I have invested much time and energy into researching my roots. I’ve searched databases and records online, and my husband and I traveled to Europe to see with our own eyes the hometowns of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. But several weeks ago, we were privileged to participate in a different kind of roots trip. Full exposure: My husband and I are not the mighty courageous types. We don’t participate in extreme sports and we prefer not to drive to areas that make us feel unsafe. That is not to say that we won’t drive to our many close relatives living in Yehudah v’Shomron, but we do so with an extra dose of kavanah when we say T’filas HaDerech and a few extra pirkei T’hilim on the way.
But when a trip to Chevron was being organized for our shul, we immediately signed up. Who could pass up an opportunity to spend Shabbos with our holy fathers and mothers? The chartered bus made the travel less formidable, and the company of friends made it all the more enjoyable. Every moment of Shabbos was filled with experience and inspiration, with almost no down time whatsoever. When I think about the highlight of Shabbos, there were really so many.
Kabbalas Shabbos at M’aras HaMachpeilah was truly an invigorating and memorable experience. A chill ran up my spine as we entered the M’arah and were greeted by an enormous mezuzah etched with the words Shaar Gan Eden. We were about to step into a different time and place, one in which man lived in paradise and communicated directly with Hashem. We walked past the areas designated as the tziyun for the Avos and Imahos until we reached the area where we would daven a t’filah I will never forget. Every type of Jew buoyantly danced hand in hand in a lively atmosphere that was somewhat of a cross between a wedding and Simchas Torah. The simchah was palpable and contagious. And it went on and on. Nobody was rushing anywhere. We were already there!
As we davened Sh’moneh Esrei and said the words, “Elokei Avraham, Elokei Yitzchak, Veilokei Yaakov, our proximity to the Avos was not lost on us. Our t’filah felt unusually meaningful and potent. After the Friday night s’udah, Malka Chaiken, a 35-year resident of Chevron, shared her story, which included an episode in which her late husband heroically chased after the terrorist who stabbed him. We were then further energized by Rabbi Simcha Hochbaum, who led an oneg Shabbos filled with stories and niggunim connecting us to the k’dushah and spirituality of Chevron.
In the morning, we once again returned to the M’arah. Why would we want to daven anywhere else? Baruch Marzel shared a d’var Torah during kiddush; and after lunch, the women were treated to a shiur by our very own Rebbetzin Shira Smiles. Rabbi Hochbaum then gave us a first-class tour of the area. While walking through the streets, we could feel the sense of k’dushah overflowing all around us. Our journey – beginning at the Avraham Avinu Shul, and continuing to Beit Hadassah and Tel Rumeida – was peppered with a steady stream of mesmerizing stories, each bringing our rich history to life, and awakening our connection to the land of our Avos. When we reached what is considered the well of Avraham Avinu, a shepherd walked by with his flock. It felt as though props were placed there in order to make us feel like we were actually back in the days of the Tanach. We were shown areas where Jews were attacked but remained steadfast in their commitment to build a Jewish presence in Chevron. We passed by a water urn that miraculously absorbed the bullets that were aimed at Jews. We met a family that had brought a new baby boy into briso shel Avraham Avinu that morning. We were zocheh to say a perek of T’hilim in the vicinity of the kever of Rut and Yishai.
Rabbi Hochbaum also introduced us to an Arab who on multiple occasions saved Jews who had entered the wrong areas of Chevron. He had learned the art of rescuing Jews from his father who had done the same. The Arab’s friends and neighbors do not approve of his actions and thus he has paid a price for what he has done.
Our tour with Rabbi Hochbaum was seamlessly followed by our next excursion. We were literally surrounded by an army of soldiers as we were enlightened about the Jewish history of the “Kasbah,” all the while being photographed by what looked like Europeans, to demonstrate how “poorly” we treat the Arabs.
As Shabbos ended, a few of us ran back to the M’arah in order to “chap” another chance to daven at such a holy place. There were only a handful of people in the M’arah at that point, so it was essentially just us and our Avos and Imahos. It was an intimate visit with the ancestors of our ancestors, whose influence in our lives continues up to the present. It was the ultimate roots trip.
By Suzie Steinberg