Yehoshua Yishai, chairman of the Jerusalem Religious Council, this week issued tenders for the construction of mikva'ot (Jewish ritual baths) in several Jerusalem neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city, where Jewish communities have been reestablished in recent years. The neighborhoods included the Maaleh Zeitim section of the Mount of Olives, and the Nof Tzion neighborhood adjacent to the large Arab area of Jabal Mukhaber.
Jewish neighborhoods in the eastern half of Jerusalem were ethnically-cleansed by the Jordanian Arab Legion, which conquered half the city together with Judea and Samaria during Israel's 1948 War of Independence. Since liberating the area in 1967, a slow but steady trickle of Jews have returned, rebuilding the Jewish presence there in the face of harassment by Arab and left-wing activists, and international pressure.
But those Jewish communities are somewhat cut off from the rest of the city, surrounded by a large Arabs population. Women are currently required to travel more than 20 minutes – more, with traffic – in order to get to a mikveh. In general, they are required to travel with a security escort due to rampant anti-Semitism from their Arab neighbors.
The problem is especially acute on Shabbat, when the residents cannot drive to a mikveh. Women who need to go to the mikveh on Friday night are therefore required to walk for hours in the dark to get to the nearest one.
Sources in the Religious Council said that the decision was significant beyond its importance for the individual residents of the neighborhoods.
“This is a strategic decision to enhance the Jewish presence in these neighborhoods,” the sources said. “Even if these neighborhoods are not going to be expanding in the near future, the residents there deserve a mikveh as do the residents of other neighborhoods. It's very good that these tenders are being issued.”
Yishai said that the mikva'ot “are being built with total transparency, for the good of residents. We are trying to serve all communities and will build mikva'ot as needed in all parts of the city.”