It was a last-minute decision to drive several hours south, making an early-morning pilgrimage to Kever Rachel in Bethlehem.
I was in awe of the 15-foot cement walls protecting us outside. They were in stark contrast to the softness and beauty of those pouring out their hearts inside.
At first, I found a spot to the side and observed the details. The various prayer books on the wooden shelves, the diverse clothing and hair coverings. The beautiful chandelier. The gentle sounds of whispered prayers and crying.
It was surreal, but was one of the most real and authentic experiences of my life.
I opened my book of Tehillim (Psalms). At first I didn’t really feel anything.
A coworker had given me names of people to pray for. I read them, studying each Hebrew name.
Then something inside me shifted. And I began to sob.
The small tissue I had taken from the bathroom wasn’t enough.
So I let the warm tears stay on my cheeks.
Thoughts and prayers for my own children started to come. My daughter, still in Florida, whom I long to hug. My children here in the Holy Land. I prayed for each of them.
I sobbed from a place beyond words. And then I stopped, hearing someone say, “Sit down, darling.”
So I did. And I wrote a poem.
Rachel, more than anyone else in the Torah, is connected to our exile and return.
The solitude of Rachel’s burial site, and her identity as a yearning mother, gave our ancestors strength as they passed by her on their way to exile centuries ago, reassuring them that G-d would keep His promise to return us.
According to our Sages, at the time of the exile, the other patriarchs, matriarchs and Moshe begged for mercy. But G‑d remained silent.
Then Rachel lifted her voice and elicited the promise of redemption. Based on this depiction, she has been given the title Mama Rachel.
“A cry is heard…Rachel weeping for her children. And there is hope for your future —declares Hashem: Your children shall return to their country.” (Jeremiah 31:15-17)
Indeed, we have returned.
We are finally home, Mama.