• A Shabbos in the Old City

    Menachem Zigelbaum went to wait for Moshiach in one of the best places and best times possible. He came back with diary jottings of a Shabbos spent in the Old City of Yerushalayim during the “Three Weeks” — a Shabbos filled with hope, yearning and unwavering faith • By Beis Moshiach Magazine • Full Article

    Menachem Ziegelbaum, Beis Moshiach

    A little after seven in the morning, I made my way, a seven-minute walk, on the Jerusalem cobblestones from Rechov Chabad in the Old City to the kever of Dovid HaMelech which is near Shaar Tziyon. A mild Yerushalmi chill enveloped the city. With unhurried steps I allowed myself to take in the magical atmosphere of Shabbos morning in the Old City of Yerushalayim during the period of Bein HaMeitzarim.

    Jews of the Rova (Jewish quarter), along with other Jews, already make their way to one of dozens of shuls in the Old City. Many others rush to the variety of colorful minyanim at the Kosel plaza, a unique Yerushalmi blend of Chassidim alongside Litvaks, Sefardim and Teimanim alongside German Jews, knitted kippot, shtreimlach, kolpiks, “beaver hats” etc.

    L’havdil a million havdalos, there are Arabs too, who are already up and preparing for a new day. Some of them sweep the sidewalks and other hurry on their way to who-knows-where.

    It is Shabbos Mevorchim Av today and it’s an opportunity to get up early and finish the entire Tehillim at the kever of Dovid himself, to fulfill the takana of the Rebbe Rayatz. That which is a given to Yerushalmis is a special emotional experience to me.

    Kever Dovid is already wide open. I’m not the first. Other Lubavitcher tourists thought of “my” idea and I find them busy saying Tehillim. Most of them, as is not hard to detect, are visitors from other countries. They come from near and far, from the four corners of the world to spend Shabbos in Yerushalayim and experience the tranquility of body and soul with spiritual delight. Throughout the day, as it turns out, I will encounter those from abroad on multiple occasions.


    Shabbos in the Old City of Yerushalayim is an experience I recommend to whoever hasn’t experienced it yet. Those who experienced it, will surely be among those who recommend it.

    I spent last Shabbos (written back in 5778) in the Old City, inside the walls. There, from the house where I stayed, I saw the Har HaBayis; I could practically reach out and touch it. It was easy to imagine the Beis HaMikdash standing tall there in its full beauty. You go to sleep and and see the glowing lights emanating from the House of G-d; you get up in the morning and see the Beis HaMikdash, go to daven mincha at the Kosel and picture the evening korban tamid being sacrificed and the loud banging sound from the Heichal, a sign that the Levites are now closing the doors of the Azara …

    About a quarter of an hour before candle-lighting time, I set out leisurely toward the Kosel. Thousands of tourists as well as Jewish youth from around the globe fill the narrow alleyways, making their way to the Kosel. Some of them davened early and are already returning from there.

    If, every day of the year, the Kosel is an ingathering of the exiles, on Friday night it is that much more tangible. The plaza is packed with thousands of all ages, from dozens of countries, all welcoming the Shabbos, each community in its style. One cannot help but be moved. It’s easy to identify Anash with their sirtuks and hats. There are hundreds of them! Few of them are Israeli.

    “Shalom aleichem.”

    “Aleichem shalom.”

    “Where are you from?”

    “South Africa.”

    What difference is there to me between Menachem Mendel or Shneur from Israel and Menachem Mendel (or Shneur) the American, or Australian or maybe European. There is also the South African with whom I became acquainted the following morning. We are brothers and thousands of miles don’t really separate us. The clothing is the same and the characteristic Chabad glow makes you that much more connected.

    Dozens of minyanim band together with several Lubavitcher minyanim. The familiar Chabad niggunim, the tones and tunes that come from 770 remind us again that we have one father. The yellowish light of the Kosel illuminates the words that are more meaningful here:

    Sanctuary of the king, royal city,

    Arise! Leave from the midst of the turmoil;

    Long enough have you sat in the valley of tears

    And He will take great pity upon you compassionately.

    From the extremely deep poetic words, wells up the request that the city of the sanctuary of the King finally rise up and go out of exile and the valley of tears. The entreaty continues and the poignancy only gets stronger, a prayer for Geula here and now:

    Shake yourself free, rise from the dust,

    Dress in your garments of splendor, my people,

    By the hand of Yishai’s son of Beis Lechem,

    Redemption draws near to my soul.

    What is lacking for us to merit,“The glory of the Lord is revealed upon you” ?

    Rouse yourselves, rouse yourselves,

    Your light is coming, rise up and shine.

    These words take on greater intensity both because of the place where stands the remnant of our Beis HaMikdash and also thanks to the diversity of people, a real ingathering of exiles; also because of the time, the Three Weeks, the days when one’s heart churns for the building of the Beis HaBechira and the mind is busy with the details of the Bayis, its entryways and passageways.

    LIKE IN 770

    The Kosel HaMaaravi calls to me again and again but I daven shacharis in the Tzemach Tzedek shul in the Old City. The shul, founded in Av 5639/1879 and now 143 years old, was turned into a goat pen by the Jordanians. The Rebbe put much effort into redeeming this place from its abandoned state right after the Six Day War, the goal being to refurbish the ruins of the city. It is one of the first buildings in the Old City that was quickly restored to its original function, to serve as a house of G-d.

    We won’t get into the details of the story of its redemption and renovation now. It is a historic story while this article is about the present.

    About two years after its redemption, Rabbi Yehoshua Yuzevitz was appointed as gabbai of the shul and three years later, following instructions from the Rebbe, he was appointed as a member of the vaad ha’hanhala of the shul. R’ Yuzevitz is a remnant of the giants of Chabad askanus in Eretz Yisrael. He is counted among the veteran Chabad askanim in Yerushalayim, one of the activists of the local branch of Tzach since its founding, directed the network of mosdos chinuch Toras Emes, and above all else, served as the administrator of the Tzemach Tzedek shul.

    In his work in running the shul, he saw to its renovation, helped arranged visits of dignitaries who toured Chabad mosdos in Eretz Yisrael, and arranged farbrengens on Chassidic special days. Likewise, he saw to the running of the kollel that was based here as well as the purchase of the residential properties around the shul.

    For decades now, R’ Yuzevitz sits in his regular spot near the eastern wall of the shul and runs things with an able hand. It’s not easy running a shul like this. Unlike other shuls in the world, where the worshipers are regulars and the gabbai knows the people, their birthdays and yahrtzeits, their names and fathers’ names, at the Tzemach Tzedek shul many of the people are guests.

    The shul was considered so important that in years past, veteran Chassidim in Yerushalayim would walk from various neighborhoods in the new city, Pagi, Sanhedria, etc. in order to daven there. They included Rabbi Chanoch Glitzenstein, Rabbi Yosef Chaim Gelbstein, Rabbi Tzvi Wiesler, Rabbi Dovid Leib Chein, Rabbi Leibel Chatzarnov, Rabbi Mottel Olidort, and many others.

    At about ten in the morning, like every other Chabad shul in the world, the signal is given and davening commences. Thanks to the variety of guests the regulars get to hear baalei tefilla, chazanim, R’ Moshe Adler at shacharis and the young chazan Caytek for mussaf, whose voices rise and rise as though competing with the domed ceiling that extends upward two or three stories of blue. As a chazanus enthusiast, this was an added to treat to an uplifting Shabbos.

    The Tzemach Tzedek, says R’ Moshe Meshi-Zahav, one of the attendees of the shul, and he refers to the shul, not to the Admor, is like 770.

    What do you mean?

    “The guests bring the atmosphere of 770 with them. It’s the place where you meet faces from all over: Florida, California, Crown Heights, South Africa; old friends you haven’t seen in years, some living far away. Every Shabbos there are old-time Chassidim, rabbanim and shluchim alongside mekuravim and those who need a boost, but when they come to Yerushalayim for Shabbos, they come here. It’s just like 770.”

    I meet R’ Moshe Schloss, a Lubavitcher Chassid who has been living in the Old City for forty years. On Shabbos and Yom Tov he davens in Tzemach Tzedek. Only on weekdays does he daven at the Kosel.

    He doesn’t make a “competition” between the Kosel and the Chabad minyan but he insists on attending the Chabad minyan. “Why,” he asks, “This is the Rebbe’s shul; the only shul that wasn’t destroyed during the wars that the Old City went through. That’s no small thing,” he says.

    He also tells of farbrengens that take place every Shabbos and often they get to farbreng with rabbanim and shluchim from the world over.

    “For many years, we had Rabbi Adin Even-Yisrael farbreng with us,” he notes sadly, “until he became sick a year ago and then stopped coming.”

    He said there are some Lubavitcher families who come Shabbos morning from Rechavia. “They walk in the heat and the cold with their children to daven in Tzemach Tzedek.”

    I hear a veiled criticism in his tone. When I pressed him a bit he sadly said, “Many of the guests and Chabadnikim who come here, daven at the Kosel rather than daven in the shul that the Rebbe put so much into. On Friday night, for example, we sometimes suffer the lack of a minyan. Don’t forget that in the Old City there are only six or seven Lubavitcher families.”

    R’ Moshe Schloss sweetens the bitter pill a bit when he says, “There are shluchim and rabbanim who come on Shabbos to Tzemach Tzedek; they understand what the Tzemach Tzedek is…”


    An inseparable part of the weekly prayer schedule at the old Lubavitcher shul is the kiddush, or farbrengen in Chassidic parlance. In a nearby hall in the yard of the shul, also nicely renovated, everything is ready for a generous kiddush. Refreshments are set up on tables, a bountiful spread, donated by R’ Zev Zeiler. The kiddush is a tradition every Shabbos and guests attend it from all over the world, including shluchim, rabbanim and mashpiim.

    The regulars as well as the guests enjoy farbrengens with the great mashpiim who can be heard and appreciated on rare occasions, whether because they are far from home or because they only open up their treasure stores at auspicious times, and there is no better time than a Yerushalmi Shabbos in the Old City, which elevates the spirit and opens the heart.

    You probably have to admit that this is nearly the only Chabad shul in the world where the farbrengen takes place simultaneously in Hebrew, Yiddish and English.

    On Shabbos, parshas Pinchas, the one who “took the reins” at the farbrengen was R’ Yuzevitz.

    “We are deep in the days of galus of the Three Weeks,” he begins as he clearly delivers his main message about the imminent Geula. “The Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach (his words), will come and redeem us. He is waiting for us, eagerly anticipating that we be ready.”

    For a long time he strengthened the feeling of hiskashrus to the Rebbe among those present. Now and then, he drank l’chaim and then continued to speak in the spirit of these days, about the preparing and anticipation to welcome Moshiach. He went on to pour out his heart about how the connection of every Jew with Hashem must be primarily with love, more than fear.

    For many years, R’ Yuzevitz would come every Shabbos morning from the center of town and remain until nightfall. In recent years, since it’s hard for him to walk, he arrives before Shabbos and sleeps there. He does this every Shabbos and Yom Tov. “I don’t leave the place. The shul gives me life.”

    Tangible evidence of this is the blue paroches, seemingly ordinary, but if you examine the wording on it you see that under the dedication of R’ Yuzevitz’s children to their father, they added an embroidered copy of the Rebbe’s handwritten note to their father on Chanuka 5731: With a blessing for great success in Tzemach Tzedek in Yerushalayim… in a way of increasing until Tzemach’s arrival.

    I commented on this unusual paroches which was donated by his sons in honor of his eightieth birthday.

    During the farbrengen, R’ Yuzevitz asked me to say a few words. As is customary, I declined two or three times but R’ Yuzevitz was faithful to the task and I spoke briefly about learning Hilchos Beis HaBechira.

    At a certain point, Tegbo Malassa turned to me; his name and appearance indicate that he is Ethiopian. He was wearing a “kasket” style cap. Clearly a bit of a character, and here there are many like him. He asked me the meaning of the word “ha’bechira.” I explained the principle that a true chooser always chooses the best, like us, for example, Am Yisrael, who were chosen from all the nations. Choosing is with something close to the heart, the heart of Hashem. So too, there is a chosen building.

    The farbrengen ended at two-thirty or three. Participants went to the Shabbos meal with their families. The sun beat down on those walking on Rechov Chabad on their way to the alleyways of the Old City. Relatively few tourists are walking through the winding paths of Rechov HaYehudim toward the Cardo. On a regular day, this place is packed with multitudes of people. I peeked into the nearby Ramban shul which, tradition has it, was founded by Rabeinu Moshe ben Nachman about 750 years ago when he came from Girona in Spain. A pair of bachurim were learning in big Gemaras.

    Above them, in the giant and impressive hall of the Churva shul of Rabi Yehuda HaChassid, fathers and sons file in; residents of the Old City and their children, who come to review what the children learned in yeshiva that week. This is a sweet father-son time, with learning and personal attention.


    Late afternoon, raava d’raavin. The Jerusalem wind that I really missed so much the past few hours returned and caressed the domed stone roofs of the Old City. Together with family, we went for a Shabbos afternoon walk. From the Batei Machseh plaza, close to the Gal-Ed memorial stone over the temporary mass grave where 48 Jews of the Jewish quarter defenders in the War of Independence were buried. We went up on a rooftop, to the spectacular panoramic Yerushalmi view with the Har HaBayis in the center. This was a time to raise the knowledge on the subject of the Beis HaMikdash to an experiential level and I described to my children which side the Beis HaMikdash stood, where the bridge was on which one passed from the Beis HaMikdash to Har HaZeisim, and the early rays of the sun they would encounter every morning, on the eastern side, the marble tiles that were made in blue-green-white colors which gave a magnificent sense of rolling waves.

    In the distance is the Jordan Valley. I point in the direction of Yericho; Chazal say that the scent of the ketores that they made in the Mikdash wafted till there and the goats in Yericho would sneeze from the fragrance. To actually see the distances and be amazed…

    Around us was a “sea” of ancient Yerushalmi roofs. I described to my children the Leil Shimurim when the Mikdash was extant, when the Jewish people would go up to the roofs at the end of the seder, at midnight (since “the Pesach sacrifice is not eaten except at night and is not eaten except until midnight”) and  how, with the full moon illuminating the heavens, along with the breeze that caressed our faces at the time; the children did not have to exert themselves much to be able to “hear” the sweet sound of the Hallel from the millions of olei regel, which rose up to the One whose eyes are fixed upon the Beis HaMikdash night and day. How fabulous is this sight for which we beseech three times a day, “And to Yerushalayim Your city return in mercy, and dwell within it …”

    It will be mincha in a few minutes and we hurry back to the Kosel. The outer and inner plaza fill up slowly. The sun sets and an orange light fills the large expanse.

    About forty talmidim of shiur gimmel in Yeshivas Chanoch L’Naar in Tzfas, along with about a hundred talmidim of the Chassidic Technology Institute headed by Rabbi Eliezer Wilschansky are also here for Shabbos. After mincha, they sit in a circle in the center of the plaza and launch into a “Seder Niggunim.” Slowly a crowd begins to form around them, young and old, of all backgrounds, listening in to the traditional Chabad experience and to the sweet sounds of the niggun that rises into the air. A “niggun deveikus” and a “niggun Shabbos v’yom tov,” and another niggun until the Niggun Hachana for the maamar.

    R’ Wilschansky stands up and begins reviewing a maamar Chassidus. It’s not easy doing this in the commotion that is typical of the Kosel but many people listen in.

    The first photographers who aren’t Jewish start photographing the special scene. From a participant I instantly turn into a Beis Moshiach reporter and go over to the photographers in the hopes that I can get pictures from them so I could give you, the readers, a taste of the special atmosphere of Shabbos in close proximity to the remnant of our Mikdash… Oh well…


    This Shabbos, in which you could almost taste the Geula, had to conclude with a melave malka, seudas Dovid Malka Meshicha, of course. At the nearby kever of Dovid HaMelech.

    It turns out that there is an organization that already handles this, and every motzoei Shabbos there is a grand melava malka there with many participants. Candles are lit and there are fresh rolls and salads, even fish, all according to custom.

    Midnight. This is the time that Dovid HaMelech would get up from his brief sleep and sing praises to Hashem every night. “At midnight I arise to thank You.”

    This feeling is with me as I return to weekday life. I remember and remind the children that in Gush Dan, where we live, we can continue living this exalted atmosphere, especially these days, by learning inyanei Beis HaMikdash and Hilchos Beis HaBechira.


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