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Women of Valor
Bullet hole in glass on Jewish owned building adjacent to Kever Rachel
by Judy Lash Balint
February 5, 2007

Sabina Citron is a soft-spoken, elegant older woman with a gentle demeanor. But behind the deep-set eyes framed by rimless glasses and the softly swept blond hair is one of contemporary Jewry's strongest and most effective female activists.

Today, Sabina makes her home in Jerusalem, where she's currently spending most of her time talking about her new book, The Indictment, (Gefen) a powerfully argued and well-written analysis of the current state of the Jews.

A few days ago, Sabina and Gefen, her Jerusalem based publisher, hosted a book launch for the Hebrew version of the book. Several former Knesset members including Natan Sharansky, Uzi Landau and Yuli Edelshtein, rubbed shoulders with journalists and think tank members at the David's Citadel Hotel, but in Sabina's eyes, the most important attendees were her Israeli relatives and several dozen students from a Jewish leadership institute she supports with little public fanfare.

I first got to know Sabina in the early 1990s when we established a warm telephone relationship as she looked for support in her extraordinary efforts to expose and prosecute Nazi war criminals and Holocaust deniers in Canada. Back then, I was the national director of the Coalition for Jewish Concerns-Amcha headed by Rabbi Avi Weiss and one of our issues of concern was getting Treblinka death camp guard and Cleveland resident, John Demjanjuk brought to justice.

We looked to Sabina for advice, since she had courageously conducted an almost single-handed campaign in Toronto against Nazi propagandists like Ernst Zundel as far back as the late 1960s.

Sabina doesn't dwell today on the intense activity that consumed decades of her life. She discusses it only briefly in the first chapter of her book and then moves on to the more pressing challenges facing the Jewish people in the 21st century.

Another topic she prefers to leave aside in conversation is her experiences during the Shoah. Born in 1928 in Lodz, Poland Sabina and her family managed to escape after the outbreak of World War II, but their freedom was short-lived and they ended up performing forced labor in an ammunition factory. Citron and her mother were separated from her father and both her brothers in Auschwitz during a selektion. Apart from her eldest brother, her immediate family members miraculously all survived, although almost all her extended family perished at the hands of the Nazis. In 1948, Citron immigrated to Israel, later moving to Toronto, and after the death of her husband, returned to Jerusalem several years ago. Not one to sit by quietly, Sabina felt compelled to pen The Indictment in a few compressed months of disciplined long days of writing in order to try to awaken the public.

On the morning of the book launch, I couldn't help but think of women like Sabina and her powerful activism at a special pre-Tu B'Shvat gathering held in the Jewish-owned property adjacent to Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem.

To get there these days takes a certain amount of planning and dedication. Kever Rachel is the only place in the country where access is by bullet-proof vehicle only. By IDF dictate, only protected buses and vans are allowed to negotiate the maze of 15 foot high concrete security barriers that cut off the holy site from its surroundings just south of Jerusalem. Every two hours the heavily fortified Egged 163 bus lumbers down Hebron Road stopping for a few moments at the old checkpoint into Bethlehem to await an IDF escort before continuing on for the two minute ride through the padlocked gate and on into the surreal fortress that is now Rachel's Tomb.

Alighting from the bus to get to the Jewish property that will eventually become the Rachel Imeinu Educational Campus at Kever Rachel currently involves an eerie three-minute walk along the narrow desolate road hemmed in on the western side by the 15 foot grey concrete structure surrounding the tomb itself, on the east by a matching wall and to the south by a massive blue-grey iron gate and guard tower where Israeli soldiers watch over the restless Palestinians on the other side. The day of our visit, several Molotov cocktails had been thrown at Kever Rachel. The Israeli response? Soldiers were busy adding a layer of barbed wire to the top of the 15' barriers--the terrorists would have to step back a few feet to adjust their trajectory.

Inside the Jewish property a Tu B'Shvat seder was laid out for visitors and several yeshiva students who will form the nucleus of Yeshivat Bnei Rachel showed us around the almost bare rooms.

It's been a little more than three years since I joined Knesset Member Benny Elon and Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Kotel and other holy sites, as they affixed mezuzot to the building at the height of the second intifada. Subsequent visits revealed a complex arrangement with the army, as platoons of soldiers ended up using the building as a barracks to provide a base both for protecting Kever Rachel and for forays into Bethlehem to capture terrorists.

Two days after the Tu B'Shvat visit, Israeli security forces arrested 20 memebrs of suspected terror cells, one linked to Hamas and the other to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, both originated from the Al-Ayda camp right behind the Jewish property adjacent to Kever Rachel. The detainees allegedly carried out a number of attacks including opening fire and hurling explosives at Israeli military and civilian cars near Rachel's Tomb and on the Tunnel Road leading from Jeruslaem to Gush Etzion.

Climbing the stairs to the second and third floors of the property, I was astonished to see more bullet holes than before in the shatter-proof windows on the southern and western sides of the building. This despite the addition of the 15' fortification barrier that separates the property from the Al-Ayda "refugee" camp, whose minarets and rooftops remain visible from the windows.

Still, like Sabina Citron, whose persistent activism and commitment made great things happen, the forces behind the development of the Educational Campus at Kever Rachel are quietly continuing to work behind the scenes to bring the vision to reality. I was shown architect's plans for a beautiful campus that would include a World Bat Mitzvah Center, the Kever Rachel Visitors Center and Yeshivat Bnei Rachel. The center would help turn Kever Rachel into a major pilgrimage site for world Jewry and help preserve the heritage of Rachel into perpetuity.