I have just returned from a business trip to Israel. It was a press trip arranged at quite short notice by an airline to mark the launch of its new Heathrow-Tel Aviv route. I had the pleasure of flying business class both ways and 4 nights in the Tel Aviv Hilton for a very minimal attendance at 2 receptions and a press briefing. (Big thank you to my husband, mother and friends who looked after children and ran house in my absence!!)
It was a surreal experience. Apart from the odd night in hospital etc when having a baby, I have never gone away by myself since we have been married. I had to keep on reminding myself that I wasn't dreaming.
It was so lovely to be in Israel - the Hilton is right next to the beach and it was amazing to sit on the balcony and daven overlooking the sea. I went to Yerushalayim for Shabbos and managed to fit in a trip to the Kosel on Friday afternoon before going to Har Nof.
On Sunday I tried out the shopping in Bnei Brak, but became frustrated and went back to Yerushalayim. Having been unsuccessful there, I gave up and decided to make another attempt to visit Kever Rochel. We have been trying to go every time we have been in Israel for the last few years, and it has never worked out. This time, since I was alone, I was able to wait ages for the bus, but it took so long, that even I gave up. I had just decided to grab a felafel and go back to Tel Aviv, when the bus came.
It was worth the wait! Going into the small room, with the kever, was an incredibly powerful experience. I started to read the special tefillah for visiting Kever Rochel and began crying and crying. I dripped my way through mincha and managed to find the bathrooms and some tissue, leaving just enough time for some tehillim before the bus came back. Judging from the faces of the other women on the bus, they had also been crying.
My husband told me when I came home that there is a doubt as to whether this really is where Rochel Imeinu is buried. But I told him that I don't think it matters. I think that the emotion in the room is based on hundreds of years of fervent tefillos and tears, not on whether it really is Rochel's grave. Now I have been once and seen what it is like, I will definitely try to go again on subsequent trips. Somehow I don't think this is quite what the airline envisaged people doing on their free day!