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When visiting 'Mamma' is dangerous


-- "Thus said the L-rd: A voice was heard in Ramah, crying and bitter weeping. Rachel was weeping for her children. She refuses to be comforted...for they are gone...... Thus said the L-rd: Keep your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work shall be rewarded....and they shall come back again. .. there is hope for your future and your children shall return to their border. "—  Jeremiah, 31, 14-16

One day last winter I met one of my 8th generation Jerusalemite relatives on the street. (These old Jerusalemite families are an independent, feisty, wonderful breed unto themselves.)

"I'm going to Mommeh Rochel," he said in Yiddish. "To whom?" I asked. bewildered, knowing that his mother's name was Channah, not Rachel. "To Mommeh Rochel," he repeated.

In one of those mini-second flashes which surge through the brain, I realized that Mommeh Rochel was none other than Rachel Immeinu --- Rachel the Matriarch, mother of all Jews everywhere. Of course. Who else could Mommeh Rochel be?

"Mamma" is one of the first words most children in the world learn to say. Not Poppa nor Daddy nor Tatty nor even G-d... but Mamma - that very first source of human contact and comfort. And when we are in need, in pain, "Mamma" is one of the first, instinctive, universal cries.

When I was sixteen, my grandmother lay dying in a Christian hospital. She asked to see me and as I sat by her bed, watching her drift between outer consciousness and some form of other-world inner awareness, she suddenly cried out for Mammeh. An uncle, obviously distraught at being unable to help her, wondered if perhaps she was asking for the Mother Superior (the nuns were also the nurses).

I remember jumping up from my seat in great distress and insisting that this was the furthest thing on her mind. I knew she was calling for Mommeh - her own mother Nechama whom she hadn't seen since she set out for America as a young girl of twelve or thirteen. I had no doubt that her mother, and father, were now standing at her bedside, waiting to welcome her into the World of Eternity. Despite her weakening physical vision, in her mind's eye, she saw them clearly.

Mommeh. The universal cry for comfort, salvation, love - be it Mommeh Rochel, Mommeh Nechama, Imma, Mommy or any other form of the word, in any language. A cry for Mommeh is a cry for help.

Several years back, a long line of concrete road blocks were set up in front of Kever Rachel - Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem - as a protective wall against Arab stones (this was before they began shooting bullets ...). The wall effectively hid the Kever from passersby. My daughter-in-law was driving through the city on her way from Efrat to Jerusalem. Her young daughters were with her in the car. As they passed the Kever, her five year old cried out, "Imma! Look! What have they done to Rachel Imeinu?" Even for a five year old daughter-of-Israel, Rachel Imeinu is the essence of motherhood. She is her Imma --- alive and real. Her "house" is Kever Rachel.

Since the outbreak of Arab violence on Rosh Hashana last September, Rachel's Tomb has been closed to Jewish visitors. Except for one or two armored buses each morning, Jews are not allowed into Bethlehem because of the danger of Arab snipers. (Tourists are, for some inexplicable reason, allowed to enter the city.) How can I explain our distress, our pain, at not being able to go to Mommeh Rochel, even though we only live ten minutes away?

What does one do when one needs to pray, to cry, to be comforted by the memory of the Matriarch Rachel and to ask for Divine assistance in her merit, but one is unable to "go" to her? Years ago, I took my daughter to Kever Rachel on her bat mitzva. Last week I was unable to take my granddaughter for her bat mitzva. It was too "dangerous". Dangerous to go to own mother.....

G-d hears our cries, wherever we may be, and I assume that our prayers reach their destination if they are said in Jerusalem as well as in Beit Lechem (or any other place for that matter). There is no doubt that Rachel's merit will stand us in good stead. We need not go to her grave to "touch" her with our prayers. But still....

Other places in the Holy Land are closed to us as well. If the closure of Kever Rachel were not sorrow enough, the temporary loss of Kever Yosef, her son Joseph in Shechem (Nablus), is like a gaping wound in the Jewish psyche.

And perhaps more pressing (and depressing....) than the loss of burial sites, central and holy as they are, are the losses in the domain of the living. What is supposed to happen to the rest of the Land of Israel if the Arabs have their way? To Jerusalem and the Temple Mount? To the 200 cities, towns and communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza - all in the heart of bibilical Israel - built after the Six Day War? What will happen to Chevron, Kiryat Arba, Kiryat Sefer and Katif? To Beitar, Beit El, and Gush Etzyon? To Psagot, Modiin and Emanuel? To the thousands of homes, schools, yeshivot, kindergartens, synagogues, hospitals, industries, playgrounds, medical centers, businesses, stores, and yes, even, cemeteries? What will happen to the 200,000 Jews living in these places? Where are they supposed to go?

A new wave of Jewish "refugees" may be old hat for the world, but after two thousand years of exile, two hundred years of return to the Holy Land, and a mere fifty years after the Holocaust, I do not think that the Jewish people is about to pack their suitcases and wave goodbye to the world. Anyone who views the seeming disarray in Israeli policies today and is led to this conclusion is in for a surprise. Like those Jerusalemite relatives of mine, we are an independent, spirited people with amazing powers of tenacity and renewal.

But we in Israel cannot do the job alone. The Land of Israel is the eternal, covenental land of the People of Israel. All Jews, no matter where they are presently abiding, have a share in this Land and share in the responsibility for keeping it intact and in Jewish hands.

As part of this endeavor, we - Jews of Israel and the world - shall continue to come, live, build, multiply, educate, participate, volunteer and love the Land of Israel. We shall also continue to implore G-d, in the merit of Rachel, to protect her children in their Promised Land. He will surely hear our prayers, even if we are not presently free to come and go in Beit Lechem. And may G-d, the Creator of the World and the Dispenser of all lands, not only hear our prayers, but answer them, speedily and in our days.

By Yaffa Ganz  

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