Friday, November 18, 2011

Chayei Sarah open thread

There will be many tents pitched in the streets of a famous city today.

But I am not talking about wannabe anarchists in Zuccotti Park in New York, or even people asking for social justice in Tel Aviv. I'm talking about Hebron.

This Shabbat the Torah portion is Chayei Sarah, which starts off with Abraham buying the burial plot for his beloved wife Sarah - in Hebron, in the spot that is now called the Cave of the Patriarchs.

Because of this biblical connection to the city, every year tens of thousands of Jews cram into every available space in Hebron and Kiryat Arba. A great description of the annual event can be seen here:
Well over six months prior to this Sabbath we begin receiving phone calls and emails requesting places to sleep and eat on this auspicious day. Dozens of tents are pitched outside Me’arat Hamachpela, the Cave of the Patriarchs, and Matriarchs. Public buildings are transformed into dormitories, with separate facilities for men and women. It’s the only time of the year when my living room is wall-to-wall people sleeping on the floor.

One year, on Saturday night, a young woman walked into our kitchen to thank my wife. She asked what for. The woman said she had slept in one of our rooms. We had no idea she was there, or where she slept, because the room was already packed.

A huge tent is constructed outside the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, providing meals thousands of guests. Literally every nook and cranny in Hebron is utilized, with people sleeping and eating wherever they can find a few free meters.

All hours of the day and night the streets are full of people walking to and from the various neighborhoods in Hebron. Saturday afternoon, multitudes tour the city, visiting the Hebron Heritage Museum at Beit Hadassah, the tomb of Jesse and Ruth in Tel Rumeida, and the Avraham Avinu synagogue in the Avraham Avinu neighborhood. Special Casba tours are also included in the day’s agenda.

The heart of the day’s events takes place at Me’arat Hamachpela. On Friday night, literally thousands of people gather at this holy site, inside and out, to offer joyous Sabbath prayers. Singing and dancing during a huge “Carlebach minyan,” conducted in the Machpela courtyard, is unbelievably uplifting.
Here's a video from last year's festivities (a shot of the tents starts at 1:21):

I wish all the visitors to Hebron, and all my readers, a Shabbat Shalom.

(h/t Daled Amos via G+)