Why Hebron is in my heart

Every Jew needs to go at least once to Hebron, and if you go on the Shabbat of Parashat Chayei Sarah, even better.

 TENTS COVER every possible inch  around Ma’arat Hamachpela.  (photo credit:  Courtesy Chabad Hebron)
TENTS COVER every possible inch around Ma’arat Hamachpela.
(photo credit: Courtesy Chabad Hebron)

Two years ago my husband told me, next time you and the children come with me.

No way.

Yes, you are.

Every Jew needs to go at least once to Hebron, and if you go on the Shabbat of Parashat Chayei Sarah, even better.

He was right. As always.

Hebron is magical, even though it is one of the ugliest cities in Israel.

Hebron is history, is mystical, spiritual, scary and intense.

“Let him sell me the cave of Machpela that he owns, which is at the edge of his land. Let him sell it to me, at the full price, for a burial site in your midst” (Genesis 23:9). Some 3,800 years ago, Abraham purchased the cave to bury his wife Sarah and as an eternal inheritance to his children. The Bible tells the story of this purchase in detail, the first Jewish acquisition of land in the Land of Israel.

With that done Abraham officially bought Hebron.

End of story.

 OUTSIDE THE cave, October 21. (credit: GERSHON ELINSON/FLASH90) OUTSIDE THE cave, October 21. (credit: GERSHON ELINSON/FLASH90)

As we make our way to Hebron for Shabbat, kids sitting in the back nervously, we have entered a forbidden area Waze announces to us, thank you for letting me know.

All we see is Palestinian number plates on super-fancy cars, BMW, Jeep, Range rovers... all the Israeli cars are simple white Dacia and Hyundai models.

Let me grasp that, if I think my Italian friends commenting how the Palestinians suffer and starve... not the ones in Hebron, my friends.

We enter Hebron with our own simple Duster, no guns on us or bulletproof windows, only candies stuck in the window by my 5-year-old son who is now waving at the soldiers at every corner.

We make our way to our destination which is a girls dormitory in Kiryat Arba, turned into a mini “Hilton hotel” for the weekend for all the lucky guests like us who got the VIP treatment through Chabad Hebron and received an actual room with beds for all members of the family to sleep.

In Hebron, on Shabbat Chayei Sarah you are lucky if you find space to pitch a tent on the street!

When we see our room with bunk beds and a private bathroom we considered ourselves fortunate. We change into Shabbat clothes and sneakers, for we were told that from our location to Ma’arat Hamachpela (Cave of the Patriarchs) it’s a 27-minute walk, downhill (and so uphill after).

As we start walking, we find ourselves part of what seems like a big march of people from all different backgrounds, colors, nationalities and ages, all walking in the same direction.

On both sides of the road every few meters there’s a soldier armed up to his teeth, waving us on and telling us “Shabbat shalom.”

Some of us wave back, some shout to them “Tzadikim,” or righteous ones, some give them food or drinks.

They smile back at us all and accept our gifts.

The kids are super excited as the sun is setting and the strong sirens of the mosque nearby begin to play with their prayers blasting.

It’s time for the Arabs to go pray, while we make our way to synagogue.

Finally, we come to the big square by the feet of the Cave of the Patriarchs.

There’s an ocean of people in front of us, my husband and I have to split now; he will enter through the men’s section, and I will go to the women’s side with the kids. Finally, we make it up to the main entrance, my kids clinging to me terrified, there are so many people around us.

We pass Abraham, our first forefather.

Abraham, the man who was larger than life, stood alone against all the idol worshipers and believed in one God, Hashem. His love for his fellow man was incredible, his passion, his kindness, his wisdom.

He started it all.

FINALLY, WE ENTER the huge room where Yitzhak, or Isaac, is buried. This space, which is usually closed for Jews, with only Arabs having access to it, is now open for us to pray on Shabbat Chayei Sarah.

The room looks like a mosque, with Arabic writing all over, the air has an interesting scent to it, both cold and hot at the same time.

As I finally manage to open my siddur to start praying, an incredible chorus of beautiful voices begins and my heart beats strongly. Loud and clear, the men start chanting the Kabbalat Shabbat. An angelic chorus of voices echoes, and it feels like it can be heard throughout the whole of Israel, women start chanting too with their eyes closed.

I start crying, I don’t even realize it, but I can’t stop, tears are just running down my cheeks, my heart is melting, my soul is shaking. My son sitting on my, lap looks at me and whispers in my ears, worried “Ma, why are you crying, you don’t feel well?” I reply with a “No amore, I feel great, I feel amazing.”

Yitzhak Avinu is right there with us, finally enjoying our company once a year as we sing with him in the parasha where he meets his wife Rivkah.

Love is in the air.

Lots of it.

I let myself be swayed by the songs and holy words, I close my eyes and feel the energy, the incredible power in that room. I have never felt so part of my history.

 I see the men chanting and I think of generations of Jews who died in the hands of enemies, the Holocaust, the gas chambers, the pain and tragedy. 

How did we manage to get to what we are now?

We don’t give up.

As the prayers are reaching the end, the room feels like it is going to burst; my kids are crying and want to get out; I don’t hear, don’t feel, I am smiling like a lunatic, women push me, moving me, but I don’t feel anything.

Leave me here

We leave the Cave of the Patriarchs and I am totally drunk off spirituality. I am not tired or hungry.

By some miracle, I find my husband among the crowds.

We make our way to the big Abraham and Sarah tent arranged for by Chabad of Hebron.

The organization is impressive; you don’t get in if you don’t have a pass. The tent is huge, there must be 3,000 people inside; there are chandeliers and paintings on the sides of the tent. The tables are richly prepared with napkins and fancy cups. Our seats are in a VIP area. We meet so many friends and people I hadn’t seen in a long time who managed to fly in from America for this special Shabbat.

It feels like we are at a huge wedding but there is no bride and groom. The rabbi of Chabad Hebron, Danny Cohen, is sitting next to his wife Batsheva, surrounded by friends and soldiers who come and hug them, for they are mother and father to so many of them who serve right here in Hebron.

The air is electric, the food is amazing, the kids are having the best time, the men are singing.

As we make our way back to our beautiful “Hilton/dorm” rooms, we are again on that long road going uphill now – and it feels like this is how it will be when the Messiah comes. Everyone is saying “Shabbat shalom” to everyone, soldiers smiling, children running in laughter in all directions; it is as if we all know each other. Many say it is impossible to explain the existence of the Tomb of the Patriarchs without believing in miracles.

It is said that in a very deep spiritual dimension, though asleep, dead and buried, the forefathers beg for their children.

I don’t understand why Hebron does not become a prime point to be visited by every Jew. Hebron carries all of the essential elements of our nation. 

I feel like I dove into history. I am part of a chain, I am part of a promise.

You too.

Get connected. 

The writer is from Italy, lives in Jerusalem and heads HadassahChen Productions. A director and performer, she also heads the Keren Navah Ruth Foundation, in memory of her daughter, to assist families with sick children. [email protected]