An estimated 10,000 British Jews are buried on the Har Hazeisim in Yerushalayim, the oldest Jewish cemetery and holy site. They are amongst 150,000 Jews who are buried in the 3000 year old cemetery, which is directly across from the Har Habayis. Located in East Yerushalayim the 2.5 km cemetery was the subject of a great deal of neglect and abuse including desecration of graves, strewn garbage, frequent stonings by local Arab residents, donkey races, and even soccer games using tombstones as goal posts. Even today after the unification of Yerushalayim, the local Arab community continues to defile and dishonor the cemetery.
In May 2010, after a devastating report by Israel’s State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss about the state of affairs on the Mount of Olives, two Brooklyn brothers Abraham and Menachem Lubinsky took the initiative to create an International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeisim (ICPHH) with far-reaching results. Branches were set up in Yerushalayim, Toronto, and Los Angeles. On July 14th, the UK will be the latest community to join the international effort to preserve the holy cemetery. Hosted by Matthew Offord MP for Hendon, an Honorary Patron and close friend of the Jewish Community, an impressive group of community leaders, rabbis and parliamentarians will help launch the UK Chapter at an event in the House of Commons on July 14th.
The event will include a panel discussion on the importance of the Mt. of Olives to British Jewry, moderated by Filip Slipaczek who helped arrange the event. Some of the speakers will include Stephen Pack, President of The United Synagogue, Rabbi Yosef Deutsch, First Deputy Mayor of Yerushalayim, Dayan Yonosan Abraham, and Menachem Lubinsky, Co-Chairman of the International Committee for The Preservation of Har Hazeisim.
The ICPHH has already managed to reverse the years of neglect and abuse by working closely with the Government of Israel and the Yerushalayim Municipality at the highest level. In the six years since the committee was launched, 137 surveillance cameras were installed, a police sub-station was established, roads and other infra-structure projects were initiated, 20,000 tombstones were restored, a unit of the Border Police is stationed in the most troublesome areas, regular sanitation was arranged, and a sense of security was restored. The Committee is planning to further restore some 23,000 tombstones that were destroyed during the Jordanian occupation (1948-1967).
The Committee is in the process of mobilizing World Jewry to join the Israeli government in funding the grave restoration project, the construction of a wall along the troubled Eastern section of the cemetery, and the building of a Visitor’s Center and synagogue. The Visitor’s Center will provide educational programs to inform and attract tourists and Israelis alike. It will also help to cement the integrity of Har Hazeisim as a non-negotiable sector of Yerushalayim.
A cross section of the British Jewish community and other supporters have agreed to serve on the UK Committee. The Committee has had a number of preliminary meetings to plan the activities in the UK.
Also of interest to British citizens is the fact that Prince Philip’s mother, born in 1885 as Princess Alice of Battenberg, is buried on the Mt. of Olives. During the Nazi occupation of Greece, Alice hid a Jewish woman and two of her children from the Nazis, earning her eventual recognition by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial as a “Righteous Among the Nations” and by the British government as a “Hero of the Holocaust.” She died in 1967 and her remains were transferred to the Mt. of Olives In 1988, honoring a wish she had expressed before her death.
For further information please go to the website www.harhazeisim.org