This unique story about a midwife from the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem was related to me from three different sources. When I recently mentioned it to our good friend Charlotte Saunders, she replied: “Oh! I know this story quite well already. This woman was one of my ancestors. My family mentioned her story a few times.”
Charlotte, after thirty years of quite successful work as a therapist in Manhattan, New York, chose to move to the Jewish Quarter in the Old City in Jerusalem, near the Western Wall of the Holy Temple. She feels at home, very blessed and privileged to be here.
The following story happened generations ago when the Turkish Empire ‘owned’ the Holy Land. The Sultan held a tyrannical rule, as was the tradition and the oppressed Jewish communities were living under extremely difficult conditions.
In the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem lived a humble midwife called Frume Rivele. In those days, giving birth was often an ordeal that
mothers wouldn’t survive. But expectant mothers knew that when Frume Rivele would come and help, somehow the baby would emerge into the world without complications. This happened regularly. Sometimes deliverance would come as soon as she would enter the room, no matter how long and agonizing the labor had been up to then.
The day came when the Sultan’s wife had been in a very difficult labor for three days. The Sultan, knowing that the prayers of the Jews were powerful in intervening with G-d, made a decree: “The whole Jewish community has to pray for my wife until she gives birth. If she dies, I will give the order that every Jew in Jerusalem be put to death!”
What could the community do? Frume Rivele was quickly dispatched over a day’s journey to the Sultan’s palace situated in Meron, to see how she could help. The Sultan’s wife was at the end of her strength, barely alive but as soon as Frume Rivele entered the room, the Sultan’s wife was able to deliver a healthy boy. Soon mother and child were recovering. The Sultan was immensely grateful and overjoyed. He called Frume Rivele to his side.
“You did good work, my wife and son are well. I
would like to pay you for your services – I can give you gold, jewels, precious stones….”
“Your Highness, I do not desire any of those, my only request is that I may be allowed to pray at the Tomb of our holy Patriarchs, Abraham, Yitzchak & Jacob and of our holy Mothers, Sara, Rivka & Leah.”
Frume Rivele was overjoyed.
“Thank you – may you be blessed with all good.”
However there was one problem: in his excitement the Sultan had completely forgotten about one important issue. A few months ago the Palestinian Arabs had passed a decree that forbade any Jew to come to pray at the tomb of the Patriarchs, under penalty of death. Someone reminded the Sultan of this decree. The Sultan realized that his permission to allow a Jewish woman to enter inside could create some problems for him. In the eyes of many, this would be considered a desecration of the Sanctuary. So he consulted with his ministers about it.
“I have a problem – maybe you can solve it for me. I gave my promise to the Jewish midwife that she could pray at the Tomb of the Patriarchs. I had forgotten about the decree that forbids any Jew to worship there, even more so, a Jewish woman!
“You told her she could get in?”
“Yes I did.”
The Sultan thought for a moment. Then he had an idea: “However I didn’t tell her she could get out of there.”
“Your Highness, let us handle this for you,” the
ministers reassured the Sultan.
Frume Rivele was escorted to the massive structure built over the Tomb of the Patriarchs. She entered the building and a huge iron gate slammed behind her. She was alone. She prayed from the deepest depths of her soul for a few hours. Then she realized it was night. When she returned to the entrance gate, no one was there – she called out – no answer. She waited a few hours in the cold night. She called again and again. Dead silence.
It began to dawn on her that some treachery was intended toward her. She sat on the ground and wept. She wasn’t afraid for her life, she was ready to meet with her Creator, but she was praying and weeping about the suffering of her people, the long Exile of our souls. She prayed for all the mothers who would need her help while in labor, she prayed for the Redemption of the world. She soon fell asleep lying on the stone floor. She had a dream. In her dream, she saw a magnificent Light approaching her. In the middle of the Light, a tall and majestic man stood in front of her.
Frume Rivele awoke and looked up to see this same awesome man standing before her. She heard his voice: “I am David HaMelech, your ancestor. Take my hand and I will lead you out of here.” She took his hand like a child holding her father’s hand. Then he handed her a book of Tehillim (Psalms) as a gift. She heard his voice again: “I am the one who wrote these words.” Together they walked for some time in the dark night. Gradually everything around her became familiar. She looked around and behold! She realized they were now walking in the Jewish Quarter! In Jerusalem! She was home! In awe she turned to thank her mysterious companion. He had silently disappeared.
Later on, Frume Rivele realized that if the Sultan found out that she had escaped from the Tomb of the Patriarchs, he would have her killed. So she and her husband escaped and returned to Russia for the remaining part of their lives. Her husband was the renowned leader David HaMaggid. He was the father of the legendary seven brothers from Kamionka who had extraordinary powers of intervention, more than can possibly be described here.
My friend Charlotte told me that the book of Psalms Frume Rivele received during her life saving rescue was later handed down as a most
precious possession by her ancestors for a few generations. Eventually it got lost during one of the many moves of the family around the First or Second World Wars.
Charlotte has been following in the footsteps of her humble and extraordinary ancestor. She is an effective therapist with a special healing gift. She helps her clients release childhood traumas and emotional blocks and give birth to their unique talents freeing them to release their own potential easily and painlessly.