The Yemenite village in the Shiloach
“And a City shall be built on its former mound of destruction”
1. Establishing private houses. After living for several years in the Hekdesh houses, the Yemenite immigrant families slowly improved their situation, acquiring private land and establishing by their own hands a charming Yemenite neighborhood south of the Ezrat Nidachim houses. In his memoirs, Rabbi Yoseph Madmoni, the Rabbi of the village, tells of how the Yemenite immigrants acquired ten dunams of land close to the Hekdesh houses from an Arab lady called Fatma daughter of Mustafa, owner of land in the area. The families divided the ten dunams among themselves and each family received a small estate of 10 by 10 cubits.
This purchase occurred in 1891 and many documents attest to the continued acquisition of nearby land by Yemenite families in the years to follow. Mr. Moshe Yahud, one of the children who were born in the Shiloach village, wrote: “I think of it even and I can not fathom it, it does not give me rest… How the Jews of Yemen built the houses in the village of Shiloach on that steep slopes of the mountain, without a paved road…I can imagine to myself what difficult labor they kept doing so faithfully, carrying building blocks on the backs of camels, water for the construction on donkeys. With what amount of stubbornness and persistence, of the spirit, what amounts of will power, toil and sweat of the brow they had to put in, and built all those orderly community buildings, synagogues and ritual baths. What was the persistent and stubborn strength of faith that goaded them to their holy work?” ”The houses are built by their owners, not professionally planned. Each has a different style… one is built of coarse stone and another of crafted stone, built with whatever at hand, everyone doing as much as he could afford and with the physical strength he had when returning in the evening from a day of work in the city, working in the light of the stars and the moon while putting one course of stones on top of the other, each man helping his neighbor… until they raised the walls and arched the roofs, affixing the Mezuzot and entering to dwell in the new place that even though it is not at all a mansion – for them there is no better than it, and it was greater to them more than any palace in the world. The few streets behind the houses are paved with coarse stone and though they were narrow, cleanliness reigns... " (I. Zrachi, The Village of Shiloach, Am Oved Publishers, 1980 p.128). Forty-five houses were built by the Yemenites in the village of Shiloach, who constructed them with their own hands. Within them they lived, in the tradition of Yemen, a quiet and peaceful life.
2. Work and Financial Support The inhabitants of the village of Shiloach were laborers, and they never turned down any kind of work they could do for their living. Among them were those who worked at embroidery. Whole families would sit and embroider under the tutelage of Mrs. Shani, from the 'WIZO' organization which concerned itself with selling their work. Others established grocery stores in the village and supplied the locals with basic necessities such as flour, salt and oil. The Husni family raised cows and sold their milk. Shlomo Hazi traded wheat, which he brought on an adventurous journey from across the Jordan river. There were also others who owned stores in the Old City of Jerusalem. From the village came the first stonecutters and quarrymen of Jerusalem stone, such as Salah Yahud and Yehuda Harat, (who were among the stonecutters of the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem). Each family in the village of Shiloach cultivated a small garden next to their house where they grew vegetables and sweet smelling herbs. Others sowed wheat and barley fields for their donkeys and cows.
3. Coexistence Continuing in the traditions of their life in Yemen, the residents of the village of Shiloach persevered in maintaining peace and tranquility with their Arab neighbors. The Yemenites spoke their language and knew their customs. The good neighborly relations were seen in good time and bad. At the end of the Passover holiday the Arabs baked pitah bread to bring to the houses of their Jewish neighbors, and the Jews reciprocated with gifts of food at all times. This special relationship between the Jews of the village and their Arab neighbors expressed itself again during the riots of 1929 as will be told later. Moshe Husni, one of the children of the village, tells in his memoirs: "We had an Arab neighbor who was unable to conceive. My grandfather, Ya'akov Husni, would prepare for her a medicinal of herbs. After two years a child was born, but his mother was unable to suckle him so my mother suckled him. This baby’s name was Muhmad Katma and when he grew up, he took advantage of our family when in financial straits, loaning us money in hope to take our land in the village as a pledge.
4. The Mukhtar (Head of the Village, Village Leader) The village of Shiloach had a Mukhtar who represented the people of the village to the local government, institutions of the 'Yishuv', and the Arab neighbors. By his authority, he also dealt with the internal matters of the local Jews. The first Mukhtar was David Awad, followed by Aharon Avraham Maliach.
5. The Religious Leadership and the Synagogues At the head of the religious leadership of the Yemenites of the Shiloach stood three Rabbis who immigrated from San’a in 1882: Rabbi Yoseph Sa’id Madmoni, Rabbi Yichia Tzarom and Rabbi Shalom Araqi. Over time, two of the Rabbis left the village and dispersed among other groups of Yemenites while Rabbi Yoseph Sa’id Madmoni remained the Rabbi of the Shiloach village. Rabbi Yoseph Madmoni was the “mori” (the religious teacher) for the children of the village, wrote Bar-Mitzvah sermons for the children and gave Torah lessons before the community in the synagogue on every Sabbath. Rabbi Madmoni was a Posek, instructed his people in Jewish Law (Halacha), an interpreter of the Halacha, who judged and clarified matters amongst the locals and represented the residents to the government and institutions alongside the village Mukhtar. There were three Yemenite synagogues plus one Sephardi synagogue in the village. The synagogue in the neighborhood of the 'Hekdesh houses' is the only structure of the 'Hekdesh houses' left standing to this day.
6.Educating the Youth At first, the boys of the village studied with the mori, while the girls and younger children did not have a formal educational framework. In 1918, a kindergarten was established in the village of Shiloach. Mrs. Rivka Katz from Motza was the first teacher and later, in 1920, was joined by Yehudit Bendel. Aside from Hebrew education, the kindergarten children who came from poor families received a nutritious lunch. Unfortunately, there were many orphans in the Yemenite village. In a list of the children of the village compiled in 1918, there were 50 children in the village, 23 of which were orphans. Over the course of the years, the children of the village transferred to study at the Sephardi Talmud Torah in the Old City of Jerusalem and in the afternoons would return to the village to study with the mori. The girls were also sent to study outside the village at the Hadassah school in the Old City. The way to the school was difficult and winding. Without a paved way, the children would leap over rocks in the summer and find themselves stuck in mud in the winter, while heading down to the Kidron valley, back up to the Dung gate and from there into the Old City of Jerusalem. More than one of the girls of the village feared to pass through the dimly lit area next to the Dung gate, frightened of being harassed by young hooligans from Silwan.
7. The Best of Tradition In the village a special manner of life developed, following the traditions and customs from Yemen. It was only natural that new groups of immigrants arriving from Yemen would spend their first days in the Land of Israel in the village of Shiloach. Some of the new immigrants were absorbed into the 'Hekdesh houses', and others acquired their own land and houses in Shiloach, while still others spread throughout the land of Israel. When there was a wedding in Shiloach, Yemenites would gather from all over Jerusalem to join in and celebrate the occasion according to the best of Yemenite tradition. Even though the return home would be in the dark over unpaved roads, no one would give up on the occasion to meet and celebrate together. The singing and dancing would be accompanied by percussion instruments, darbukas, tumkulas (a copper plate struck by small hammer), and drumming on oil barrels that were readily available. The festivities could be heard from afar. The bread of the villagers was baked in small ovens in their yards, and was dipped in shug and hilba and eaten together with the soup and kubane. Water was drawn from the spring of Shiloach, as well as from a well called in Arabic Bir Ayub (Job’s well) and cisterns dug near the houses to collect rain water. Everyone helped each other in the village spontaneously and altruistically. Most of the villagers found livelihood enough for their living, even in poverty, and helped the needy with necessities and food. To this day, many children raised in the village look back with nostalgia to the joyous atmosphere that reigned in the village of the Yemenites. "The people of the village of Shiloach lived according to the customs of their forefathers year after year summer and winter, going about their work and completing their chores, propagating and raising their children for Chupa (marriage canopy, wedding) and good deeds. And though wealth did not dwell amongst them, they were happy with their lot and blessed the Lord who brought them out of the land of their Diaspora and planted them in the holy place near the walls of Jerusalem” (Y. Zrachi, The Village of Shiloach, Am Oved Publishers, 1980 , p.133).