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  • Writer's pictureTzippora Felsenthal

Interview with Ariel Shemen

Silwan is a village mostly populated by Arabs and a ten minute walk from the Old City of Jerusalem. We decided to interview Ariel Shemen, a resident there for the past 8 years and let him share his story with us!

Where do you live?

כפר השילוח (כפר התימנים) מול מעיין השילוח בירושלים עיר הקודש

(The Jewish area inside Silwan)

Why did you decide to move there?

Why did I decide to live here? Growing up in America, perhaps the greatest difficulty I could think of dealing with was having a lack of purpose. American culture is revolved around the pursuit of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness - as an individual. As a member of Am Yisroel however, our nature is to perceive ourselves far greater than an limited individual, rather as part of a whole who is intended to influence everything and everyone around us for the better. Being able to do so in an individualistic society is not relevant.

While being a chayal boded I found myself “helping the minyan” on Shabboses in Kfar HaTeimanim, given then that there was 9 families at the time. I found unbelievable families who saw nothing for themselves, rather only their responsibility and identification for the people and land that they are part of.

I took it upon myself to associate myself with such amazing people, and thank G-d I was zoche to marry an eishet chayil who was willing to take part in the endeavor.

What is the history of Kfar HaTeimanim?

Kfar HaTeimainim was established in 1884 by generous Jews in Yerushalayim for the inbetterment of incredibly poor Yemenite Jews who came to Israel since 1882. Initially it was a welfare housing arrangement for those with no means. As time went on the residents were able to purchase their own adjacent land and build their own houses. For the next 50 years almost, Kfar HaShiloach developed as a thriving community of G-d fearing Yemenite Jews who were willing to work hard to build their lives in Yerushalayim. During the riots of 1929 most residents left, with only a few returning a number of years later. In 1936 the British police demanded for the Jewish residents to leave “temporarily” given the tense security situation of Arab rioters surrounding them. Only in 2004, the Ateret Kohanim foundation brought Jews back to the same land, originally to Beit Yehonatan (named after Yehonatan Pollard) and Beit HaDvash. Today after many trials and tribulations, including countless of court cases, tens of thousands of molatov cocktails, riots, stoning, burning and more, there are more then forty families living in Kfar HaTeimanim in 9 buildings- including 200 children.

What is daily life like?

Daily life changes from day to day. The most significant aspect of our routine is dependance on armed escorts to enter and leave our homes. This includes either ambulatory escorts (by foot) or be vehicle that is usually stone proofed vans. Even with the escorts from time to time we find ourselves harassed by different individuals our groups in the Silwan, either by curses, spitting, stoning or other. More then 20,000 Arabs live in this neighborhood compared to maybe 250 Jews.

If you ask the average Arab resident here though, they will tell you that they feel that Jews have taken the majority in the Silwan. As far as we’re concerned, it makes the effort worth it…

What do your children think, growing up there?

When I was in basic training as a bachelor, I remember waiting for a driven escort to leave Beit Yehonaton after Shabbos. A small six year old girl was waiting with me as well. She opened conversation with me, “Do you know that I’m a hero?” “Oh really? What do you say?” “You know, leaving in Kfar HaTeimanim isn’t simple. We can only get home with a bullet proof car (11 years ago), we have molotov cocktails thrown at us, sometimes the police tell us that we can’t get home for two or three hours…” She gives me a shopping list of the different “attractions” in Kfar HaTeimanim. “But do you know why I”m willing to go through all of this? ‘Cause I’m doing it for Klal Yisrael.”

Needless to say, as an American currently crawling in mud trying to teach myself what it means to avail myself from individualism, this seven year old blew me away.

There is no question that as a child living here things are not simple, denying so would not be right. However, when we understand what perspective of themselves and their surroundings is being developed for these children, we understand that an unbelievable educational advantage is gained.

What is your relationship with your neighbors like?

To quote Rav Shlomo Aviner shilit”a, “A third of Arabs would be happy to drive us into the sea, a third really don’t, and a third don’t care.” The exact numbers behind that statement is up to debate, but I can vouch on the ground that there’s a lot of truth behind the idea behind it. There are definitely a lot of neighbors that we suffer from, without question. However thanks to much work from the police and security services, deterrence has been developed to deal with the rest who haven’t done anything in the meantime. Obviously, Ribono She Olam is the only One who actually takes care of us, and thank G-d, we see the outcomes.

Is the neighborhood growing?

Over the past 7 years that we have lived here the community has grown from 9 families to 40 families, including the expansion of many families significantly.

The Jews of Kfar Hateimanim showing their devotion to the Land of Israel

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