Our Aliyah Chronicle
By Shmuel Katz
Last Friday morning, Goldie turned to me and said, “I need to go to Kever Rachel to daven.” We’d had a bit of a tough week, and then she had gotten some not-so-great news about someone we know and really felt down. She felt a need to go to speak with “Mama Rochel” (her words, not mine).
Friday is my only day off (I work one Friday every month) and I try to spend at least the morning hours with Goldie. Knowing how important it was to her, I grabbed the car keys (and a cup of iced coffee) and jumped into the car with her to head to Yerushalayim from Bet Shemesh via the back roads through the Gush.
The drive took less than a half-hour, and there we were—at the grave of our matriarch (or for those who have doubt about who is buried there, at the very least at the grave of an important woman from Shevet Yehudah). Goldie, who gets very emotional about these kinds of visits (and who regularly asks her grandmothers and even occasionally my mother, a’h, to intercede on our behalf) went in to the women’s side to daven.
As a kohen, I stayed outside on the road and said my own tefillot from there. While there are many very highly regarded sources that allow kohanim to visit kivrei tzaddikim, the best answer to the issue was given to me by Rav Yehuda Susman, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi in Yerushalayim, who is also a kohen.
He told me that in his opinion, tefillah at kivrei tzaddikim is a tremendous z’chut, but, as noted in last week’s parashah, becoming tamei from graves or dead bodies is forbidden outright in the Torah. “Do you really want to risk that?” he asked me.
So, while I certainly understand the reasoning of those kohanim who rely upon those authorities that permit it, I myself choose to be stringent and simply daven outside.
After we left, I posted the following note to my Facebook page: “How awesome is it that Goldie Kreinberg Katz can turn to me and say, ‘I want to daven at Kever Rachel,’ and we can simply jump in the car and be there a few minutes later?”
One of my friends commented that he saw a 5TJT column in that post. And he was right—but that’s not what this column is about. Well, the entire premise of this column is about the “how awesome is it that . . . ?” part of living in Israel. But this week, I am feeling something else.
As I mentioned, Goldie specifically asked to go to Kever Rachel. Not the Kotel. She feels that the Kotel is a bit “commercialized” as a place to come and daven, and she does not feel the same depth of connection when she goes there. Yet when she goes to Kever Rachel or to the Me’arat HaMachpelah or even the grave of a relative, she feels such a strong emotional connection that she is usually in tears within seconds.
I don’t react the same way. It could be because I am a kohen and thus I have a learned aversion or avoidance of cemeteries or of things dealing with death. It might be the memories of the loss of my mother as a young child. Whatever the case, I feel almost nothing when I am at Kever Rachel or the Me’arat HaMachpelah.
Yet when it comes to the Kotel, I feel the exact opposite. I feel an incredible connection at the Kotel. It’s the place where, millennia ago, my grandfathers served in the Beit HaMikdash for generations. It’s the place where I will join with my sons and soon-to-be son-in-law and extended family to resume the service in the rebuilt Beit HaMikdash very shortly. It is the place where G‑d “dwelled.” How could I not feel the connection?
And this is what hit home to me that morning. While I definitely wish we could achieve a higher level of achdut (unity), one of the great strengths is our diversity. As Jews, we come from so many different walks of life and so many different mindsets. Ashkenaz, Sephard. Chassid, mitnaged. Dati leumi, chareidi. And those are only a few.
This is why some of us feel that special closeness at the Kotel while others may feel it in Bet Lechem and others in Meron—or at any combination or at all of them. The ability to find a place where you belong might be one of the greatest parts of being here.
Shmuel Katz, his wife Goldie, and their six children made aliyah in July 2006. Before making aliyah, Shmuel was the executive director of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Hewlett. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.