Photo Credit: Jewish Press

To the Prophet Yermiyahu,



I am writing to you as we live close to where you lived more than 2,600 years ago, and I wanted to let you know what is happening in our area. There have been immense changes since you were here, and I thought you might be interested in how your prophecies turned out. Everyone recalls the grim events you forecasted, but fewer people remember that you also prophesied eventual light at the end of the tunnel.

You had a hard life, having to tell the Jews of the time that G-d was so angry with them they were rushing headlong to disaster: famine, exile to Babylon, the eventual destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem. They had been backsliding in a big way: worshipping Baal, building altars in high places, and even sacrificing their own children. In short, they had broken their Covenant with G-d. They even persecuted you, and after your exile in Babylon, you fled to Egypt, and died there.

However, you did say that the exile would not last long and, of course, you were right; after 70 years the Jews were allowed to leave Babylon, and some of them came back to Jerusalem. There was a later exile – a much longer one, which we are still in the midst of. However, we are now back in Eretz Yisrael, and have our own state again!!

In your time, Anatoth, where you lived, was a small village of priests three miles north-east of the then very small holy city of Jerusalem, in the land of Benjamin. Now, it’s right next to Pisgat Zev, where I live, which is the largest suburb of a much-expanded Jerusalem. You’ll find it hard to imagine that 50,000 people live in Pisgat Zev, out of almost 900,000 in the whole of Jerusalem. But those are just numbers. I want to tell you something about life here in Pisgat Zev.

Our neighborhood was founded in 1982, to link the center of Jerusalem with Neve Yaakov, then an isolated neighborhood. There’s good housing, reasonably priced for Jerusalem, where apartments near the center of town are very expensive. It’s a pleasant neighborhood with mainly three- to four-story buildings. Don’t worry, we still have a view of hills, dropping down to the Judean Desert, and can glimpse the Jordan Valley from the hill in the park opposite our house.

The Jerusalem Municipality planted trees along the streets that have matured and give plenty of shade, and the many parks and playgrounds provide safe places for children to play in. It’s a family-oriented suburb, with kindergartens and schools. Jews who have emigrated from all over the world have made their homes here: you can hear Russian, Amharic, French, English, and Spanish on the streets, as well as Hebrew. It’s a mixed neighborhood religiously, although most people are quite traditional, and there are a great many shuls.

Some of the shuls aren’t recognizable as such from the outside, because they are really just shelters (used in wartime, G-d forbid), or schools that people use to daven in until money is raised for a proper shul, which can sometimes take years. Across the road from me, a shul is operating on what looks like a building site. It’s in the basement of what will be a 2-story building, once its congregants find the funds. But three times a day, I see men carefully walk down the path to daven in their makeshift accommodation.

You would be thrilled to know how much organized prayer – and learning – there is in our shuls and how vital this is in people’s lives, and about the amount of chesed and volunteering there is, both organized and spontaneous. Yad l’Yadid (A Helping Hand) is the address for families going through a rough time: they receive weekly food vouchers, Shabbat and Yom Tov meals, and hefty discounts at local stores for children’s shoes, school books and schoolbags. There is a shop that sells second-hand clothes and household goods very cheaply. Shul chesed committees organize meals for new mothers and the sick; women volunteer to cook Shabbat meals for lone soldiers far from home. A gemach keeps a stock of medications in case of urgent need, and there’s even a group of women who say Shir HaShirim each Friday evening as a segula that the singles in their shul find a shidduch. I imagine you smiling with nachas as you read this.

Shabbatot and chagim rule our lives on a weekly and yearly basis. Preparations for Shabbat begin on Wednesday, with the tastiest fruits and vegetables being bought. The many stores and supermarkets get deliveries on a regular basis; the kashrut certificates hang prominently on the wall to verify that all halachic requirements have been met regarding the produce. Thursday is cleaning day in many households, and with Friday comes delicious cooking and baking smells wafting from each building. Everyone in this neighborhood celebrates Shabbat – some may perhaps not yet do so in strict halachic terms (shamor – keep), but they all remember (zachor) Shabbat. The table is set with a white cloth, and everyone wears his or her best clothes in its honor.

As for the chagim, I’ll begin with Pesach, because this takes the most effort to celebrate properly. Everyone prepares for Pesach, starting well before Rosh Chodesh Nisan. No one asks, “How are you?” Instead, it’s “Where are you up to?” meaning, how is the cleaning going/have you washed the curtains/cleared out the kitchen cabinets/made lists and more lists? The stores are scrupulous in getting ready for Pesach, covering all the shelves that contain chometz with sheets, and clearly labeling the Pesachdik goods. Even so, shoppers of a certain age can be seen taking out their reading glasses or a magnifying glass to scrutinize the hechsher on each product. Pisgat Zev takes its Pesach seriously, and does its best to ensure that it’s as kosher as possible.

And so it is with all the chagim, each with its special focus: there are countless sukkot on balconies, a step away from the living room, during Tishrei; in Kislev, oil-filled chanukiot in glass cases stand at the entrances to the buildings. The serious but hopeful atmosphere of the Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur period is almost tangible. Everyone we are in daily contact with, from the bus driver to the supermarket checkout girl, wishes each other a Gmar Chatima Tova (a good year, signed and sealed).

Pisgat Zev lives in the present, looks forward to the future, and remembers the past. Out of my window, I can see in the park over the road gratings covering the remains of a First Temple habitation. It’s fanciful, I know, Yermiyahu HaNavi, but perhaps you once lived there, thousands of years ago. I think of you, imprisoned, when the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem, and how you tried to dispel the despair of the people. How? By buying a field in Anatoth from your cousin; witnesses saw you weigh out the silver for the purchase. They were impressed with your faith that, eventually, the Jews would fully repent and would be restored to their land, as G-d promised.

And this is what has happened! We have come back. “Yea, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will plant them in this land in truth with My whole heart and with My whole soul” (Yermiyahu, chapter 32). Now it’s up to us. If we keep the Covenant, we’ll continue to thrive and hear “the voice of joy and the voice of gladness,” just as you prophesied.

We look forward to the day.


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