Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Visit to Rachel’s Tomb

Last week, when my friend was here visiting from abroad, we went to Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem. When I told the friend who had offered to drive us there that it had been fourteen years since my last trip, she warned me: “It’s changed a lot. You won’t recognize it at all.”

She was right.

The entire place is an indoor compound—or, as a friend of mine who is a tour guide put it, a fortress.

The sign stating “Kever Rahel” that was once outside the simple structure over the tomb is now inside the compound, just outside the hall that leads to the men’s section:

The old sign, Rachel's Tomb

More photos and explanations below the fold.

The entrance to Rachel’s Tomb as it looks now:

Entrance to Rachel's Tomb

Sandbags in a niche in the front wall:

Window niche and sandbags, Rachel's Tomb

A long hallway leads to the worship area.

Hall leading to Rachel's Tomb

The view from the women’s prayer area, into the anteroom:

View from the women's prayer area, Rachel's Tomb

The cenotaph, from the women’s side:

Cenotaph, Rachel's Tomb

A niche for books—usually Psalms, though there is a special prayer to be recited at Rachel’s Tomb that was composed in the nineteenth century.

Book niche

A well and a plaque honoring the donors—in this case, I believe, the Jewish community of Bombay:

Well and stone plaque

A peek into the men’s section:

Looking into the men's section at Rachel's Tomb

In the past, it used to be a custom for married women to use part of the material of their wedding dresses to fashion a curtain for the Holy Ark—called a parokhet in Hebrew—where the Torah scrolls are kept. This particular parokhet is made from the wedding dress of Nava Appelbaum, who was murdered together with her father, Dr. David Appelbaum, on the night before she was to be married.

The top of the inscription reads: “A bride forever.” It broke my heart.

Heartbreaking Ark curtain, Rachel's Tomb

On the way out, near the entrance to the building, is a ladder built into the wall with a trapdoor in the ceiling leading to the roof.

Ceiling exit

May the day soon come when we will be able to visit all our holy sites freely and without fear.

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