By Enid Shapiro, a participant in Rabbis for Human Rights-North America’s Hands-On Human Rights Tour to Israel and the West Bank in November 2011.
This visit to Rachelʼs Tomb was a total surprise to me because of my memory of a visit to the site almost twenty-ﬁve years ago. What I remembered was how easy it had been to enter the Tomb. At that time the area around the entrance was entirely open and totally accessible. This afternoon, the third day into our trip, the experience was shocking and extremely unpleasant primarily because of the huge numbers of religious people jammed into the fairly narrow corridor that led to the Tomb entrance.
We parked our bus at the head of a short corridor and were immediately accosted by religious men asking for donations to their personal causes. I couldn’t identify what the causes were. The corridor was the result of the huge security wall on one side and the very large building housing the Tomb on the other. As we approached the entrance the numbers of people, men and women, kept growing, all pleading for some type of support.
Once we managed to get inside the building it was almost impossible to push our way forward. We could see the Tomb ahead but getting close felt to me like a challenge. There were women, some with baby carriages, others alone, pleading for a shekel or more. Some were praying along the walls and many prayed ahead on the Tomb itself. I watched one very young woman dressed in a skirt to the ﬂoor with her head totally covered, praying and beating the wall at the side. It had been explained that the young women were praying for fertility both on the Tomb and anywhere in the area. I of course only saw women in this section, as men and women were separated into separate entrances and different rooms on either side of the Tomb, and were not visible to each other.
The crush continued as I found myself moving toward the exit to the corridor and ﬁnally walked to the bus. I did not get to touch the Tomb itself and personally left feeling sad at the loss of spirituality and history I had anticipated and long ago experienced. It was almost a relief to be leaving.
As we traveled on toward our visit to Bethlehem, it became apparent how the security wall towering over the bus on our right created the corridor and a physical separation. The wall was now covered with the most graphic language and pictures that described the outrage of the people of the West Bank. We didn’t need an explanation. The graphics said it all.