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No More Foxes on Mount Zion

Shlomi Gil

Little did Rav Mordechai Goldstein, founder of Diaspora Yeshiva, know he would be creating a teshuvah revolution and rebuilding the ruins of Jerusalem

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

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“This was the ’60s and people were searching for real meaning, for real spirituality in their lives. Someone had to accept them as they were and teach them Torah.” Rav Mordechai Goldstein and his son Reb Yitzchak, the yeshivah’s administrator, share with Mishpacha’s reporter the days when there was nothing on the mountain but vacated churches, a Holocaust memorial, and the barely accessible kever of King David. (Photos: Lior Mizrachi)

TIt was just weeks after the 1967 Six Day War, and although much of Jerusalem’s Old City was covered in rubble, that didn’t prevent a steady stream of worshippers to brave the summer heat and dust and make their way to the newly liberated Kosel Hamaaravi. That year, the Three Weeks of mourning Jerusalem’s destruction would be laced with a glimmer of hope — a “caress” from Hashem that the Holy City would yet be rebuilt. 

Not far away, just outside the Old City walls on Mount Zion — which had been the border and a kind of no-man’s land since 1948 — a ragtag group of counterculture American guys who’d found their way to Israel were making their own contribution to rededicating ancient holy sites. They were the core group of the fledgling Diaspora Yeshiva — Israel’s first baal teshuvah yeshivah — which had just been awarded a run-down, abandoned plot of land surrounding what many have traditionally considered to be King David’s Tomb. There was no infrastructure — no electricity, no water — and even the old churches on the mountain had been vacated. And so they dug their hands into the soil of Eretz Yisrael, laid pipes and makeshift electric lines, and put down the foundations of a yeshivah that, over the next 50 years, would serve as a portal for tens of thousands of young men looking to reconnect to their Jewish roots. 

No one disturbed them there that summer. Access to Har Tzion — “desolate, where foxes prowl” as the prophet Yirmiyahu describes in Eichah — was limited, even dangerous. In fact, it took a few years for people to come back in large numbers to the kever of Dovid Hamelech. 

: “We didn’t even know what the place was. But we didn’t ask too many questions, we just came. The main form of transportation here was on the back of a donkey, so we rode donkeys. There was no electricity or sewage system, nothing.”

“Today it seems strange,” Rosh Yeshivah Rav Mordechai Goldstein told Mishpacha. “Now there’s a different reality, and people converge on Har Tzion day and night.”

But it all started with this one forward-thinking rav who had made aliyah with his family two years before, bearing the conviction that any Jew can be changed and elevated once he’s exposed to the wisdom of Torah.

Rav Goldstein, now in his 80s and confined to a wheelchair, still gives a daily iyun shiur in the yeshivah for students who have been with him for decades as well as to young men who recently joined the ranks. And despite a slew of health problems that make talking difficult, his eyes still burn with that youthful bren, his mind is sharp as a tack, and although his son Reb Yitzchak manages the yeshivah today and his other sons serve as maggidei shiur, he’s still clearly the leader of the yeshivah community he created nearly half a century ago.

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