When US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was here last and reproved us with a sanctimonious schoolmarm’s sternness, she pro-forma professed to genuinely believe that Jews unlawfully seized “Arab Jerusalem.” To facilitate Washington’s self-serving cockamamie “two-state vision,” it’s therefore incumbent upon Jewish trespassers to renounce what isn’t theirs, and certainly not construct more housing for more unwanted Jews.
But I bet anything that self-righteous Condi never heard of Rabbi Kalonymus the Miracle Maker (Kalonymus Ba’al Ha-ness). He’s my direct ancestor. Until 1948, a massive mound of stones marked his final resting place on the Mount of Olives’ slopes. The Arabs smashed all that. What was once a conspicuous landmark is now gone. But does unbridled vandalism grant Arabs an unassailable deed of ownership?
MY FATHER’S family knew for sure of at least two illustrious forebears’ graves in this country. One was of Rabbi Elazar Rokeach, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Amsterdam, to whom we trace our lineage directly, generation-by-generation, without omission. He left everything to live in Safed, where he died and was buried in 1741 – a full 35 years before American independence.
Kalonymus Haberkasten, another of my paternal grandmother’s direct and indisputable forefathers, headed the Ashkenazi community of Jerusalem over 200 years before Rabbi Elazar left Holland to settle in the Galilee. Kalonymus died in Jerusalem in 1550, and was reputed to have been the holy Ari’s teacher.
But his greatest renown came from having saved the then-Sephardi Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue from the bloody consequences of a blood libel. On the last Saturday before Passover, neighboring Arabs dumped the body of a young boy at the synagogue and charged that Jews had baked matzos with his blood – a popular calumny that originated in 1144 in Norwich England and for spurious spin-offs of which many Jews in diverse corners of the world were to pay with their lives for centuries. Somehow my great-great-great…great grandfather Kalonymus pulled off his day’s counterpart of a forensic whodunit-sensation, proved the accusers’ deceit and foiled the rioters.
THOSE OF us not big on miracles can skip the details. Suffice it to say that tradition ascribes the rescue of congregants and synagogue to Kalonymus, and that he was revered equally by Ashkenazim and Sephardim. His bold feat had become a staple of Jerusalem folklore.
But Kalonymus didn’t savor his victory. He berated himself for having violated the Sabbath in the course of performing his miracle. To punish himself he requested that no tombstone be erected atop his grave. He was interred on the lower mountain gradient, near Rabbi Ovadia of Bertinoro (the “Bartenura”), and ordinary Jerusalemites passing by would always place stones on his unmarked grave. Over the centuries this folksy homage grew to considerable proportions and was visible from afar.
That was the case until 1948, when Arab occupiers ransacked and defiled the Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue (along with 57 others), ripped out tombstones from the 3,000-year-old Mount of Olives Jewish cemetery and used them to construct public latrines – the ultimate humiliation and desecration. At that time they also savagely pulled down the giant stack of stones piled up as Kalonymus’s marker during almost 400 years. This was maximal ethnic cleansing, deliberately calculated to purge Jerusalem of its Jewish past and pretend it was never anything but Arab.
So what if Jews constituted the largest ethnic group in Jerusalem as far back as the first available testimonies and records of the earliest decades of the 19th century (borne out by noted travelers like Richardson, Carne and Scholtz)?
THE FIRST official census of 1844 showed 7,130 Jews and 5,760 Muslims. By 1875 the number of Jews exceeded 12,000 and the Muslims increased to 7,560. By the 20th century the Jewish majority was incontrovertible – 45,000 Jews and 12,000 Muslims in 1909. On the eve of the 1948 Arab contravention of the UN Partition Resolution and the Arab Legion’s illegal occupation of east Jerusalem, the city included some 100,000 Jews and 36,680 Muslims.
That year, 1948, the Jordanians occupied east Jerusalem illegally. They stayed for 19 years, destroyed 58 synagogues, sadistically despoiled the ancient incomparable Jewish pantheon on the Mount of Olives and denied Jews the right to pray at the Western Wall. But there was no global outrage until, in 1967’s Six Day War, Israel undid the Arab illegality (only following extreme belligerent provocation).
The Arabs’ 19-year illegality is now perceived as the legality that must be restored. Arab conquest and barbarism must be rewarded and recognized by all decent observers as the status quo ante. Hence it’s forbidden to develop the Ma’ale Hazeitim neighborhood adjacent to Ras-el-Amud and the cemetery that was Jewish for three millennia. Condi surely cannot fathom the meaning of 3,000 years. For her and her like, Jews lost their rights to the Mount when Arabs uprooted its tombstones.
Jewish life near the site that housed the Jewish dead – before the collective memories of assorted admonishing Condis ever began – will, asserts Condi, impede peace. She doesn’t care that Ma’ale Hazeitim is located on land purchased by Jews (Moshe Weinberg and Nissan Bek) in the 19th century.
Irresponsible Israeli politicians – and this didn’t start with the corrupt Sharon and his sleazy sidekick and heir Olmert – managed in their scandalous ineptitude to acknowledge the cynical equivalence between Israeli settlements and Arab suicide-bombers or rocket barrages on innocent families. Inimical foreign statesmen – out to further their interests at our existential expense – deem both home-construction and indiscriminate attacks as identical “obstacles to peace.”
Imbecilely, Israeli hotshots imbibe and regurgitate the lie that the Land of Israel doesn’t belong to Israel and that Jewish revival in the Jewish homeland is sinful occupation. Israel’s own misguided headliners have put settlements into deep freeze. So why the ceaseless squawk and the relentless bad press abroad? It’s mostly about Jerusalem. Israeli incompetents helped demonize settlements and, by delegitimizing them, thereby also rendered entire Jerusalem quarters vulnerable.
The bottom line is that it’s no longer permissible by the international community’s insincere criteria to build homes for Jews in Jerusalem. The presence in Jerusalem of Kalonymus and his like has been effectively erased. The Jewish state’s own defeatism helps paint Jews as latecoming interlopers in the cradle of their nationhood, as usurpers who displaced supposedly indigenous Arabs, who – according to truth-slaying historical revisionism – had once comprised the majority.
The truth lies buried with Kalonymus – shamed and disgraced – in a grave as unmarked and as forgotten as his.