In August of 1938, during the Arab pogroms in Jerusalem, the Yemenite Synagogue complex in the Shiloah was desecrated, looted, ransacked and Torah scrolls were burnt and torn.
The shocking picture was forever etched in our memories by the famous picture of Shlomo Ze'evi (Father of Rechavam Ze'evi, may G-d avenge his blood) who visited the site with British police protection in 1939.
Now, 83 years later and thanks to the generosity and drive of Ana and Jack Yehoshua Berger from Chicago, a Torah scroll was written and brought to the old Yemenite Village of Shiloah, where a fledgling Jewish community is growing year by year and month by month.
Tens of families with close to a hundred beautiful children sang and danced with the Torah scroll, making their way from Beit Yonatan, where the last few letters were written by the residents, to the original synagogue complex.
Daniel Luria, Executive Director of Ateret Cohanim, said that the Bergers "have been involved with many projects in the Shiloah, feeling very close to the dedicated and pioneering families in the Shiloah, who are the vital 'facts on the ground' with amazing devotion - keeping a united Jerusalem in Jewish hands."
Although the Bergers were not able to fly into Israel and attend the joyous occasion due to the current coronavirus restrictions, the Torah scroll's arrival at the Shiloah, just days after the Simchat Torah holiday, was perfect timing, according to Luria.
Back in 2004, thanks to the enormous efforts of Ateret Cohanim and the Yemenite Sanctified Trust Committee, Jewish families finally returned to the area. Initially, it was ideologically motivated Jewish investors from Canada and Israel who financed the redemption of the first two buildings, Beit Hadvash and Beit Yonatan dedicated for Jonathan Pollard. However, since then, many more buildings and homes have been returned to the Jewish people.
Today there are 35 Jewish families and a kollel (yeshiva for married men - ed.) in the old Yemenite Village of Shiloah, which includes the recent acquisitions of the Shiloah Heights. Though it may be a far cry from the 150 Yemenite and Sefardic families who once thrived and lived in the village before the Arab riots and pogroms of the 1920-30s, it is still an inspiring and beautiful start: Jewish life has indeed returned to the Shiloah.
Once the original synagogue complex was redeemed and returned - primarily thanks to the Moskowitz family - to the Yemenite Sanctified Trust, a massive renovation project was started to restore the three-domed complex to its previous glory. The Yemenite Synagogue and Cultural Center project has thus far been primarily financed by private donors, including the special and generous Lamm family of Melbourne, Australia. The Israeli government has also invested funds, as it has been recognized as an important heritage site.
Unfortunately this funding has been temporarily halted by some court actions from radical left wing groups, who are still trying to divide Jerusalem and limit any or all Jewish presence in these neighborhoods in the city's heart. More funds are needed to complete the project, so readers are encouraged to be in contact with Ateret Cohanim regarding this and other projects in and around the Old City.
"It is a huge and important mitzvah (Torah commandment) and privilege to be able to write or commission the writing of a Torah scroll, and Uncle Yehoshua, as he is affectionately known by the families, and his wife Ana, have now merited this," Luria said at the ceremony.
"Torah life and Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel and especially here in the heart of Jerusalem is the unbreakable eternal bond and the 'winning combination' for the Jewish People to live in the Land of Israel," Luria added.
Ateret Cohanim founder Mati Dan spoke about the importance of Torah life for the families in Yemenite Village and how the writing of another Torah scroll for the Shiloah raises the morale and spirit of all the families.
"The Torah bonds Jews all over the world, from Melbourne and Chicago to the Shiloah in the heart of Jerusalem," Dan said. He added that the event was an especially joyous occasion, coming on the heels of Simchat Torah and following the ongoing attacks by some Arabs against the families, buildings and security vans over the years.