Faigie Heiman
Sixty plus years in Jerusalem

Willfully Blind

The Times of Israel co-produced a three-part Kan‑11 video miniseries called “State of Jerusalem” highlighting the feelings of Jerusalem residents who are either Jews, Christians, or Muslims; secular or religious. All of the individuals interviewed for this miniseries shared the same message that one group is negatively impacting the others.

“M,” wearing a wide-brimmed, floppy hat, appears blindfolded in Part One of the video, and prefers to use only her initial for identification. Could it be that M is embarrassed by her negative opinion of a yeshiva in her neighborhood; that her declaration of “civil war” is unbecoming to a progressive, peace-loving, liberal Jew?

Chevron Yeshiva students tried to open a branch of their yeshiva in the Baka section of Jerusalem. M and other anti-Haredi residents opposed the yeshiva in their neighborhood, and frankly, I was deeply disturbed by their reactions.

Eisav hates Yaakov, Arabs hate Jews, and antisemitism is rampant throughout the world. But it hurts tenfold when Jews have a common enemy: Jews who despise Jews – perhaps not to the point of murder, but hate and disgust seeps through from behind M’s blindfold.

I wonder if M is aware of the Arab uprising and the massacre of 67 Jews at the hands of the Arabs in Chevron in 1929. Twenty-four massacred victims were Chevron Yeshiva students. The 1929 Arab uprising forced Jews to abandon the city of Chevron, and the remainder of the yeshiva community relocated and built a new yeshiva, still thriving today in Jerusalem’s Givat Mordechai neighborhood.

My father-in-law fled the Russian Czarist army draft in 1924. He fled to British mandated Palestine and was among the first group of Slabodka Yeshiva students to follow their Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein, to begin a new yeshiva in Chevron, city of the Patriarchs. On Friday afternoon, August 24, 1929, my husband’s newlywed parents were prevented from spending Shabbat in Chevron. The British had closed the Jerusalem road to Chevron, in anticipation of Arab rioting. Thus my in‑laws were saved from the massacre. That tragic historic story has been retold and memorialized by generations of Chevron yeshiva students and their families for the past 93 years.

It was gratifying to hear Yael, one of the interviewees, disagree with her liberal neighbors. “I am a Yerushalmi,” she said proudly. Faithful Jerusalemites are not liberal, progressive, militant, secular men and women who find their numbers dwindling in Jerusalem. Proud Jerusalemites do not want their neighborhoods “Judeinrein,” or “shul-rein,” or “yeshiva-rein.” They are respectful of religious practice; they want the corner café kosher, and they prefer shuls and mikvaot in their neighborhoods to public transport, buses and trains on Shabbat. Trying to keep the Baka neighborhood featured in the video free of Orthodox Jews may work for the next ten or twenty years, but not beyond. Every two or three generations, neighborhoods change, and Baka, along with all of Jerusalem, will change, too.

Part Two of the miniseries focused on the Christian residents of the Old City in Jerusalem, who lamented their community’s demise. “You don’t go to an Armenian church asking for Turkish coffee, of course; you don’t do that!” proclaimed Brohanu, a wise Ethiopian Christian.

Armenians hate the Turks; they will never forgive the Turks for the deportations and mass killing conducted against Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire in the early part of the last century.

Liberal Jews, especially liberal and secular Israelis, are often forgiving and forgetting, or choose not to remember: they drink German beer, they buy German products, and too many have returned to live in German cities. Liberal Jews have no memory of religious ancestors, of generations of Jews cast out of their homes, rounded up, or burned at the stake for their Jewish religious practices. They are Israelis who appear willfully blind. They don’t care to carry on ancestral tradition. That Israel remains a Jewish country in which Jews are free to practice their ancient, G-d given Torah freely, in every neighborhood and in every city in Israel, is not only a matter of preference, It is the reason Jews flock to the Holy Land, the reason that the majority of new olim from western countries are observant Jews!

The miniseries video featured a forum for the opinions and feelings of the anti-religious and non-Jews who feel pressured to fight to maintain Jerusalem as a city that is open to everyone – everyone except Orthodox Jews with their yeshivas and institutions that support Haredi lifestyle.

Secular residents of Jerusalem who leave the city and the State, never look back. There is no nostalgia. They seek towns and cities known for greater freedom from religious observance; freedom to be religious or not; communities where Orthodox Jews are nonexistent; where Chabad should be prohibited from offering to help Jews don tefillin; where public menorah lighting on Chanukah should be outlawed; where “pluralism” is the name of their game – and pluralism means tolerance for all levels of observance, except for Orthodox Torah observance.

Haredi Jews often leave the holy city heavy-hearted, because they cannot afford to live in Jerusalem. They cannot afford rentals and they cannot afford to purchase housing for their growing families, so they move to suburbs or other cities where they can live comfortably in neighborhoods at a lower cost of living.

Thankfully, Chasidic courts, Lithuanian Yeshivot, modern orthodox institutions and secular Israelis all live peacefully in the Katamon neighborhood where I live. Yet I, too, am being pressured to leave Jerusalem; pressured to spend the “golden years” of my life closer to my children outside of Jerusalem.  Covid has invaded the lives of senior citizens, keeping them locked in their apartments and in senior residences, isolated from their families.

Jerusalem is not my birth city, Jerusalem is my home. Jerusalem is where my children, my grandchildren and many great grandchildren were born. After over sixty years in Jerusalem, I will lament the day I may have to leave the city that I love, a city that evokes memories of a holy Jewish city, memories passed on generously from generation to generation; memories  of a united Jerusalem the eternal capital of Israel.

About the Author
Faigie Heiman is a frequent contributor of essays and short stories to Jewish newspapers and magazines, and author of a popular memoir, Girl For Sale. Born in Brooklyn, she made Aliya in 1960 with her husband and together raised a three-generation family in Jerusalem spanning six historical decades.
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