20,000 at Shimon HaTzaddik

20,000 people at the Simon the Just commemorations in the Shimon HaTzaddik neighborhood Wednesday eve; prayers, festivities continuing today.

Hillel Fendel , | updated: 11:36 AM

Shimon HaTzaddik bonfire
Shimon HaTzaddik bonfire

Some 20,000 people took part in the commemorations of the “yahrtzeit” (anniversary of death) of Simon the Just in the Shimon HaTzaddik neighborhood of Jerusalem on Wednesday night. The prayers and festivities  are continuing today.

Despite the tensions in the area between Jewish and Arab residents, a record number of people showed up to take part.

Simon the Just (Shimon HaTzaddik), of the early Tannaitic period, is possibly most famous for having taught, "The world exists through three things: Torah, service of G-d, and acts of kindness" – as well as for having appeared to Alexander the Great in a dream just before the latter bowed before him upon arriving in Jerusalem.

His burial site and nearby plots in Jerusalem was purchased in 1876 by the Jewish community, and by 1948, 20 Jewish families were living there.

After the War of Independence, however, in 1948, the area fell into Jordanian hands; the holy site was used as a stable, and Jordanian Arabs moved into the Jewish-owned homes.

Over a decade ago, former Tourism Minister Rabbi Benny Elon and others began a push to reclaim the land, and in a two-front effort – by re-purchasing the homes and via the courts – many of the properties have been returned to Jewish hands. The site of the nearby Shepherd Hotel has also been bought, and a complex of 20 apartments for Jewish families is planned. The Arabs in the area have responded by throwing rocks and other forms of violence, with the passive encouragement of leftist and anarchist Jewish elements, and the neighborhood has become one of the symbols of Jewish-Arab tensions.

The organizers praised the police and municipal services for providing security and meeting other needs, though the Egged bus company was not among them; the number of buses was not nearly enough to meet the need, and thousands of people were left waiting for a long time at various bus stops along Shmuel HaNavi (Samuel the Prophet) St.

Today, traditional festive haircuts for three-year-olds – often held at the site of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s Tomb in the Galilee town of Meiron – are being held at Shimon HaTzaddik’s tombsite, with ongoing klezmer musical accompaniment. Local residents are providing tours of the neighborhood, explaining the area’s Jewish origins and roots.