Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Mission Participants
Knesset Launches Largest Caucus in History of Knesset
Yerushalayim…A 3-day historic mission (December 4-6) of the International Committee for Har Hazeisim (ICHH) secured broad consensus from all levels of government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on the importance of securing and developing the 3000-year old holy cemetery. Speaking to a group of more than 50 representatives of the ICHH from around the world, the Prime Minister said that if Yerushalayim is known “to be surrounded by mountains,” the 3000 year old Har Hazeisim is “THE mountain.” He thanked the ICHH for its efforts over the last 7 ½ years to reverse the abuse and decay of the cemetery and pledged to continue the government’s efforts to improve security and return Har Hazeisim to its original glory. “I want you to know that I have been following what is happening on Har Hazeitim,” the Prime Minister said. In return, Menachem Lubinsky, co-chairman of the ICHH said: “I want to remind the Prime Minister that the effort began in 2010 when Malcolm Hoenlein and I visited with you in New York to brief you on the shameful state of abuse and neglect on Har Hazeisim. You immediately opened all doors for us which led to the historic reversal on the holy mountain.”
The meeting with the Prime Minister capped a second day of high level meetings that began on Monday afternoon with a meeting with Israel’s two chief rabbis who spoke about the centrality of Har Hazeisim. “We know that the mountain will split and usher in the era of techiyas hameisim that will signal the arrival of moshiach,” said Rabbi Yitzchok Yosef, the Rishon Letzion. Rabbi Dovid Lau recalled his visit to the home of Rabbi Moshe Tuvia Lieff at a breakfast benefitting the ICHH more than two years ago when he shared the pulpit with the Novominsker Rebbe. “There is no holier missive for a Jew than to secure the shochnei afar,” said Rabbi Lau.
In the evening at a festive dinner at the Waldorf Astoria, the delegates heard from MK Yoav ben Zur, the chairman of the new historic Knesset Caucus on Har Hazeisim, Yoav Galant, Israel’s Minister of Housing and Construction, Rabbi Yaakov Litzman, the former Minister of Health, and Rabbi Eli ben Dahan, the Deputy Minister of Defense. Rabbi Litzman received a standing ovation for his immediate resignation as health minister after widespread chilul Shabbos. The representatives on the mission came from all areas of NewYork, Lakewood, Toronto, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, Zurich, London, Dublin, Antwerp and Amsterdam as well as Yerushalayim.
On Tuesday morning, the more than 50 representatives and supporters of the ICHH toured Har Hazeisim, and received an updated briefing from senior police officials, headed by Jerusalem’s Commander Yoram Levi. The police officials said that that there has been a dramatic change on the mountain with some 2000 visitors coming daily. The new security on the mountain was a result of the intensive efforts of the ICHH and includes the installation of more than 170 surveillance cameras, a functioning police station, restoration of more than 20,000 graves, the construction of a wall/fence around the Eastern sector of the cemetery, restoration of regular bus service, the stationing of a border patrol unit and much more. The tour was joined by Rabbi Dovid Azoulay, the Minister of Religions and Rabbi Yoav ben Zur.
At a luncheon session near the Kosel Hamarovi, the mission participants heard from Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, the Rav of the Kosel Hamarovi who extolled the holiness of Har Hazeisim “in such close proximity to the Har Habayis.” Rabbi Yosef Deutsch, Deputy Mayor of Yerushalayim, whohas been a staunch supporter of the efforts of the ICHH, said: “How odd that it took Jews from Brooklyn to finally address the national shame of the Jewish people, the despicable conditions of Har Hazeisim.” He particularly singled out the Lubinsky brothers for haven taken the initiative “and truly creating a miracle.”
A key moment of the mission came at a ceremony in the Knesset on Tuesday afternoon marking the launch of an historic caucus on Har Hazeisim. Speakers included Minister Galant, Opposition Leader Yitzchak (Buzi) Herzog, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Malcolm Hoenlein, the Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and ben Zur, the chairman of the caucus. To demonstrate the unprecedented unity on the subject of Har Hazeisim, Knesset members from across the spectrum attended the impressive ceremony. They included Rabbi Maklev, Asher and Eichler from Yahadut Hatorah, MK’s Venkin and Malchieli from Shas, MK’s Edelstein and Glick from Likud, MK Cohen from Yesh Atid, MK’s Herzog and Yonah from the Zionist Movement (Labor), MK Forer from Yisrael Beteinu and MK Galant from Kulanu. Amongst the 66 caucus members is also a representative from Meretz. This is the first time in the Knesset’s history that a majority of the parliamentary body joined a caucus on any issue. Most Knesset caucus groups include a handful to a dozen or so members.
On Wednesday, the mission was greeted by President Reuven Rivlin at Bet Hanasi. The President spoke of his deep family roots in Yerushalayim and the large number of his family members who are buried on Har Hazeisim. He had high praise for the efforts of the ICHH. “Who does not recognize that the leaders of our people are interred there,” said the President. On a historic day for Yerushalayim when President Donald Trump recognized Yerushalyim as the capital of Israel, the group ended the visit at a reception tendered by the city’s Mayor Nir Barkat. The Mayor spoke at length about what Yerushalayim represents to every Jew but focused on the dramatic changes on Har Hazeisim. He outlined his vision for drawing large numbers of visitors to Har Hazeisim, including extending the light rail, the construction of the Visitor Educational Center, a new cable car and other major improvements.
In summarizing the mission, Abe Lubinsky, chairman of the ICHH said: “It should be clear to everyone by now that the issue of restoring and protecting the international historic cemetery of the Jewish people is a matter of national consensus in Israel and by Jews worldwide irrespective of their ideological views.”