Israel Resource Review 29th August, 2003


Rachel's Blessings
My Beloved Mikva Lady, Murdered by Arab Terrorists in Jerusalem
Toby Klein Greenwald

The twenty-first victim of the heinous bus bombing in Jerusalem on August 19, 2003 was Rachel Weitz, age 70.

Her name probably flew by most of you. It almost flew by me, too, the first time I heard it, on the 9 p.m. Saturday night news. I wasn't concentrating because I was getting ready to leave for a lecture given in memory of a soldier who died fighting terrorists.

When I heard her name the second time Saturday night, on the midnight news flash, I knew. My breath stopped as I ran to the phone book to check if there was any other Rachel Weitz in Jerusalem. There wasn't.

Rachel Weitz was my beloved mikva lady.

Rachel Weitz ran the private mikva in Mattersdorf until several years ago. Almost all the women who used it, except for me and a few others, were haredi. Even after I moved to Efrat, 18 years ago, I would still return there if I happened to be in town too late to get home to the Efrat mikva, or just because I liked seeing Rachel.

For the 27 years of my married life, I have measured every mikva lady I've ever met by Rachel Weitz. It was unfair competition. Had Agnon known her, he would have written a story about her, like he did about Tehila. But of course, he wouldn't have known her, anyway, like we, the women, did.

When I was a young bride, it was Rachel who made me feel comfortable with this new activity that went along with the wedding ring. She always greeted me with a warm smile and a bit of friendly chatter. Each time I entered her pristine structure, tucked away behind a large Mattersdorf synagogue, I felt like I was parting a veil and entering a sanctum. No matter what insanity was going on in the world outside, it was always safe in Rachel's mikva. There, I was home.

As time went on, our family grew, and I loved the experience of returning to Rachel's mikva after giving birth, sharing with her the fact that a new child had been born to the tribe of Israel.

Most of the other women who came to Rachel's mikva wore thick stockings and either wigs or hats that covered all their hair. Some of them had black stretch snoods pulled over shaved heads; women even came from the heart of Meah Shearim to use it. I came in flowing colored head scarves with my barefoot toes sticking out of my sandals. Rachel didn't care. She was as loving and caring toward me as she was toward the others, who were a much closer match for her mode of dress and lifestyle. For that matter, I never met with any sidelong looks from the other women, either. It was as if, once one walked through that door, we were bonded by our shared faith and meticulous religious practice.

When I came occasionally after I had moved to Efrat, Rachel always expressed great concern for my safety. When I said good-bye, she would ask me if the road was safe, and wished me best of health. Over the years my scarves and flowered skirts were sometimes replaced by suits, heels and a fashionable hat or styled wig. But Rachel never changed. She remained an anchor of tradition in a shifting world. And part of that tradition was what happened while the women waited their turn. The women in Rachel's mikva all said Tehillim (psalms) while they waited. There was no small talk. They turned inward, and prayed for the people of Israel, and perhaps for their husbands and for their children. And if they had no children, perhaps they were praying for themselves.

Rachel had a custom from the old country that few mikva ladies adhere to nowadays. As a woman emerged from the mikva, while still on the last step, Rachel would grasp her wet hand, shake it warmly and give her a blessing for joy and good luck, as she helped her step up and out. And even though Rachel watched one dunking and saying the blessing while in the water, once she had witnessed the act, she would hold the towel up to hide her own eyes from the woman as she emerged, offering her a final moment of modest dignity before she swathed herself in terrycloth.

In the years of our marriage I've had occasion to travel, and to visit the luxurious mikvaot of Hendon and of Beverly Hills. I've been to the beautiful establishments in Toronto and Cleveland and Queens. That's what it means to be a Jewish women. Orthodox men who travel ask where they can get a kosher steak. Women can usually make do with tuna and veggies, but they have to know where the local mikva is. Men seek a minyan for kaddish. Women seek the place that is linked to procreation.

But none of those mikvaot, with their multi-colored tiles, carpeting, piped in music (you had to be there), and collections of condiments and coffee for post-immersion pampering, were ever as soothing to me as Rachel's spartan mikva.

Rachel knew I liked the bride's private room, and whenever it was free, she would automatically usher me into it. So whenever I went to Rachel's mikva, I felt like a new bride again.

I feel that Rachel's blessings have accompanied me throughout my married life. She has been a role model to me of hesed, of kindness, of cheerfulness, of what it means to make another person always feel comfortable, special and welcome.

The last time I visited the Mattersdorf mikva, more than a year ago, they told me that Rachel had retired. But I noticed that the spirit she had brought to the mikva was still there. I missed her. Well, I thought, some day I'll go and visit her at her home, just to say hello and tell her how much I appreciated her all those years. Some day I'll bring her flowers. Some day I'll call her and tell her what's going on with my children.

During these sad days, Israelis are turning to each other for comfort and support, saying, "What unites us is greater than what divides us." For some people to reach this conclusion, it took horrific deaths. For Rachel, this philosophy was a way of life.

What turns my sorrow and outrage to overwhelming grief for Rachel, is that she suffered for four days after the bombing before she died. This knowledge is almost more than I can bear. This righteous woman, who lovingly clasped the hands of thousands of women, lifting them up and out of the ritual bath, who then sent them forth from her sanctum to go home to their husbands, her blessings ringing in their ears, who should have spent her last years in comfort and joy, basking in the laughter and love of her children and grandchildren, was slaughtered by the epitome of evil. This knowledge is hard for me to live with.

And so is the knowledge that I never found the time to tell her, Thank you.

Toby Klein Greenwald is a journalist, community theater director and the Editor of

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Why was Ashkelon a Target of an Arab Rocket Attack?
The Strategic Implications of the "Right of Return"
David Bedein

Those who stay abreast of middle east news may have been surprised to learn that Palestinian Arabs fired kassam rockets into Ashkelon from Gaza.

Since Ashkelon is not located anywhere beyond Israel's 1967 line in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, why were the Arabs firing into Ashkelon?

Was this merely a random attack on a Jewish city that was within range of the rocket?

The Palestinian Authority's PBC Voice of Palestine news announcer led off this morning, some 24 hours after the Arab rocket attack, with an announcement that provides an answer: "Palestinian fighters," he said, "had attacked the Israeli settlement in Majdal- Ashkelon." The emphasis in his voice was on Majdal, alluding to the fact (which his Arab Palestinian listeners would be expected to know) that Ashkelon has been built on the ruins of al-Majdal, a cluster of Arab villages.

Indeed, information is available from a variety of Arab Palestinian sources: Ashkelon appears on the official atlas of the Palestinian Authority school system as an Israeli settlement that has replaced Arab villages. The Palestine Return Center lists Al-Majdal on its website:

The PalestineRemembered Website lists a couple of the villages (al-Khisas and Ni'ilya) within the complex that Ashkelon replaced, respectively, at:

and at:

Yet it is one thing to remember the past, and another to "liberate" an area via attack. That requires a particular mindset. International sanction precisely for this sort of mindset comes from what might seem an unlikely source: The United Nations.

For years, our news agency ran press seminars in the UNRWA Arab refugee camp of Jabalya in Gaza. There, UNRWA camp spokespeople are always pleased to show their guests around the Jabalya neighborhood known as Majdal.

[As a matter of policy, UNRWA Arab refugee camps organize each neighborhood according to the precise neighborhoods and villages from where they left in 1948, so as to facilitate their repatriation to those precise neighborhoods and villages.]

The refugee residents of this UNRWA camp speak of the necessity of removing "illegal Israeli settlements" to achieve peace. One might think that they are referring to the 21 Israeli Jewish farming communities that have been founded on the sand dunes south of Gaza; one might expect that they are claiming right to all of Gaza, without Jewish settlement. However, the settlement that the UNRWA camp residents refer to is the "illegal Israeli settlement" in Ashkelon, which replaced Majdal and other Arab villages as a result of the 1948 war.

UNRWA -- the UN agency that runs the Arab refugee camps under the mandate of UN General Assembly Resolution 302 (IV) -- promotes the "inalienable right of return." This means that the Arab refugee population in the camps is not being assisted in rehabilitation. Instead, they endure lives wrought with impermanence and frustration as they wait to get back what was theirs (or their grandparents') more than 50 years ago.

From this it is no more than a short jump to the idea that they have the "right" to "liberate" Ashkelon. It seems hardly a coincidence that rockets were fired from UN refugee camps at this city.

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