Making the old city young again


Kfar HaShiloach

The Yemenite Village – Shiloach

In 1881, 2 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 Eretz Israel 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 in 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 (newspaper ‘Havazelet’) and others helped establish “Ezrat Nidachim” (Help for those Distanced”) – a society to assist ‘….our poor brethren from Yemen, finding housing & occupation and to prevent their falling into the hands of missionairies’. Eventually, homes were built and the area became known as Kfar Hateimanim - Kfar HaShiloach. By 1891 there were already 45 houses that were consecrated to the poor Jewish families of Jerusalem. By 1918 there 50 children (23 orphans) recorded in the Yemenite kindergardens. By the early 1920’s, records show of close to 600 Yemenite Jews living in the Village, both in the Communal Consecrated buildings - Hekdesh and many private homes.
The Arab riots of 1928-29 saw a decrease in the numbers of the Village, although thanks to a handful of Arab neighbours, 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 in fact return to the Village.The area that 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, looting and eventually the destruction of the village. The Arabs simply squatted and occupied the whole Village.

A vibrant Yemenite neighbourhood 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 close to 66 years later, there isn’t a single Jewish family living in the old Yemenite Village. All this changed on the 8th Nissan 5764- March 31.2004, when Ateret Cohanim moved families back to Kfar HaShiloach !!

It should be noted, that some of the land in Kfar Hateimanim (today the eastern side of Silwan/Sholoach) is official Yemenite Hekdesh (Community consecrated property), while other properties still have the recognized original Jewish title.
Over the last few years, Ateret Cohanim has been quietly working to return to the Village and reestablish a Jewish presence, centred around educational institutes on the outskirts of the Old City and the Temple Mount. This project is the reigniting of Kfar HaTeimanim. The newly established "Committee for the renewal of Kfar HaTeimanim" has even received official court recognition to manage the Yemenite Hekdesh (Consecrated communal property). In addition to this ‘legal vehicle’, the Committee intends to deal & negotiate with the Arabs of the area, in order to acquire back old Jewish property. This also includes the Old Beit Knesset of the Hekdesh which is currently an Arab household. The Yemenite Beit Knesset is one of the few buildings that still remain from the original Yemenite Village.
Over the last few years, Jewish individuals have succeeded in buying & renovating an apartment (referred to as Beit HaDvash, located in the Hekdesh), acquiring a 5/6 story apartment house (Beit Yonatan - 8 units) and acquiring an empty property with potential for 2-3 residential units.

Recently, a decision was made to finally enter these buildings and actually reestablish the old Jewish neighborhood. These acquisitions are the footholds and the flame that will  reignite the Yemenite Village. We have returned home !!!
Ateret Cohanim is hoping that the current residents will understand the return to the Village and will welcome their Jewish neighbors. It is hoped that all will be able to live in coexistance 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 coexistence between peoples.

Notwithstanding these hopes, Ateret Cohanim will be taking all the necessary security steps and 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.

By returning to the Yemenite Village, 66 years after the British evacuation of the residents, the cycle is closing. The saga of the Yemenite pioneering giants, who trekked to Israel over 120 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 War of Independence in 1948 and the subsequent division of Jerusalem distanced the Village from it’s residents. Kfar Hashiloach remained but a dream - until now. The return to the Village by Jewish families and students has created a welcome reality and has effectively closed the cycle.

The revival of Jewish life in the heart of Jerusalem is thus continuing with this exciting return to the Yemenite Village. Thanks to the tireless work for over 30 years of Ateret Cohanim, there are now close to 900 Jewish residents in the renewed Jewish Yishuv (Moslem & Christian Quarters) of the Old City and of course, a beautiful Jewish neighborhood, called Maaleh HaZeitim on the Mount of Olives. (Ras el Amud)
And now, thanks to Ateret Cohanim's committment to keeping Jerusalem united, Jewish life, familes, students and a Kolel have returned to the old Yemenite Village in the Shiloach.