rachel tomb 248.88.
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Seli Rafaeli wants to get married this year, so she was leaving nothing to chance. The 22-year old from Bat Yam woke up at 5:30 Thursday morning to catch a bus to Jerusalem and from there to Rachel's Tomb in nearby Bethlehem.
"Everything you ask of her, she grants you," said Rafaeli, as she stood in line at the tomb's entrance.
She was one of close to 150,000 people who arrived from all over the country to mark the anniversary of the biblical matriarch's death by praying for her help at her tomb during a 24-hour period that started on Wednesday night and ended Thursday.
A white tent, which served as a visitor's center, was set up on the edge of Jerusalem near the Bethlehem checkpoint. Egged ran a continual stream of buses down the concrete corridor where the security barrier sets off the tomb from the rest of the Palestinian city.
A large blue plastic awning was set up to protect worshipers from both the sun and the rain.
On the women's side, some worshipers prayed even as they waited in line to enter the tomb, whereas others stood by the tomb's outer wall to ask Rachel to intercede with God on their behalf.
A webcam set up in the tomb allowed Internet surfers to view the prayers.
The mass commemoration of the matriarch's yahrzeit has taken off in the last few years, said Robert Weiss, the New York representative of Mosdos Kever Rachel, which organized much of the logistics.
Twenty years ago, fewer than a thousand people would come to mark the anniversary of Rachel's death, said Weiss, who came to Israel for the event, adding that last year, close to 80,000 people came, while almost double that number flocked to the tomb this year, he said.
Organizers asked worshipers this year to add in prayers for the safe return of captive soldier Gilad Schalit.
Among the high-profile visitors to the tomb who spoke on behalf of the soldier was Guma Aguiar, a major sponsor for Beitar Jerusalem.
"We said a prayer for Gilad," he said, and added that it was also important to remember Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a life sentence in the US on charges of spying for Israel in the 1980s.
Smadar Luzon of Hadera said she prayed for personal and national salvation, and also for Gilad.
But many worshipers, some of whom cried as they muttered the prayers aloud, were there to make their own personal pleas.
Gila Dahan of Jerusalem said she prayed that her two-year-old daughter would recover from her asthma attacks.
As she smoked a cigarette outside, and flicked the ashes in a puddle by her feet, Rafaeli said that three years ago she came to pray for her brother on the eve of his surgery.
She was certain, she said, that it was those prayers that helped him survive. Even the doctor was surprised by how it all turned out, Rafaeli said.
But this year, her thoughts were all about finding a soul mate. If all went well, she said, she would returned next year as a married woman, so that she could pray for a child.