Thursday, May 30, 2024

Parshas Bechukosai 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bechuksai – Shabbos Chazak

23 Iyar 5784/ May 31, 2024 – 38th day of the Omer

Pirkei Avos – Perek 5 – Mevorchim Chodesh Sivan


Last winter while visiting Yerushalayim, I had the opportunity to tour the Old City with Daniel Luria, Executive Director of Ateret Cohanim.

Ateret Cohanim was founded by Mati Dan in 1979. Its goal and mission was, and is, to redeem and reclaim land and homes in Eastern Yerushalayim from Arabs. In so doing they strengthen Jewish life in the heart of the Old City of Yerushalayim and its environs.

In the mid-late 1800s, there were close to 19,000 Jews living in the Old City of Yerushalayim, out of a population of 28,000. Along with the Jewish majority population, there were 21 shuls and six yeshivos in the area today known as “The Muslim Quarter”. Due to its proximity to Har Habayis, it was the main center of Jewish life.

Throughout my tour with Daniel Luria, he referred to the Muslim Quarter as the “Old Jewish Quarter”. Many other residents of the Old City that I spoke to use the same title. The current four-quarter division of Yerushalayim was created by the British during the years that Eretz Yisroel was a British Mandate. Arab pogroms in 1920, 1928-1929 and 1937-1938 decimated Jewish life in the Old City. At that point the British urged Jews to leave, promising the Jews safe return as refugees. That promise was never fulfilled.

During the Six-Day war in 1967, when Yerushalayim was reconquered and united, the Jews returned to the Jewish Quarter but not to the “Old Jewish Quater”.

During the late 1800s the Chayei Olam Yeshiva had been located in the Old Jewish Quarter. When Mati Dan approached the Arab living in the building to try to retrieve it, the Arab immediately told him that it was a Jewish building, and if they compensated him, he would immediately leave.

One of the most incredible stories Daniel Luria related was that of the Beit HaTzalam - Photographer’s House.

During the mid-1990’s when Mati Dan was giving a tour of the Old City, he arranged for a photographer who lives in the Old City to join to take pictures of the tour. A few weeks later Mati called the photographer. When the call was answered, Moti asked if he was speaking with the photographer from the Old City. The man on the line replied in a deep middle eastern accent, “I live in the Old City but I’m not a photographer. What do you want blease?” Mati immediately realized that the man on the line was an Arab as Arabs don’t pronounce the letter ‘p’. Instead of please the man had said blease.

Half-jokingly, Mati answered that he wanted the man’s house. The Arab hesitated before he replied, “Who told you we sell? Are you Jew or Arab? I cannot discuss details with a Jew on the phone.”

They arranged to meet at a coffee shop. The Arab arrived at the meeting holding official documents showing that he owned 90% of a large property in the Old City. The property had a courtyard and a magnificent rooftop view of the Old City and the Temple Mount. The Arab clandestinely informed Mati that he would be amenable to sell the building if Mati arranged for him and his family to emigrate to the United States, and if they would secure a job for him in America. (The Arab had to leave the country out of fear of an official Arab law called Fatwa that an Arab who sells land to a Jew is killed.)

A poster with a city in the background

Description automatically generatedMati agreed and the deal was secured. Currently, four Jewish families live in that building.

I had the pleasure of going up to the roof of Beit HaTzalam and enjoying the clear view of Har Habayis from there.

A few days later, Mati realized that when trying to dial the photographer’s number, he had mistakenly switched around the last 2 digits. That providential mistake ended up with a reclaimed Jewish property in the Old Jewish Quarter.

As we walked through the streets and congested alleyways of the Old Jewish Quarter, it was heartening to see so many Israeli flags hanging from so many windows and doors. Each flag marks that a Jewish family or yeshiva is now located in that reclaimed building.

As I stood near the Yaffa gate, I was pleasantly surprised to see countless Jews, including young Jewish mothers pushing strollers, yeshiva boys with payos, and even young children, walking fearlessly through the Arab Shuq through the Old Jewish Quarter.

I was told that if a Jew is ever lost while walking in the Old Jewish Quarter, he should just make sure he doesn’t look lost. As long as he walks with confidence through the streets he is not in danger. There are hundreds of security video cameras throughout every road and alleyway in the Old City that are monitored 24/7.

The Jews who live in the Old Jewish Quarter walk through the streets with a sense of confidence and pride, exuding a message that this is our home, and we aren’t going anywhere.

To date, there are 1000 Jewish residents living in the old Jewish quarter including four yeshivos.

The holy work of Ateret Cohanim extends beyond the Old City walls as well. Among others, they have reclaimed 130 Jewish homes in the gated and protected area of Maale HaZeitim, located above the graves of Har Hazeisim, and 41 families in Silwan, in what was formerly the Jewish Yemenite Village, and currently a very hostile Arab area, and 10 families in Kidmat Zion, a strategic neighborhood at the eastern municipal border of Yerushalayim.[1]


In Shemoneh Esrei we bless Hashem as the One who is, “Bonei Yerushalayim- building Yerushalayim.” We do not say that He built or will build, but that He builds Yerushalayim. Since the day it was destroyed, Hashem has never ceased to use the merits of Klal Yisroel to slowly build Yerushalayim. But for generations our ancestors were unable to witness the building of Yerushalayim.

Unlike any other time since the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash in 70 c.e. however, we can witness the ongoing building of Yerushalayim. Our ancestors would have given anything just to walk through Yerushalayim, never mind to see it as the beautiful city that it is today.

The sound of construction is always discernible in Yerushalayim, along with the sight of cranes and closed off construction areas. One must appreciate the significance of the signs hanging by every Jerusalem construction site: “Kan bonim atid Yerushalayim - Here the future of Yerushalayim is being built.”

The city is still far from our ultimate dream, when the Beis Hamikdash will stand in the heart of the city, and we once again have the avodah. But we are remiss and foolish if we fail to appreciate the blessing to have access to the holy city.

This week, 28 Iyar, marks the anniversary of Yom Yerushalayim, the day when Har Habayis was recaptured and Yerushalayim was unified under Jewish dominion. We can hardly imagine a world in which we couldn’t visit and live in Yerushalayim. It’s a perfect time to thank Hashem for the incredible gift we take for granted, even as we await its ultimate completion.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum


[1] To learn more about Ateret Cohanim and the holy work they do, visit: