Kever Rachel

Today I went to my very first Kabala class. I was thrown into the deep end of mystical Jewish thinking and told I had to learn how to swim and make sense of it. I did not swim, not even tread the water. But, I stayed afloat.
Miriam picked me up in front of our favorite spot in the city, Mayer’s French caffe just about when I was finishing-up my croissant and espresso. We drove out of the city for 30 minutes and ended in a room next door to the Kever Rachel, our Supreme mother’s grave just on the other side of the military wall separating Israel from Betlehem.

I had not been in occupied territory before and this long, tall wall felt as if I were entering a prison…

The class began with Atarah speaking to us about the importance of numbers and numbering in the mystical understanding of our Bible. Everything has a numerical importance and it is possible to explain everything in one way only without having to rely on too many interpretations, “just pick the most ancient and less adulterated commentary and stick with that.”
For about one and half hour eight of us set there listening and following a photocopy of Atarah’s book on “Ima Rachel” that she has been compiling in English from the Kabala, the Gemara and the Tanakh in the hope to share the Kabala with the entire world and not just “with Jewish men above the age of 40.”
I am drowning a bit when we get to the explanation of why each month is connected to a letter, which is connected to a number, which is connected to an unintentional sin, but I breath deeply thinking “that beginnings are always the hardest part of it all” and that there must be a bigger reason for me to be here in such holy place to learn from one of the most ancient text of our culture.
In the mean time, while Atarah keeps on chatting, Evelyn, the owner of the house where we are now “learning Kabala,” is getting agitate because an Army guy and a Rabbi are disturbing the class telling her that she will have to vacate the property soon since the Rabbi has purchased the other half of the building and she is not welcomed here anymore.

We take a break from class while the two ladies are trying to sort things out with the soldier and the Rabbi.
I look around and all I see is scraps of paper, broken chairs, beat-up tables, some old photos, a room with a bed and a bathroom and a very small kitchen and nothing else.
I wonder why these people are fighting over this small house? Why does it matter so much…
My question is looked upon as a curse.
This is the third holiest site in the whole world. This woman bought it so that other women could come and study here, near their mother Rachel having her blessing while learning.
Right…I sit back and decide never to speak again.
I have no idea how many years it took them to get permission to use this house for studying purposes since it was and it is military territory that was once occupied as a military base to oversee the Arabs in Bethlehem. Before the wall this place was very dangerous to visit. People were constastly shot at on their way to grave. Now, it’s a bit safer due to this 200 meter wall of concrete, but the friction over who gets to use and own what and where is still a big problem. I feel a bit silly for having said something so meaningless, but I guess it is the prize to pay when one decides to speak before knowing the whole story.
Is there a number to attribute to this unintentional sin?
Oh, well…at least this grave is accessible and not like Joseph’s, which is completely within Arab territories and it takes months to visit and it is only open to tourist and no Israeli citizens can access it at the moment.
In any case, the Kabala class was inspiring although I think I understood 25% of it. I am due for some refreshening this week and ready to go back to learn more next Wednesday and maybe, who knows, I will find a way to sneak in Bethlehem with a tourist group so I can see the other side of the tall wall where I photograph Atarah here.
Wish me luck!

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