Friday, February 8, 2013

Shabbat at Ma'aleh Ha'zetim with the Fleisher's

From left to right: me, Yishai Fleisher, Shlomo Alegra

I had an amazing opportunity to spend Shabbat at the Fleisher’s a few weeks ago in Ma’aleh Ha’zetim. It’s a Jewish complex in the middle of Ras el-Amud in Eastern Jerusalem, an Arab neighborhood that answers to the Palestinian Authority politically, but is geographically a part of the Jewish State. People here don’t serve in the army, or do any kind of national service like everyone else in Israel. They’re also not required to pay “arnona” or the very expensive land tax all Israelis are obliged to pay. They do benefit from medical coverage, vote in Israeli elections, and work in Jewish neighborhoods.
Yishai Fleisher, the man of the family, is a long-time political activist. He was born in Israel, but his parents moved to the States, where he grew up. His wife, Malkah, is just as dedicated to the cause of a Greater Israel. They met in the States, and got married in Hebron. Yishai is the founder of Kumah. He served as the head of Channel 7, Israel’s primary right wing media source for many years.  


They have two kids. Their daughter was born in Beit El, a “settlement” in Samaria. The Fleisher’s moved to Eastern Jerusalem a few years ago when Yishai realized this was a good opportunity to help the growing community here. Their son is still a toddler. The kids are getting a unique religious Zionist home education. They have children’s books where colorful stories describing Jewish heroism in the years leading up to Israel’s independence and the wars we’ve fought against the Arab world.

We prayed the morning prayers at the Western Wall. On our way there, we passed the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Temple Mount. Most of the graves were completely defaced by the Jordanians during their occupation of Eastern Jerusalem (1948-1967). Yishai pointed to the tombstones of a few renowned Jewish spiritual leaders that were buried there, and whose graves had remained more or less intact.

At one point, we passed an army jeep. Yishai told one of the soldiers on duty that the local Arabs had been stoning Jewish cars not far from where they were standing now, and that it would be very helpful if they army could increase its presence in the area. He also told the soldier that we’d be walking to the Western Wall to pray. I asked Yishai what the point of that had been, and he let me know that there were cameras strategically positioned to “accompany” people making the trek from Ma’aleh Ha’zetim to the Old City.

Shabbat at the Fleisher’s went great. It’s not like that every Shabbat. The Jews living in Ma’aleh Ha’zetim are considered “settlers” in their own land, and shunned by most Israelis who consider them “trouble-makers” who risk their lives and the lives of their kids for no reason other than their “zealotry.” They accuse these brave people of needlessly endangering the lives of the soldiers who guard their enclave day and night.

To be sure, this is not so. Most adult residents of Ma’aleh Ha’zetim carry weapons, and would be more than able to defend themselves were the army to leave them to fend for themselves. The Arabs, in fact, are afraid of them. The kids play in the streets (although they spend the majority of their free time at an inside playground), and you’ll see women accompanying their young outside in the middle of the day.

The Fleisher’s have found themselves at the forefront of Israel’s fight for self-determination. They’re a model family that we should strive to emulate.  

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