(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Achim Beinwar of Hamburg found out only five years ago that he was descended from Russian Jews who converted to Christianity in the late 19th century.
Ariel Zion discovered when he was 18 that an ancestor had been hanged in the Netherlands by the French in the late 18th century because he was a Jew.
Zion converted to Judaism in 2006; Beinwar is in the midst of becoming Jewish.
On Monday, ahead of Shavuot, the two men came to Hebron to sit for a moment by the tomb of Ruth of Moab, a biblical convert to Judaism whose story of devotion to her mother-in-law, Naomi, and through her to the Jewish people and their faith, is central to the ancient harvest festival.
“It’s overwhelming to be here,” said Beinwar as he stood by the tomb, wearing a white skullcap and shorts.
“I cannot find the words,” he said. “I think it is one of the holy points where God presents himself.”
Beinwar is in Israel for only two weeks and made sure to include the tomb in his itinerary.
Hebron is famous for the Cave of the Patriarchs, which is the burial place of Judaism’s forefathers and foremothers. However, it is also the burial place of a number of other biblical figures, including Ruth, who was King David’s great-grandmother.
Legend has it that both she and King David’s father, Jesse (Yishai), were buried at the site, which also has the ruins of an ancient synagogue and a structure from the crusades.
According to right-wing activist Baruch Marzel, whose home is across the street from the tomb, Jewish writings for close to 1,000 years have mentioned that this is the tomb of Jesse and Ruth.
Hebron Jewish community spokesman David Wilder said that in the last 300 years, the link between the grave and Ruth has grown.
Thousands visit the tomb annually, particularly around Shavuot. On the afternoon of the festival, hundreds of people from the area visit the site, which has a garden and a small sanctuary where people study and pray.
To find the tomb, located at the tail end of the Tel Rumaida neighborhood, one has to enter an army base and head down a long, winding walkway before entering the small complex. The tomb itself is located in a small open half-room with a sloped ceiling, not quiet tall enough to stand in. Burnt-out tea lights litter the floor.
On Monday, a member of the Kiryat Arba Council asked the government to consider adding the tomb to its list of national heritage sites.
The tomb holds a particular attraction for converts like Zion and Beinwar.
Zion, a former Dutch pastor who lives with his family in the nearby Sussiya settlement and works with Christians who are considering converting to Judaism, said he comes to the tomb several times a month.
“I go there with students from abroad, and we study there about what it means to come to Judaism from another faith,” Zion said.
They were not the only visitors to the tomb on Monday.
Lorraine Baysek, a Reform Jewish woman from Spotsylvania, Virginia, said
she had learned of the tomb on the Internet after finding the Book of
Ruth in her hometown library and studying it.
“We have other matriarchs and patriarchs, but this one seems so loving
and caring,” Baysek said.
A visit to the tomb “was my way of paying homage to a person who years
ago said, ‘My people will be your people,’” she said.