Returning to Jerusalem: The Yemenite synagogue of Shiloah

Expelled from their homes during Arab riots in 1938, the Jews of Shiloah were promised they would return home. Now, it's finally happening.

Contact Editor
Yoni Kempinski, | updated: 11:48

Aron Hakodesh in the Yemenite Beit Knesset
Aron Hakodesh in the Yemenite Beit Knesset
Yoni Kempinski

In preparation for the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, Arutz Sheva, together with Ateret Cohanim, are presenting a special project that will focus on the renewal of Jewish presence in eastern Jerusalem, the Old City and the village of Shiloah (bordering the Kidron Valley outside the Old City walls).

In this, our third episode in the series, we focus on the restoration of the old Jewish community of Shiloah, in the neighborhood today better known by its Arabic name, Silwan.

Shiloah, adjacent to the ancient City of David and the Old City of Jerusalem, was, prior to the establishment of the State of Israel, a thriving community of Yemenite Jews.

Established in 1882, Shiloah was built on a barren hillside; the area today referred to as Silwan, at the time utterly bereft of inhabitants.

Like other Jewish communities, the heart of the Yemenite village of Shiloah was the synagogue. Named Ohel Shlomo, the synagogue was completed in 1885, three years after Shiloah was established.

For more than half a century, Shiloah was a center of Yemenite Jewish life in the Land of Israel, and Ohel Shlomo the center of life in the village.

But in 1938, in the midst of the Arab Revolt against the British Mandate and the wave of massacres against Jews, the British administrators evacuated the residents of Shiloah – with promises that they would one day return.

It seemed, however, that the Jewish return to Shiloah was not to be. That promise went unfulfilled for decades, with the Jordanian army occupying the area in 1948.

Even when Israel liberated the Old City and surrounding area in 1967, Jews looking to regain control of Shiloah and Ohel Shlomo faced an arduous legal battle.

Today, however, after literally decades of struggles, Ohel Shlomo has finally been returned to its rightful owners, most of whom could prove that ownership..

The painstaking restoration process has recently been completed for one section of the synagogue, restoring it as a place of Jewish study and prayer.

But as Ateret Cohanim Executive Director Daniel Luria points out, most of the building, which was actually received back into Jewish ownership only recently, remains in shambles, awaiting repair and restoration.

The return of the “bulk of the synagogue, happened at a later stage,” said Luria. “After a very difficult and long, drawn-out legal battle, the courts recognized that this was a synagogue and the Arabs were illegal squatters.”

“But now it’s a massive restoration project, and now that depends on you.”

For more details about the Yemenite village in Shiloah and the restoration of the village synagogue, click here.

If you’re interested in Ateret Cohanim’s other activities to restore the Jewish presence across Jerusalem, check out the Building Jerusalem Together project.