Tefi llah in Beit Ovadia
Tefi llah in Beit Ovadia

In 1881, two Yemenite Jewish families–those of Yosef ben Shlomo Nadaf and Emmanuel ben Shalom Elnakash–both from Tzana Yemen, were stirred to make aliyah to the holy promised land of Israel. Their understanding of the times, and their readings of a newly published book about the greatness of living in EretzYisrael and the Redemption process, written by Rabbi David ben Shimon (Tzuf Dvash), inspired these pioneering families to go to Israel. Following in their successful footsteps, a large group of Yemenite Jews, holding onto a generation’s old dream and a hidden Kabbalistic message that the Messiah was arriving that year (1882), made the difficult trek to Israel. Arriving in Jerusalem and desiring to be close to the Temple Mount, the extremely poor Yemenite Jews initially lived in caves on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, also known as Shiloach.

The Jewish establishment, feeling sympathy for the newly arrived immigrants and their hardships, rallied behind the Yemenite move to Jerusalem. Rabbi Yisrael Dov Fromkin, of the newspaper Havazelet, and others, helped establish Ezrat Nidachim, a society to assist, “…our poor brethren from Yemen, finding housing and occupation and to prevent their falling into the hands of missionaries.” Thanks to the generosity of a wealthy landowner, Boaz HaBavli, who owned large swaths of the land near the Shiloach springs and on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, eventually homes were built and the area became known as Kfar HaTeimanim-Kfar HaShiloach. By 1891, 45 houses were consecrated to the poor Jewish families of Jerusalem. By 1918, 50 children (23 orphans) were recorded in the Yemenite kindergartens. By the early 1920s, records show close to 600 Yemenite Jews living in the village, both in the communal consecrated buildings, hekdesh, and many private homes. At its peak, 144 Yemenite families lived in Kfar HaShiloach.

The Arab riots of 1928-29 saw a decrease in the numbers of the village, although thanks to a handful of Arab neighbors, most of the village was kept intact. Most of the Jewish residents weren’t able to return to the hostile area, although 30 families did return to the village. The area, which was a bustling hub of Jewish life and Yemenite activity, began to wither away. The fateful years of 1936-38 saw an increase in Arab rioting and looting and eventually the destruction of the village. The Arabs simply squatted and occupied the whole village. A vibrant Yemenite neighborhood came to a sad end after 54 years.

Those who survived the pogroms and riots were evacuated by the British landlords, who were not able or willing to protect Jewish life or property. The British gave assurances that the “Jewish refugees” would shortly return, but for close to 66 years, there wasn’t a single Jewish family living in the old Yemenite village.

All this effectively changed in March 2004, when nine Jewish families and yeshiva students moved into two buildings–Beit Yehonatan houses eight families and a kollel, Ometz Yishecha (in honor of Jonathan Pollard), and one family moved into Beit HaDvash.

Some of the land in Kfar HaTeimanim (today the eastern side of Silwan/Shiloach) is official Yemenite hekdesh (community consecrated property), while other properties still have the recognized original Jewish title.

Over the last 15 years, Ateret Cohanim–a nonprofit organization involved in the reclamation of Jerusalem–has been quietly working to facilitate the return to the village and reestablish Jewish presence, centered around educational institutes on the outskirts of the Old City and the Temple Mount. This project is the reigniting of Kfar HaTeimanim. A committee was set up to reestablish the Yemenite village, and it received official court recognition to manage the Yemenite hekdesh. In addition to this ‘legal vehicle’, the Committee for the Renewal of Jewish Life in the Shiloach intends to deal and negotiate with the Arabs of the area, in order to reacquire old Jewish property. This also includes the old beitknesset of the hekdesh which is currently an Arab household. The Yemenite beitknesset is one of the few buildings that still remain from the original Yemenite village. Due to Arab illegal building on the old beitknesset, there is a court order to remove the illegal Arab squatters and to restore the old Yemenite beitknesset. As of now, the Israeli police still haven’t carried out the court order.

The families and students moved back into the area thanks to the private investments from individuals in Israel and abroad. These were the footholds and the flame that reignited the Yemenite village. We returned home!

Sadly, it has been a difficult period for the families and students over the last few years, with ongoing and incessant attacks by Arabs on the buildings themselves and on the vehicles that take the families in and out of their homes. From stones to Molotov cocktails, it has been a security nightmare, but the motivation, conviction, and dedication of our families and students is second to none.

The committee hopes that the local Arabs will understand the return of Jewish residents to the village and will welcome the Jewish neighbors. It is hoped that all will be able to live in coexistence in the area, as was the case prior to the Arab rioting of the previous century. As opposed to walls being built around Jerusalem and the country, Ateret Cohanim believes in bridges between peoples.

Notwithstanding these hopes, the Committee for the Renewal of Jewish Life in the Yemenite Village will be taking all the necessary security measures to ensure the safety of the residents in the area. With the financial and moral support of the Jewish world in Israel and abroad, who understand the importance of reestablishing Jewish life in the heart of Jerusalem, it is hoped that the renewed village will flourish in the future.

With the vision and financial investment of Jews from abroad, the Committee for the Renewal of Jewish life in the Shiloach and Ateret Cohanim helped facilitate two new acquisitions in the general area of Kfar HaShiloach. The new buildings are to be called Beit Frumkin (in memory of Rabbi Israel Dov Frumkin who helped the original Yemenite Jews in the late 19th century) and Beit Ovadia (in memory of Rav Ovadia Yosef, z’l, and because of the proximity of the building to the grave of the famed rabbi Rav Ovadia from Bartenura).

The buildings were legally and officially acquired from Arabs, who received “full and more than appropriate” payment by an overseas company, Kudram, which was established by Jewish investors from Israel and around the world. Nine families and yeshiva students are set to move into Beit Frumkin and Beit Ovadiah.

As stated by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, both Jews and Arabs alike have full rights to purchase and live in peace in any neighborhood in Jerusalem.

By returning to the Yemenite village, after the British evacuation and eviction of the Jewish residents in the late 1930s, the cycle is indeed closing. The saga of the Yemenite pioneering giants, who trekked to Israel over 130 years ago, who lived initially in caves on the slopes of the Mount of Olives (Shiloach), and who struggled against adversity, has reached a peak. Many of the Yemenite residents had hoped to return soon after the riots of 1938. Unfortunately this wasn’t to be, with the British authorities disallowing a move back to the village. The Independence War of 1948 and the subsequent division of Jerusalem distanced the village from its residents. Kfar HaShiloach remained but a dream–until now.

The revival of Jewish life in the heart of Jerusalem is thus continuing with this exciting return to the area of Kfar HaShiloach-Yemenite Village. Thanks to the tireless work and guidance, for over 35 years, by the nonprofit organization Ateret Cohanim, there are now close to 1,000 Jewish residents in the renewed Jewish yishuv (Moslem and Christian Quarters) of the Old City, six families and yeshiva students live in Kidmat Zion (adjacent to Abu Dis) and a beautiful Jewish neighborhood (110 residential units), called Maaleh HaZeitim, on the Mount of Olives (Ras el Amud). The Jewish presence in Kfar HaShiloach has effectively doubled with the addition of two new homes.

For further information about Ateret Cohanim, visit www.jerusalemchai.org.


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