Jerusalem Day, Arutz-7 Style

This past Friday, the 28th of Iyar, Yom Yerushalayim, two buses packed full of English speakers left Binyanei HaUmah, the national convention center, on the way to a unique Jerusalem Day experience.

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Yishai Fleisher, | updated: 16:52

In a bid to imbue Jerusalem Day with meaning and style, Arutz Sheva and the Jerusalem Capital Development Fund organized a special trip to some of the less visited holy sites in and around Jerusalem. The day began at the National Convention Center where almost 100 people met at 9 AM and boarded two yellow buses that which wisked them away to their first stop: Kever Shmuel HaNavi, the Tomb of Samuel the Prophet.
The Tomb of Samuel the Prophet stands majestically

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Kever Shmuel HaNavi is situated on the north-western outskirts of Jerusalem, near the neighborhood of Ramot. It is a long-standing Jewish practice to pray and study at the holy site, and especially on the 28th day of Iyar, the Prophet's Yartzeit (anniversary of his death).
Chaim Silberstein of the Jerusalem Capital Development Fund

Samuel is considered one of the Jewish people's greatest prophets, likened to Moses himself. It was Samuel who anointed Israel first King, Saul, and subsequently also anointed King David, the founder of Jewish Jerusalem. Samuel wrote three of the books of the Bible: Judges, the book of Samuel, and the Scroll of Ruth which is generally read aloud on the upcoming holiday of Shavuot, also known as the Feast of Weeks.
Inside the Tomb of the Prophet Samuel

Samuel's Tomb is strategically placed at one of the northern entrances to Jerusalem and dominates the entire area, including parts of the main Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway. During the Six Day War, the Arabs used the site as a military fortification, shelling Israeli forces and the passing traffic below. Providentially, Jewish soldiers entered the compound and liberated the Prophet's tomb from the Arabs on the 28th of Iyar, on the very day that Jews throughout generations marked his passing almost 3,000 years earlier.
Baruch Gordon, head of Arutz Sheva's English Department

The Arutz-7 group felt privileged to pay homage to the Prophet, to hear explanations, and to take in the awesome vistas afforded from the Tomb - from central Samaria in the north to southern Judea in the south, from the mountains of Moab in the east, to the coastal plain of Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean Sea in the west.
Antiquities at Samuel the Prophet

The group then boarded the buses and headed to the Mount of Olives (Har HaZeitim). While the Mount is famed for its graves of sages and dignitaries, the visitors took the opportunity to see the very vibrant and growing Jewish community known as Maaleh HaZeitim. Piling in to the makeshift synagogue at the basement of the gigantic new apartment complex at the Mount of Olives, the group heard resident Miriam Schwab tell the complex story of the purchase and development of this extraordinary plot.
Miriam Schwab

The land, it turns out, was originally bought by a group of Hassidim for the purpose of burial, but the ruling Turks did not allow them to bury there. Instead, the Hassidim leased the land to an Arab farmer, who paid rent and grew wheat. The Hassidic group, however, continued to pay the property tax on the plot throughout the years - and many years later, when the Arab tenant claimed to own the land, the tax receipts convinced both Jordanian and Israeli courts that it was really the Hassidim who owned it. The Hassidic conglomerate later sold the land to Dr. Irving Moskovitz, the ideological land purchaser from Miami Beach, for the purpose of development.

After passing many hurdles and receiving the necessary permits, construction began. Immediately, Yasser Arafat, sensing yet another victory for Jewish land reclamation in Jerusalem, intervened and asked then-U.S. President Clinton to have the project stopped. Clinton leaned on then-Prime Minister Netanyahu, and Netanyahu in turn secured Moskowitz's pledge to stop construction for a year. At the end of the year though, Moskowitz resumed construction.
Chaim Silberstein addresses the group at Maaleh HaZeitim

After hearing the fascinating tales associated with the property, the group ascended a staircase which opened up to the roof. Suddenly, it became clear why Arafat was so intent on stopping the project, and why Moskowitz was so intent on completing it. There, directly across from the roof, was the Temple Mount and the Muslim shrines that bedeck it today. The group uttered a prayer that the Jewish attempts to reclaim Jerusalem would be successful and that G-d should reveal His glory upon the Mount.
Impressive new apartments on Mount of Olives

Back on the buses, the group sat and stared as the bus navigated streets swarming with Arabs heading to their Friday prayers on the Temple Mount. Past the Lions Gate, through which the IDF Paratroopers burst into the Old City 39 years ago on this day, past the Rockerfeller Museum which became an overnight command post in the Six Day War, the buses took a left and entered an area called Wadi Joz, full of mechanic shops and the smell of grease.

Chaim Silberstein, who heads the Jerusalem Capital Development Fund, one of a few organizations dedicated to purchasing lands from the Arabs, explained that Joz in Arabic means "nut" and that some cartographers therefore mistakenly call this area the "Vally of the Nut." In truth, Chaim added, this area was originally called Emek Yehoshafat, the Valley of Jehoshaphat (as mentioned in the Book of Joel), a name which the Arabs could not verbalize and therefore shortened 'Yehoshafat' to 'Joz.'
From the roof of the new projects, the Temple Mount is clearly visible

The buses then banked right and the participants got off near a complex of caves penetrating into a rock face in the side of the mountain. This is the Tomb of Shimon HaTzaddik - Simon the Pious - who is mentioned in Pirkei Avot (Chapters of the Fathers 1:2) as "among the last of the Great Assembly." He is the author of the famous dictum, "The world stands on three things: on study of the Torah, on service of G-d, and on the performance of kind deeds."
Taking a lunch break at the Tomb of Shimon HaTzaddik

Shimon Hatzaddik was the "Kohen Gadol," a High Priest in the Second Temple period for 40 years, and he was able to uphold a high level of observance during his tenure, including the preparation of two red heifers. The Talmud relates the famous story of the meeting between Alexander the Great, the world-conquering Macedonian Emperor, and Shimon HaTzaddik. At the behest of Jew-haters, Alexander marched on Jerusalem, with intent to destroy it. Shimon the High Priest donned the White Priestly Garments that he wore on Yom Kippur when he would enter the Holy of Holies, and went out to meet Alexander. To the surprise of his entourage, when the Emperor saw Shimon HaTzaddik, he dismounted and prostrated himself before Shimon. Alexander's generals asked him why he was bowing to this Jew, to which he replied that every night before a battle, he would see in a dream the figure of that Jewish High Priest, who would advise him on tactics to use the following day - a service that never failed him.
Group photo of the Arutz-7 Jerusalem Day Trip

Shimon HaTzaddik took Alexander the Great on a tour of the Temple. Alexander was very impressed and requested that a marble image of himself be placed in the Temple courtyard. Shimon explained that it was forbidden for the Jews to have images, and certainly not in the Temple, but he suggested an alternative way giving homage to the Emperor: that all male babies born that year would receive the name "Alexander." The Emperor accepted, and that is how "Alexander" became a Jewish name.
Jewish men pray inside the Tomb of Shimon

At the Tomb of Shimon HaTzaddik, lunch was served to the group as they sat together under an awning, while Breslov Chassidim played guitar and sang joyfully. Over cups of grape juice and wine from the Beit El winery, participants heard tales of Shimon HaTzaddik, the words of the Paratoopers who captured the area in the Six Day War, and an explanation of the purchase of the property around the Tomb by an affiliate of Jerusalem Capital Development Fund. Today, seven Jewish families live in the vicinity of the Tomb and a kollel of 20 students is on premises.

The tour was winding down, and the buses came to a stop where they started that morning at the Jerusalem International Convention Center. As the participants disembarked they thanked the staff and wished them Shabbat Shalom.
Yishai Fleisher makes the most of bus time

Among emails later received at Arutz-7 were the following:

"We wanted to thank you for all the work you did to make today a successful tiyul. We really enjoyed ourselves and we learned a lot about the history of Jerusalem. All the best and Shabbat Shalom, Sruly & Rivkah"

"Thank you and all of your friends at Arutz Sheva for the lovely tiyul [trip]. As new olim (just under 2 yrs. since coming home), we very much enjoyed learning more about our new home. Thanks to Yishai, Malkah and Baruch, Alex, and Chaim (and anyone else who made this wonderful tiyul possible). Shabbat Shalom, Yechiel & Tova"
This young Lewitan is a new Oleh and a regular A7 trip participator

For more information about purchase of land and reclamation Jewish property in Jerusalem, please send email to <info@jcdf.org>.

The Arutz-7/Jerusalem Capital Development Fund trip was subsidized in the memory of Alexander Fleisher.

Photos by Josh Shamsi, Jonathan Stein, Dan Paley and Yishai Fleisher.