Recent History:
A Year That Changed Rachel's Tomb
And Our Nation

    The latest transformation of the Tomb of Rachel, wife of Ya'acov and mother of Benyamin, began in 1995 after the Israeli Government contemplated handing over this holy site to Arafat and the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo Accords.

 When this news leaked out  a yeshiva, learning groups, groups that recited Tehillim (Psalms) and women's classes were immediately establishment in the Rachel's Tomb complex.  These created a constant Jewish presence at this holy site.  Further, an outcry by Jews worldwide for Jewish sovereignty over this, the third most important Jewish site in the world, helped sway the government and kept the grave site of our Matriarch in Jewish hands.

 The Yeshiva of Rachel's Tomb was founded on the day after Shavuot 5755 (1995).

The international newspaper The Jewish Press, wrote on June 15, 1995, "With the city of Bethlehem about to be turned over into PLO hands, the tomb of Rachel will once again be bereft of her children. A Kever Rachel surrounded by hostile Arabs can only mean the end of a Jewish presence in Bethlehem, and limited access, at best, to the Tomb of the Matriarch.  To prevent the isolation of Rachel's Tomb from the Jewish People, Keneset member Hanan Porat and the Efrat community Shomrei Efrat organization have established a Kollel at Kever Rachel, which will learn on a daily basis and keep a Jewish presence constantly in Bethlehem as it was throughout history, to maintain an everlasting connection between Mother Rachel and her children for all time."

And so, despite a climate of political turmoil and Arab rioting the Yeshiva of Rachel's Tomb was born.

It's students, post army and post yeshiva high school graduates, began learning daily in the Rachel's Tomb complex under the watchful eyes of the Israel Defense Forces.  At first, the students studied outside in the courtyard.  The sounds of Torah learning filled the air of Bethlehem, the city of Ruth, Naomi, Boaz and King David.

The call to strengthen the the Jewish presence in Rachel's Tomb was heard throughout Israel, and the students of The Yeshiva of Rachel's Tomb were joined by during the first summer by yeshiva high school students who gave up their vacation to learn under a tarpaulin in Rachel's Tomb complex.

In addition to the young men learning in The Yeshiva of Rachel's Tomb, and the other groups who rallied around Mother Rachel in her hour of need, the Yeshiva brought women's classes to the site. One of the first speakers at these monthly gatherings was renowned author, newspaper columnist and Bible teacher Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis.  Rabbi Mordechai Kamemetzky, Rosh Mesivta Ateret Ya'acov of New York also paid a visit.

As the political situation became more volatile in Bethlehem, the Israeli Army determined that it could not protect worshipers at Rachel's Tomb nor the students of the yeshiva unless the building was adapted to fit the often violent times.  In the summer of 1996 the study hall was taken down in order to begin construction  on the additions.  The original building was left intact while concrete reinforced walls were erected to strengthen the outer walls. A long corridor was planned  to cover the sidewalk, and a high guard tower overlooking the main street was part of the design.

Then on one tragic day, Wednesday, September 25, 1996  Arab rioting was sparked because of erroneous reports circulated by the Arab press that Jewish archeologists had tunneled under the Temple Mount thereby supposedly weakening the foundation of the Dome Of The Rock shrine.  When tourist groups were led through a Jerusalem Old City tunnel that paralleled the Western Wall the Arab Press took this as proof positive of a plot to undermine and collapse the Dome of the Rock. Thereafter widespread Arab rioting occurred with their anger directed at everything Jewish.  The Arabs had destroyed the Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva at Joseph The Patriarch's  Tomb in Shechem and killed many of our soldiers there.   A wave of 500 Arabs stormed Rachel's Tomb hurled molotov cocktails, engaged in shoot-outs with Israeli soldiers and torched the scaffolding to the new construction.  Valiant fire fighting units from the Etzion Bloc, Kiriat-Arba and Jerusalem arrived at the Tomb, worked together, and occasionally dodged bullets from Arab snipers, in an effort to save Rachel's Tomb from burning down.  The students left the area under army orders.  Thank God no one was killed and the Sefer Torah scroll was rescued.

As soon as the area was reopened the students of Rachel's Tomb returned to their daily learning schedule.  They prepared as well for a World-wide Tehillim Event on the yahrzeit of Mother Rachel held annually on 11 Heshvan.  Women across the globe recited Psalms specifically for the yahrzeit by Har Nof spiritual leader, Rav Sholom Gold.

Then in July 1997 for the first time in more than 150 years , a Jewish building was erected in Bethlehem a, and the students of Yeshiva of Rachel's Tomb, and Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva began to learn in an enclosure in the courtyard of Rachel's Tomb. Hundreds of people, among them leading rabbis and politicians, attended a special ceremony when the newly formed yeshiva erected its new study hall.  Among the speakers at the inauguration was Rabbi Mordechai Alon, Rosh Yeshiva of the Horeb School.

Prominent rabbis arrived even during construction to see the progress for themselves.  The Bostoner Rebbe of Har Nof, Rav Levy Yitzchak Horowitz, shlita, was one.  Sephardic Chief Rabbi Bakshi-Doron said:

"We will never loose control over Rachel's Tomb."

With the advent of renewed Arab warfare throughout Israel Rachel's Tomb has come under repeated attack. Rosh Hashanah of  October of 2000 it began with Arab rioting and has since descended into outright warfare.  The PLO's elite Fateh troops as well as Islamic fundamentalist groups as the Jihad Islami compliment and support the efforts of the PLO to violently wrest not only Judea, Samaria & Gaza from us but the whole of Israel as well. Numerous statements by the highest echelons of the PLO have publicly stated that their aim is to transform all of Israel into a Palestinian state.

Starting  October of 2000 combat-uniformed PLO "police" would fire on Jewish civilians an Israeli soldiers and used the rioting crowds of teenagers, including women and pre-pubescent children as human shields.  These sporadic gun fights escalated into serious exchanges of fire between PLO "police" and Israeli troops.  News films have shown PLO 0.5-caliber machine guns firing at Rachel's Tomb from apartment building windows that have sandbags piled high.  Israel television news has shown film clips, of mere seconds duration, of the guard towers of Rachel's Tomb.  These towers have been outfitted with bullet-proof glass and the films show the pock-marks of bullet holes in the glass.  Fortunately, the glass there remains quite strong and is designed to withstand this kind of punishment.  Sadly, several Jewish soldiers guarding the Tomb of our Matriarch have been killed by Arab snipers and in the exchanges of fire. The Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo is on the border with Bethlehem and Arab machine gun fire has been directed toward Jewish apartments there as well.

It must be said that the exterior of the Tomb was once a humble, quaint and homey religious site but the situation  required that it be transformed into a fortress. The new Rachel's Tomb building is built to withstand the ravages of war, both to protect the tomb as well as those within should hotilities break out.  Besides the guard towers there are many small windows that are designed to enable our soldiers to shoot out in the event of a siege.  These windows allow a myriad of our soldiers to actively defend the tomb while being safely protected by the walls should this ever come to pass, God forbid! Fortunately, the area around the Tomb remains calm.

Early winter of 2000, the area became much more secure and this was mostly because of the people who have been demanding to the Israeli government to be able to visit our holy site. The reason for this is quite simple.  Previously exPrime Minister Barak had been unwilling to unleash even a tiny portion of the power that the Israeli Defense Forces are capable of to defend the Tomb and as a result he had let the Arabs attack our Matriarch's resting place with impunity and repeatedly.

Back in November 2000, the government had agreed to allow Jews to visit the site, under heavy security, so the site had become far safer because the visitors must be protected.

By 2008 the Israeli government under former PM Ehud Olmert established a Security Fence to cordon-off certain areas of the Palestinian Authority to prevent the ingress of Arab terrorists, especially genocide-bombers,  into I the interior of Israel and her major cities. Since Rachel's Tomb was in the middle of Bethlehem that was abandoned by previous governments there was some doubt that Olmert's government would keep Rachel's Tomb as everything depended on the route of the Security Fence.  One plan was to leave Rachel's Tomb outside the Security Fence and simply abandon it to the Palestinian Authority. With every hint by government officials and leftist Keneset Members that Rachel's Tomb might be abandoned a hew and cry arose from the Israeli public - nonreligious and religious alike - that opposed this idea. To gauge the public sentiment the government wanted the soldiers stationed at Rachel's Tomb to count the number of visitors that entered the Tomb and send the results to the committee that decided the route of the Security Fence.  Mostly from the tallies of the numbers of those who went to visit the Tomb the government decided to route the Security Fence around Rachel's Tomb so that the Tomb resides in a compound surrounded with high concrete walls and guard towers where IDF soldiers protect those who go to visit the Tomb. At that time visitors were only permitted to enter the Tomb compound in armored vehicles.

At the time of this writing in early 2009, the security situation has improved to the point that visitors may enter the Tomb compound in ordinary vehicles as the restriction that required armored vehicles had been lifted.

The fact is that everyone who visits the Tomb forces the government to take firm action to protect the grave of Rachel.  If we continue to demand that Rachel's Tomb remain in Jewish hands - and actually go to visit our 3rd most important holy place - we will insure that it will remain in our hands rather than be surrendered to the Palestinian Authority in the "peace process" or simply abandoned in war.

These are the times when much depends on us!

The Friends of Rachel's Tomb
Dale Baranowski, Director, P.O. Box 24, 9094200 Elazar, Israel

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