Brooklyn, NY – An overflow crowd of 1,000 people jammed into the home – and tent – of Rav Moshe Tuvia Lieff, rov of Agudas Yisroel Bais Binyomin of Flatbush, in a huge outpouring of support for securing and developing Har Hazeisim yesterday. The gathering was graced with the presence of rabbonim from throughout the area, led by Rav Yaakov Perlow, the Novominsker Rebbe, Rosh Agudas Yisroel, and Rav Yosef Frankel, Vyelipoler Rov and member of the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah of Agudas Yisroel.
Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Executive Vice President of Agudath Israel of America, opened the gathering recalling the launch four years ago of the initiative to preserve and protect Har Hazeisim by Brooklyn businessman, Avrohom Lubinsky. His brother Menachem, who serves as co-chairman of the International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeisim eloquently detailed the history of abuse and desecration of the 3000-year old cemetery that dates back to the Crusaders and the Turks: “But today it is under Jewish control and there is no excuse for the ongoing desecration of graves and heaving of stones in the direction of mourners and visitors.”
Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organization, delivered an impassioned plea against “the Arabs who seek to deny us our past because they know that our past is the key to our future.” Mr. Hoenlein recounted some of his meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu which led to the Israeli government investing nearly NIS 80 million on Har Hazeisim, but “this is clearly not enough.”
Rav Lieff, delivered a passionate speech about the sanctity of the land -“kedushas haoretz,–” referring to the just read Parshas Behar and invoking the Daf Hayomi of where it speaks of the desecrated graves in Yerushalayim. “We know their intentions as we saw how the Jordanians (1948-1967) destroyed 60,000 graves to build a hotel and neighborhoods when the Nazis in their 6-year march through Europe destroyed only 16,000 graves to build roads.” He detailed his strong family roots of many generations who are buried on Har Hazeisim.
Rav Dovid Lau, the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, was the special guest of the urgent breakfast. “I like to visit the gravesite of Rav Ovadia of Bartenura, whose commentary on the Mishnah we all study. I refuse to accept that even as Chief Rabbi that I need a police escort to daven at his kever,” Rabbi Lau said. He pledged to be at the forefront of efforts to secure Har Hazeisim.
The Novominsker Rebbe delivered an inspirational message of how important it is after all these years “to provide security,” admitting that he himself had been warned of the dangers of going to Har Hazeisim.
Many of the speakers praised the Lubinsky brothers for their efforts which included the installation of 142 surveillance cameras, a police substation, new fencing, restoration of 20,000 graves, and ongoing cleanup and maintenance. A letter to Mr. Lubinsky, head of the ICPHH from Dvir Kahane who is the Director General for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs in the Prime Minister’s Office was read to the gathering. “You have brought this important issue to the front stage of public opinion and have been assisting in promoting actions and procedures that contribute to the ongoing rehabilitation of Har Hazeisim and the efforts to enhance the safety and security of visitors to this holy and sacred pace…We will be happy to continue the most blessed cooperation through joint ventures and funding initiatives together with the committee.”
Har Hazeisim is the oldest surviving Jewish cemetery in the world, dating back over 3,000 years and is the resting place for over 150,000 Jews, dating back to the nevi’im and including leading admorim and roshei yeshiva. Despite being in Israeli hands, the cemetery remained largely neglected until May 2010 when Israel’s State Controller Micha Lindenstrauss issued a stinging report on the neglect and abuse of Israel’s second holiest site. He blamed successive Israeli governments for virtually neglecting the cemetery. This shocking report prompted Mr. Lubinsky, a Brooklyn NY businessman, to create the International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeisim.
The Committee is planning an intensive lobbying effort, as well as a broad educational program to make Har Hazeisim safe and an important holy site where Jews can retrace the 3000-year old history of the Jewish people. It is also planning to join with the government in funding many projects including a Visitor’s Center, shul, signage and beautification program.