Jews from around the world made a pilgrimage to Hebron over the weekend to pay homage to the matriarch Sarah, whose death led to the purchase by her husband Abraham of a burial plot there, a transaction recounted in last week’s parsha of Chayei Sarah.
Between 40,000 and 50,000 Jews converged on Hebron and its adjacent sister city of Kiryat Arba, with festivities centering around the Kever ha Machpelah, an edifice built 2,000 years ago by King Herod atop the burial cave that is said to be the final resting place not only of Sarah, but also of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as Rebecca and Leah.
“I think of it as Woodstock meets the Bible,” Hebron Jewish Community spokesman Yishai Fleisher told JNS. “On the one hand, it’s an incredible festival that includes spirituality, lectures, Friday- and Saturday-night music, but at the same time, the main event is the reading of the Torah portion, which describes the purchase of this plot of land by Abraham.”
“There is nothing like reading that ancient scroll in that ancient spot together with the children of that place, the Jewish people,” he said.
The 1,000 Israelis living in Hebron are currently allowed access to just 3 percent of the 250,000-person city. Their portion contains the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, but is highly regulated by the Israeli government.
Despite the extensive Jewish history at the location, UNESCO declared the tomb a Palestinian World Heritage Site in 2017.
Due to the small number of Jewish homes and institutions available to house guests, hundreds of visitors arrived with tents or trailers, setting up makeshift camps in pre-designated areas and cramming into any available unused space, slowing traffic through the area before and after Shabbat to a crawl.
However, the majority of pilgrims were welcomed in nearby Kiryat Arba, which is home to 9,000 people. From here, the visitors were able to walk to Hebron, with the help of an increased number of IDF forces on hand to oversee the safety of the event.