Historic images of the gravesite of Rachel
Today is the memorial anniversary for Rachel Imeinu, affectionately referred to as Mama Rachel. While the Jewish people have more than one mother, Rachel, on account of the trials and tribulations she faced during her life has become the universal Jewish mother, the one that a person would be inclined to go to for comfort and to shed some tears. And let me tell you, last night at her gravesite, in Beit Lechem (Bethlehem) not far from the edge of Jerusalem, tears were indeed shed. Many many tears.
My daughter and I embarked on a trip from our home in the North of Israel to reach Rachel's gravesite on this very day (Jewish days start at night, so we arrived actually last night) and we don't regret one moment of the long bus ride or the discomfort of being squeezed into a tight crowd, it's all part of the experience.
More recent images of Kever Rachel, though today the site is unrecognizable on account of huge security walls and a new structure for safety that encloses the original tomb building
Since the time of her burial, more then 3000 years ago, the Tomb of Rachel has always been a special place for prayer. Rachel, who was childless though eventually gave birth to Yosef and then Benyamin, has become a symbol of hope for childless women, and all those in need of special blessings. (Who isn't in need in this day and age?) Rachel reminds us of the power of prayer, and thus, today (since prayer on the day that marks the anniversary of passing is much more powerful) tens of thousands will visit her gravesite to quite simply pray, for themselves, for their loved ones, for the Jewish people, for the world.
Now I'll have to admit, that actually getting to the tomb to give it a kiss is quite a challenge, on account of huge crowds that must all pass through a small door. Of course there is lots of security on hand (as well as a first aide station) to control the crowds, but that doesn't mean that it goes exactly smoothly.
Phew, we made it inside, and are on our way to the tomb!
Each woman is allowed only several seconds, and is then physically directed to move on and continue her prayers outside. An experience that's incomporable but not recommended for those who are claustrophobic or don't like being touched or scrunched or elbowed. And certainly not recommended for small children, even my daughter at age 11 was a bit short to be in such a crowd. But not to worry, she had a meaningful experience and will make sure we go again next year!
At the moment she's copying the school lessons she missed on account of being out of school yesterday for the trip, and today on account of arriving home at 2am and the ensuing exhaustion. Her mother isn't exactly full of energy either!