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The Mezuzah of Armon Hanetziv: A Tour of Jerusalem’s Borderline

Armon Hanetziv, or East Talpiot, is a neighborhood worthy of emulation, being a mixed neighborhood that has secular, religious and chareidi populations. All live in unity and tolerance, and there is a tremendous appreciation for Torah scholars.

When he was studying in “Porat Yosef” yeshiva, Rabbi Aryeh Garbian’s family moved to the neighborhood. The beginning was difficult for a yeshiva student, but with the blessing and encouragement of his rabbis, the luminaries of the generation: Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and his yeshiva deans, Rabbi Yehuda Tzadka and Rabbi Ben Tzion Abba Shaul, of blessed memory, Rabbi Garbian voluntarily serves the entire population, disseminating Torah and warming Jewish hearts.

Today, after thirty-four years of activity, the neighborhood has a vibrant Torah life. As one of the residents passionately testified:

“I attribute the lively religious life here, in this secular neighborhood, to the credit of our rabbi, who was a disciple of Rabbi Yosef and studied and taught in the Chazon Ovadya yeshiva. He gives of his time and strength for the sake of each of us and amazingly knows how to connect everyone. The whole population is united under the rabbi. Not for nothing do all the residents esteem his name and have great respect for the cause of Judaism.

“Believe me that without the rabbi, I would have gone long ago with my family to a religious neighborhood because it is not easy to raise children in a mixed neighborhood. But the feeling of responsibility that he radiates for the Jewish people keeps me here in the neighborhood.”


Listening to the ground

We turned to the rabbi to hear what he had to say about life in the neighborhood. “It’s hard to believe,” says Rabbi Garbian, “but life goes like usual, despite our proximity to a den of snakes. We live with unbelievable miracles in the merit of the Torah. Thank G-d, we have sixty scholars studying in our kollel [married scholars academy], which is funded by the residents. Each scholar is active in another synagogue and gives lectures to inspire the worshippers. This is a huge merit for the neighborhood in unhinged times like these. Even the head of the local administration, Yehuda Ben Yosef, told us openly: The Torah you are learning gives us the strength and ability to continue to live here.”

How is the situation affecting the residents?

“People are strengthening their religious commitment. They’ve come to ask me what they can do to get closer to Hashem to protect themselves from calamity. I gave the reply that our sages have always given us: ‘Repentance, prayer and charity …”

“Indeed, the synagogues have been like a protective Noah’s Ark for the residents. Even those that are not officially observant come to recite Selichot and prayers with us, give charity, and contribute for the study of Torah. They’ve palpably seen how this merit has protected them. Worshippers tell me emotionally, ‘Rabbi! My car was targeted with stones’ — and they’re not referring to gravel — ‘and I escaped without a scratch. It’s in the merit of the Torah class we just heard and because we kept Shabbat!’

“The women have also wonderfully strengthened their commitment. We had an evening when everyone made challah and fulfilled the commandment to separate a piece from it. Hundreds of women from the entire population joined together to do this important commandment. No one stayed at home. The hands of Ishmael have aroused the voice of Jacob, and that’s the only solution. We have no one to rely on besides our Father in heaven.”

Did anyone attempt to dialogue with the representatives of the Arab villages?

“Four years ago, we held a joint meeting initiated by the head of the local administration. We sat together, the members of the committee headed by the director and I, with the village councils and tried to reach understandings. They were full of complaints about deprivation and systematic discrimination like a pomegranate is full of seeds. They didn’t have a community center of their own and no building for their school. There was an atmosphere of tension. To soften the atmosphere a little, I told them the story about two men who quarreled over the ownership of a parcel of land, and the author of the Beit Chadash was called in to judge between them. He put his ear to the ground as if he was listening to it, and then he told them: ‘The land claims it does not belong to you. To the contrary, you belong to it and when the time comes, you will return to it. So what is the point of fighting over it?’

“I appealed to the village heads in a conciliatory tone: “We are cousins, why fight for years and years over the ground when we will all sooner or later be buried in it? Everyone smiled and enjoyed the anecdote, the village heads even applauded, but did it really enter their hearts and move something? It’s impossible to know.”

Is it possible to sit down again and clarify matters?

“Now that things have gotten out of hand, it seems that the Mukhtars and village heads are finding it difficult to stop the wild frenzy, so there is no sense to try and talk with them. The only way out is to strengthen our religious commitment and plead that Moshiach come and redeem us.”


How the neighborhood is dealing with it

“I hate to disappoint those who prefer action, but there is usually not a lot of drama,” said Rabbi Shimon Biton, a student with three children who studies in the local kollel and who has been living in the neighborhood for five years. “Despite the location of the neighborhood, it is not a Gaza enclave, no way. Like everywhere in the country, and especially in Jerusalem, during these frenzied times, you think twice whether to send children on the bus and you make sure the child comes back at a particular hour. If there is any talk of fear, it’s only by outsiders. For example, my family who live in a different neighborhood are more afraid for us than we are for ourselves. Unfortunately, these fears are translated into actions. For example, a friend who works for a brokerage firm claims that there is no demand for renting and purchasing apartments in the neighborhood. I am optimistic and believe that with G-d’s help, the wave will pass and demand will resume. Thank G-d, our neighborhood has a lot to offer.”

This is truly a model neighborhood, but your neighbors are not the nicest…

“You have to understand. This is a neighborhood that stretches over a vast area, which was built after the Six Day War as a buffer between the Jewish neighborhoods and the Arab villages. One side is bordered by the Armon Hanetziv promenade, the other side is adjacent to the old Jewish neighborhood of Arnona. Only thirty percent of the neighborhood is exposed to the Arabs’ houses, and even there, things are more or less calm as in other Jerusalem neighborhoods. This is true even in a problematic place like Meir Nekker Street, which is located on the border, and Arabs often make their way between the houses to get to the buses or even the health fund clinic which we both use.

“It sounds bizarre, but up to the Protective Edge campaign [in 2014], the nicest village was Sur Baher. A neighbor who is living in my building for thirty years, told me that the inhabitants of this village were considered the most friendly in the area. He said: “We had no problems with them.”

(Photo: Hadas Porush / Flash 90)

I own a car, and before the Protective Edge campaign, I went to all the garages in the villages near us, and got quick and good service at a good price. Even now, building contractors go there to buy building materials. Most of the building supplies come from there. “

What, today someone dares to go there?

“Contractors do, they have no other choice. But not as many go to fix flat tires, I for one will not go there now, but six months ago I reluctantly went to fix a punctured tire. I was greeted warmly, but there was an Arab nearby who was playing with weapons and rushed to hide it from me. It left me with a bad feeling, all the time I was there, I was tense and concerned. It is clear that there are young people who are engaged in forbidden and dangerous things, no doubt about it, but most of the villagers try to quietly make their living. For example, car washes. All the Jews used to wash their cars there. Today, they lost their livelihood. I heard that the owner of the car wash doesn’t stop cursing the whole situation.”

Well, maybe it will change the situation, maybe they will make sure that we aren’t attacked.

“I do not know how much the situation is under their control, but certainly the situation is calming down. At the peak of the disturbances, they blocked the passage to the village with concrete blocks, and there was no entry for cars, only through the promenade. The flow of supply trucks stopped. The villagers were forced to make their way in a roundabout way from the sides. But gradually they remove the barriers, and they are not taking advantage of this to reignite the disturbances.”

So you do not feel at all that you are a border neighborhood?

“I can’t say that. We hear helicopters circling above the neighborhood at night when they are looking for terrorists, but you just turn over and fall asleep again. This is the force of habit. We’ve even gotten used to the screeching muezzin calls.”


Every bullet has its address

“Life is usual for my four and two and a half year old children. The four year old was even happy that there was a policeman in the kindergarten, but besides that, nothing has changed. The older one is in first grade, an age when you are already pick up things and understand, but thank G-d, the Talmud Torah teacher knew how to convey the bus attack to the children in the least frightening way. He told them that two Arab thieves boarded the bus, tried to steal something, and thank G-d they caught them, and everything is well.

“So when he heard us whispering, he showed us what he knew, ‘Oh, you’re talking about those thieves.” I obviously did not bother to set the record straight. When he heard unnecessary talk a different time, he asked me: ‘What is an ‘assailant’?

“I told him very simply, ‘someone that wants to assail!’ I didn’t explain too much. With the help of G-d, he is not scared at all.”

Nevertheless, you have a duty to be careful …

“Certainly. Our kollel, for example, already after the attack on the Har Nof synagogue, realized that those cursed Ishmaelites were looking specifically to attack places of Jewish study. We made the necessary efforts to protect ourselves. One of the yeshiva students took out a gun license and always carries it with him to the Kollel. The door is locked and you can only open it with a code. Likewise when there are alerts.

The rule is that one should take precautions but one should also live his life with faith that G-d is in charge of everything. Everything was already written down on Rosh Hashona, and whosever was killed in an attack, already had the decree of death hanging over him since the High Holidays. On the contrary, he merited a holy death as a martyr. So there is no point in letting oneself feel unnecessary fears that will only cause damage. We should see and sense how, despite our proximity to all the murderers’ lairs, heaven has mercy on us and our little children. And if we mentioned little children, then maybe you should hear what the managers of the Naot Margalit network have to say. It is running like usual, despite its strategic location in Meir Nekker street. Now the place is guarded, but until recently the police faced disorders there every day. Yet the parents continued sending their children. Believe me, they know what they’re doing.”


Toddlers on the firing line

“There’s a hard feeling not only in the neighborhood but the entire country,” says Edna Benolul, director of oldest day care center in the neighborhood, which is running 28 years. “A wave of terror has swept our entire country, so G-d forbid should we leave it? After all, we have no other country, this is our country, and its our duty and right to continue to live here and accept our sufferings in love. On the Shabbat when the Torah section of Noah was read, I wanted to rest a little until the men came home from prayers. I had picked up a newspaper, and all of a sudden I heard a burst of gunfire under my house on Rav Hachovel street. I apprehensively went out on the balcony and saw dozens of security personnel, rescue teams, broadcasters and photographers, and there, under my nose, was a shot terrorist’s body lying in the ground.

“It turned out that when I went to rest, two terrorists snuck under my house in order to carry out an attack in the nearby synagogue which was filled with hundreds of worshipers. With G-d’s kindness, they were discovered a short time before they could carry out their plans. Can I say it was pleasant to hear this? Are you kidding? So besides the indisputable fact that we are in G-d’s Hands, and each person is going to end his life when he finishes his rectification, there is not much to do. We must go on living and not give in to paralyzing terror. That’s the way it is, we are still in exile. G-d will help and peace will return. Meanwhile, we must continue the daily routine.”

Armon Hanetziv (Photo: Lior Mizrahi)

Still, there are places that are more exposed to the murderous enemy. You’re not afraid to be with the children right in front of a hostile village?

“Right now our day care center is the most secure day care center in the country. We have not only one guard at the entrance, but a whole team of Border Policemen patrolling our area .”

Was there panic was in the kindergarten? How did the children react?

“They didn’t know anything, of course. This is an iron rule: Under the age of five, do not share situations of tension with children. Us adults must demonstrate maturity and unload our stress and anxiety far away from the eyes and ears of children. So the music continued to play and the children continued their activities. Even when we were at the height of tensions, when an attack was taking place very close to us, everything remained in control inside. Whoever felt tense went to our relaxation room and took a break, drank coffee, calmed down and then returned to work with renewed vigor.

“One of the caregivers suffered a severe anxiety attack, and this particular situation was not at all simple, but thank G-d I did not lose my head and I took care of her far from the eyes of children. Unfortunately, I’m already experienced in the treatment of stress, this is not the first caregiver who suffered from it. After the initial treatment, she was sent home because she just couldn’t function. But we continued as usual.”


The self-sacrifice that defeated the killers

Golan Cohen-Gabbay, the head of the religious Zionist Torah nucleus in East Talpiot, was heaven’s messenger to prevent a terrible catastrophe and. Two terrorists wanted to hijack a bus full of Jewish passengers in Armon Hanetziv, but Cohen-Gabbay swung his car in front of the bus and prevented them from driving away. By the time one of the terrorists went out of the bus with a gun to shoot him, police officers who had just arrived, shot him.

“The day after the attack,” he says, “one of broadcasters asked me in a live interview: ‘Listen, you’re a hero!’ I replied: ‘I am not a hero, if you found yourself in the same situation, you would have done the same!’

“He answered me without shame that he wouldn’t have, and he would have fled with his car. I asked him: ‘And if your daughter was on the bus, Would you also have run away?’

“’If my daughter was there, I would have acted like you!’

“‘So here is the difference,’ I replied, ‘Not that I am a hero, and you are not, but I feel that anyone who is riding on a bus is like my brother / sister / son / daughter. The only question is what we are willing to sacrifice ourselves for.”

During those critical minutes you must have acted without thinking, but after your act of heroism, what did you feel?

“Anguish for those who were wounded in front of me, the horrors that we saw, the shocking scene of an elderly woman who was attacked by a terrorist, and pictures of victims’ blood. You can not delete them from your memory, they won’t go away, and the heart aches for the Jewish blood flowing like water. Other than that, I feel more caution and vigilance, but no paralyzing fear or anxiety. These are days when you feel that your own security has deteriorated, but your trust in the Rock of Israel is only getting stronger. We trust in Him and are sure of His salvation.”


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