by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths
A long photo essay.
It's been 10 years since I visited Kever Rochel, the holy tomb of our matriach Rochel Imaynu. As is well known from the pasuk in the Torah, Rochel was buried on the road in Bet Lechem (Bethlehem). This is an extremely well known holy site, with existing images of it going back over 1,000 years (paintings).
Last time I visited, it was literally drive down Derech Hevron from the Kotel (go down the Hevron Path from the Old City) for 10 minutes, park next to the kever and visit. When you were done, there were 2 Arab stores across the street to visit, one selling snacks and one selling your basic tourist trinkets.
This all changed after the Arab attack on Kever Yosef (the tomb of Joseph) in Shechem (Nablus), resulting in the deaths of the soldiers guarding it and a ransacking and destruction of the holy site in 1996.
While the government could and did abandon that holy site, thank G-d kever Rochel was more prominent and couldn't be abandoned. So instead they build a fortress! First they expanded the complex, turning the surrounding fence into inner fortress walls. Then they cut Kever Rochel out of Bet Lechem, surrounding the area with 50 foot high walls, including a road and parking lot up to the kever. Kever Rochel is now Fortress Rochel...
Just drive down Derech Hevron to the end - or rather where it's blocked - by Bet Lechem. No worries, you're on the Israeli side, the city is walled off after attacks in the past...
DON'T turn left to the city entrance. Don't worry if you do, the Israeli guard post won't let you in. The sign reads "Entrance Forbidden to Israelis", non-Jewish tourist buses are headed to the Bethlehem Xian sites.
DO drive straight until you get to the security wall. Then turn right for Kever Rochel. It was a straight drive in when we went, but sometimes they hold people at this point for a bit if the parking lot is at capacity.
As you can see, the special road is completely protected. Bethlehem on the left, an Israel farming field on the right, not that you can see that...
Left to the kever and the parking lot, right if you're a security patrol.
The parking lot is fully protected. No access through the 50 foot walls from Bet Lechem...
The inner fortress entrance...
The old Kever Rochel building is still there. They literally put up a new building around it. The design doesn't make much sense from a functional point, perhaps it does from a security standpoint. Enter and walk to the old building.
Here's the famous old entrance, inside the inner fortress.
The old building was very small. They did NOT expand it, they just opened up all the old arches. So not only is it no less of a squeeze than it was, now the courtyard is the inner fortress, so it's tight and stuffy. Entrance to the womens side...
and to the men's side, which goes under the old arch and around the "back"...
The men have a bit more functional space, as a large archway extends the space to the inner fortress back wall. While I have visited many kevorim (holy burial sites of our matriachs, patriarchs, and the holy ones of Israel), there's an intensity of prayer at Kever Rochel not found at others. Tears are shed, voices crack, people are very serious in their tefilot (prayers).
The women perhaps have less space as they used to have the "sides" of the kever marker itself and they no longer do. Regardless, the lack of space doesn't seem to reduce the intensity of prayer at the resting place of our holy matriarch. As our matriarch, the women's intensity is even greater than the men's (modest photo taken by my daughter).
One of the sights specific to the womens side is the parochet (an ark covering) made from the wedding gown of Nava Applebaum, hy"d. She and her father were murdered by an Arab terrorist in Jerusalem, al kiddush Hashem, as they met for a brief moment together on the eve of her wedding. Her father was the director of emergency medicine at Shaare Tzedek hospital, and had treated thousands of Arab patients in need of care. She was a young woman about to start her life, having just finished national service caring for children stricken with cancer. Today her wedding gown stands as a memorial to the righteous women of Israel together with Rochel Imaynu.
Ima Rochel still cries for her children, and we pray that in her holy merit and in the merit of her tears, Hashem should bless us all for a wonderfully good and sweet year, and inscribe all of Klal Yisroel in the book of life, parnosa, children, and all good things.
Afterwards, people walk comfortably back to their cars, protected by a fortress complete with watchtowers and armed guards.
BS"D - בסיעתא דשמיא