1970s, and now a museum, complete with interactive movies for children and informative movies for adults. Reb Simcha led some singing amid his informational tour of this location so rich in history.
We moved on to the Avraham Avinu Synagogue which houses a sefer Torah believed to have been rescued from the Spanish Inquisition and then again during the 1929 riots. What a moment as two bar mitzvah boys read from this Torah in beautiful, clear voices. Eitz chaim hee la’machazikim bah! It is a beautiful shul rising from such painful roots, but as Reb Simcha stated, “Sometimes when times are tough and I don’t know what will happen, I come to this shul and I know everything will be all right.”
Simcha Hochbaum is quite a fascinating personality himself. He and his wife, Leah, made aliyah many years ago from Staten Island and chose to settle near Hebron and dedicate themselves to Hebron hasbarah (informational advocacy). The Hebron community only continues with strong individuals such as the Hochbaums.
Finally, we reached the top: Me’arat HaMachpelah. The Hebron Fund has done much to enhance the experience, planting gardens and making sure the experience is as beautiful as can be. But the focus is on who is here. Call me crazy, but I felt an enormous feeling of love emanating from the kever of Sarah Imeinu. There were other kevarim to visit but I felt glued to hers. We learn from Chumash of her great binah yeseirah, looking out for her son Yitzchak even as others might have felt a misguided compassion for Yishmael. She could see that the future would be filled with jihad if Yishmael were treated too generously.
I did tear myself away to visit Avraham, Yaakov, and Leah as well. (The powers that be do not allow visits to Yitzchak.) Our group had a Minchah minyan which felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, although thanks to the Hebron Fund and hopefully the coming geulah, this can be a more frequent experience. Our forefathers taught us to daven, and one can only imagine the significance of each word said in their presence.
My young children did get a little restless throughout the trip, but Simcha handled it well. Though I naively expected the children to relish each moment of the tour, I probably should have prepared them with coloring books and little fans to keep them busy and cool. Overall, it was not a strenuous tour, and everyone on the bus was able to participate fully and appreciate the experience.
Eventually we had to get on our bus and–reluctantly–head home. We traveled through Arab neighborhoods on roads strategically protected with walls and tunnels. As the clichÃ© goes, we are so close yet so far from this holy land in the Holy Land, and the Hebron Fund is an essential element in educating Israelis and Americans about the crucial history and significance of this land.
I encourage everyone to take this tour when in Israel and donate to the Hebron Fund to make sure we never abandon our Fathers and Mothers.