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A Window into the Chareidi World

3 Sivan, 5779 - June 6, 2019 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Memories of Jerusalem Before the Zionists

By D. Tzefatman

The activity around Yom Yerushalayim on 28 Iyar reminded us of the years before Zionism incited the area and noting the Jewish-Moslem relationship in Jerusalem before the so-called `capture' of the city. Old timers who could remember, said that there was a dramatic change in the behavior of their Arab neighbors after the Balfour Declaration in November of 1917.

Yaakov Yehoshua, a member of the Ladino-speaking Sephardi community, describes it as follows in his work, Childhood in the Old City of Jerusalem. Note the serene and friendly atmosphere emerging between the lines:

"Our Moslem neighbors, who were familiar with the Jewish calendar and its holidays, regarded Elul as a sort of Ramadan, including days of prayer and self-inspection. Jews and Moslems would meet after midnight in the dark alleys of Jerusalem, these going to recite selichos in shul (Sephardic Jews) and those [lehavdil] going to Har Habayis. Mutual respect and amity reigned between the two communities, both of which arose early to serve the Creator."

There were processions in the Old City as well. This is how they looked:

"The youth made a procession through the streets and lanes of the Old City on Simchas Torah, singing "Mipi Keil" and dancing. Some of the youngsters were lifted up on shoulders, conveying blessings in Ladino and Arabic upon the leaders of the community. This custom was borrowed from their Moslem neighbors and their "Nebi Mussa" festivities. The blessings in Arabic were "Ya'ish ya'ish", or "Live! Live!" In earlier times, they would exclaim, "Allah Yistor el Sultan," or "May Allah preserve our master, the Sultan."

"The foremost Jewish youths were from the Parnas, Irmosa and other families, the wilder ones bearing the descriptive "Shebab." The Arabs sitting in their cafes would join in the song and dance out of solidarity between the two communities."

Yaakov Yehoshua describes in many chapters the daily life and ambience in the Old City. It is hard to imagine a fearless reality of such a life vis-a-vis the present situation of dread and life-threat. He also described visits to gravesites outside the Old City, like Nebe Samuel, the grave of Shmuel Hanovi. He presents a dialogue with his aunt:

"I asked my aunt if people weren't afraid to go to such remote and desolate areas. She replied with a smile, in Ladino, `Mus kiryan monjo - the Arabs liked us very much.' And she continued, `There were no differences between us.'"

This is how Jews and Arabs lived in peace and harmony without Yom Yerushalayim, without `outbursts... and shouting' in its streets.


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