March 23, 2012

Historic Visit to Kever Yoseph By Yocheved Miriam Zemel

It was Wednesday, the 27th of Adar, The 28th (March 22, 2012,, the second day of spring) by the time we got there.  The day started as a bleak one.  The murderer of three innocent Jews in France was holed up in his hideaway in a gun battle with police.  The funeral of the victims, three young children and a dedicated rabbi and teacher, was reported, well attended and commemorated.  The picture of the bedsteads, on which lay their remains covered by talitot, was circulated in the news media.  The televised event was watched by many.
On that day Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, who passed away the previous day at the age of 101, a Gadol Hador, the rabbi of Yeshiva Torah Ohr of Mattersdorf and New York, was likewise featured on the news media throughout the day.
On that day, March 22, 2012, I also visited the family of, Asher Wein, a leader and founder of the Yemin Moshe Synagogue (Beit Yisrael) community, who were in Israel for his funeral and interment the previous day.
My husband, usually a long distance walker, was struck by an orthopedic disability, and was unable to accompany me either at the Shiva visit or at the visit to the Kever that evening.
When I arrived at 9:25 PM, I was surprised to see the large group and two buses parked at the side of the Inball Hotel awaiting the many people looking to visit Kever Yoseph, as organized by Nadia Matar and Yehudit Katsover of Women in Green. We left shortly after the 9:30 appointed time.
There was a tension there.  People were still numbed by the tragedy that had occurred in France, the passing of a Gadol Hador, and concerned about the safety of their mission. The concern was warranted, since previous groups had been stoned, since eleven years ago a Jewish visitor praying at the Kever was murdered, and since the site had been vandalized numerous times by Palestinians.
Our names were checked against a roster, we were given envelopes with information about Women in Green and some of their recent accomplishments and goals, as we alighted on the bus.  I was seated near a woman from Efrat who was in Jerusalem for a wedding, and left early to take this historic trip.
We road to Tzomet Tapuach, making a few additional stops on the way to pick up additional passengers. At Tzomet Tapuach we saw numerous mini-buses convening and their passengers joining us on bullet-proof buses to take us to our destination.  There were tea, pastries and barekas for the passengers. We were told that at Kever Yoseph there would be bathroom facilities.
We rode the bullet-proof buses to our destination. There I sat near a woman from the Old City.  I also met people who had come from Kiryat Arba and other locations.  Someone asked the driver to tell us when we reach Nablus-Shechem.  
Before leaving, while waiting for security clearance, Nadia Matar spoke about the desire of all of us to visit the gravesite during the day, and not "like thieves in the night." She also spoke of the mission, goals  and accomplishments of Women in Green in reclaiming Jewish Land, and the obstacles preventing this goal—from the Palestinian encroachers to the European Union, which is heavily financing them. We also received prayers for the release of Jonathan Pollard, followed by a group recitation of the prayers led by Rabbi Pollock, a visitor with us. Esther Pollard, who provided us with the prayers, emphasized the power of numbers, and how our joint prayers are multiplied many time over through the strength of the community of Jews. Rabbi Twersky of Efrat also spoke and encouraged us in our mission.
                  It was dark and but for the police guarding our route, the streets were vacant of inhabitants. It was about about 1 AM when we reached our destination, driving through the town in the middle of the night.
                When we arrived at the Kever, we saw a compound surrounded by lights and people, many of them soldiers.  We alighted from our bus, and saw people streaming from other buses. They were a mixture of Jews from all persuasions, from Chasidic, to secular, including Breslovers, Rabbis in black hats and people in kipot srugot, and women in jeans and some in long skirts.  We were told to remember our bus number so that we would get back there.  We were allowed about 20 minutes for prayers.
                The Kever consisted of a domed center with stone buildings on either side. It was surrounded by a chain link fence.  Some of the flooring was cement, and there was an area of stones and soil on the side.  Women were told to go to the left, where there was a room with access to the prayer hall of the men.  While they were separated by a high mechitza, the top third consisted of a curtain, allowing the women to hear the prayers clearly and the shofar that was being blown.  Most women had their own prayer books, lists, and Tehilim and prayed silently.  The room was very full, but emptied out from time to time.  Some women chose to pray alongside the building where it was quieter.  All was done with decorum and reverence.  I heard subsequently that many journalists, many from France who had come the previous day for the funeral of the massacred in Toulouse, were with us to celebrate our opportunity to pray at this holy site.
                After our prayer, we were all more relaxed, seeing that we had arrived safely, and that all was well.  We exited to the front of the building, where there were signs announcing the place.  People were selling CD's with Shechem music, and large pictures of the Kever.  Others were taking pictures and videos.  We all felt the joy of the moment.
                At the end of a hard day for our people, and for me, personally, I was able to celebrate this great event in the life of our people.  I heard afterwards that MK Yisrael Katz affixed a mezuzah on the Kever that night, celebrating our return to this historic place, a major landmark in the life of our people.
                I thank Nadia Matar, Yehudit Katsover, for making our trip possible,  the soldiers of the IDF for protecting us , and the Samaria Regional Council, the Shechem Echad organization, the IDF, and the Civil Authority for restoring the tomb, which was destroyed and desecrated 11 years ago, and all those who made this historic evening possible. 
                To me and to many of us who participated, it fortified us in knowing that although we Jews can be attacked, we will not be defeated. That we will stand firm to recover our place in history, to preserve our sacred heritage and to maintain those sites that are significant to us as a people.
                I later heard that MK Yuli Edelstein, along with other dignitaries, was celebrating this momentous occasion with us. He along with our dedicated co-visitors expressed our mission and belief that we will no longer allow our sacred historic places to be defamed with impunity.
The sadness of the prior day melted as our hope for the future encompassed it. It was replaced by our conviction that in unity we stand and that we will continue to stand firm as a people and as a nation.  Am Yisrael Chai!
Yocheved Miriam (Judy) Zemel

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