Jewish Activities Planned for Mt. Zion

President Moshe Katzav's meeting with Pope Benedict VI this Thursday will mark the first visit of an Israeli leader to the Vatican. Despite presidential denials, Mt. Zion is still in danger.

Hillel Fendel, | updated: 15:44

The visit was preceded by strenuous denials by Katzav's office of Catholic newspaper reports that Katzav was planning to agree to transfer sovereignty of property on Mt. Zion - the building housing King David's gravesite - in exchange for an old synagogue in Toledo, Spain.

The rumors have not died down, however. It is known that the Catholic Church has long requested a form of sovereignty over the Last Supper room and the path leading to it.

In addition, a man named David Bartholdy has been making plans to build a multi-million dollar Catholic complex on Mt. Zion - displacing a long-time tenant, the Diaspora Yeshiva, in the process. He has lobbied many governmental offices on behalf of the project, which he calls the "Celestial Psalms Track" and which he is confident can earn $5 million a year.

"Some 500,000 foreign tourists visited in Jerusalem in the top intifada year (2001)," Bartholdy wrote to the Tourism Ministry this past July. "If each one of them feels the obligation to visit the 'Last Supper Room' and pays a $10 entrance fee, the income will reach a minimum of $5 million..."

In a letter to Yeshiva Dean Rabbi Mordechai Goldstein this past Oct. 28, Bartholdy alternates between complimenting the rabbi, making him generous offers, and threatening him. The letter states,
"On the eve of a new beginning between us, I wish to take this opportunity to offer you first an olive branch, hoping sincerely for good neighborly relations when I will soon be in the property. My solution, to commit to building your long-dreamt-of yeshiva... and to cover all your debts to the Administration, should answer your most urgent needs... In the past year or more I have learned to admire your strong resolution and convictions, and as you yourself have witnessed, I too am a man of determination, something I humbly attribute in no small part to your inspiration.

"Yet, times have changed since the gay sixties, seventies and eighties, and circumstances too. Jerusalem can no longer tolerate a 'black hole' on Mount Zion. Fighting me, under these new circumstances, may prove one battle too many, to my grave regret. I urge you with all my heart not to choose that path... I am ready to allay your fears and prepared to take different financial sanctions upon myself accordingly. I urge you to let your wise lawyers hit me in my pockets where it most hurts and which is the sensible path to follow now."

Bartholdy's letter to the Tourism Ministry also emphasizes some of the above points: "I am determined, and my pockets are deep."

In response, Bartholdy was informed by the Tourism Ministry's Legal Counsel that it would in fact be possible to respond favorably to his request to exempt such a project from a public tender.

However, he received bad news from the Parks Authority, one of the governmental bodies overseeing the Mt. Zion area. "I was not convinced that the proposed direction is the correct one," Jerusalem Region Director Evyatar Cohen wrote him. Cohen added that it was incontrovertibly clear to him that such an important site as Mt. Zion should not be handed over to private hands.

Rabbi Goldstein is not sitting on his hands, however, in light of the threat to turn the area into a Catholic complex. He met with city officials this week, who said they are planning to map out the entire area anew. "The immediate threat has passed," he said, "but we can't count Bartholdy out so fast. He's been working on this project for two years... The new mapping will hopefully ensure, even if a new government arises and even if the Catholic Church comes back with more demands, that all the different bodies here - such as the Greek Orthodox and others - know their exact places and their rights."

Rabbi Goldstein also said that the Reishit Yerushalayim organization in the Old City has now taken upon itself to increase tourism to the site, "in order to arouse it a little." Reishit was informed that its plan to establish a Visitors Center on Mt. Zion was favorably received at the Tourism Ministry, and that the plan is now under review by the Ministry's professional staff.

In addition, Rabbi Goldstein has met with rabbis in the Old City of Jerusalem, and initial plans have been made to hold a monthly Rosh Chodesh gathering, renovate the yeshiva's exterior, and more.

Diaspora Yeshiva Director Rabbi Shabtai Herman recently explained to Arutz-7 that if the Catholic Church receives control of the area, just a few hundred yards from the Temple Mount and adjacent to the Old City walls, it will turn it into "the international center for Catholics all around the world, and if the pope just gives the word, Christians will be flocking over here en masse."

To promote Jewish interest in the area, Voices Magazine is planning a "King David" tour of Mt. Zion and environs for this Sunday. Beginning at the Haas Promenade at 9 AM, the tour will include visits to the City of David, Mt. of Olives, the new Maaleh HaZeitim neighborhood, and King David's burial site on Mt. Zion. The cost: 50 shekels. For more information, send email toizzy@actcom.co.il.




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