Latest Wave of Terror Attacks Hit Jerusalem English-speakers Disproportionately Hard

The killing of five of its fold shakes up the Har Nof community that had previously felt miles away from he Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Emil Salman

An atmosphere of weeping, exile, and dread prevailed among the English speaking ultra-Orthodox community of Jerusalem's Har Nof neighborhood this week, in the wake of the latest wave of terror attacks.

Jerusalem is paying the bloodiest price in these horrific events and the English speaking ultra-Orthodox community has paid more than its share. Five of the victims in these attacks have been members of the community. The first was three-month-old Chaya Zissel Braun, who was murdered almost a month ago. This week it was four men who were slain by terrorists while praying – Avraham Goldberg, Kalman Levine, Aryeh Kupinsky, and Moshe Twersky.

Thursday's English-language edition of Hamodia newspaper was almost entirely dedicated to the terror attack on the synagogue.

"We weep for a people that are in exile in their own Land. We weep as our brethren live in a state of fear, as wives and mothers are filled with trepidation every time their husband and sons go to shul, and husbands and fathers worry each time their wives or daughters leave the house to take a bus or light rail," the newspaper's editorial read.

"We weep over the fact that it takes a terrible tragedy for us to all come together.
More than anything else, we weep over the fact that after nearly two thousand years, we still await the Geulah."

Har Nof, a large neighborhood in western Jerusalem, is home to Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews of all denominations, including Sephardi and English speaking Haredim.

The thousands of families living here always felt immune and detached from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The English speaking community among them was a minority within a minority, exiles in their own land.

But then terror penetrated the quiet neighborhood with two bloody events. This summer Har Nof was a stop on the way to the murder of Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir in a nearby forest. One of the suspected perpetrators is a local man. This week two Palestinians came from the edge of the city to murder four Jews while they were praying and also killed a policeman who came to their rescue.

"It's not surprising that all four of the fatalities in the murderous rampage in Har Nof Tuesday morning were immigrants from the United States or England. A significant minority of the neighborhood is English speaking," Hamodia said.

"It's not surprising that the fatalities include a prominent Rosh Kollel [head of a school of rabbinic law for married men] and baalei Batim [householders] who are kov'ei itim [influential religious persons]These are the kinds of people you would find in almost any shul in Har Nof, a community of spiritual growth and tolerance, of incredible chessed [charity], of yeshivos that cater to everyone, including American Baalei teshuvah [converts to a religious Jewish lifestyle]."

The English speaking Haredi community is also prominent in Beit Shemesh with newspapers and magazines in English, Torah lessons and a leisure culture including basketball and athletic walking in the evenings. This is a huge innovation for Israeli-born Haredim. Some of them live their entire life in English and some, like the four who died this week, are well-integrated in the local community.

Many ultra-Orthodox people feel cut off from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The synagogue attack spread panic among recently arrived students in one- or two-year programs. Students – both male and female – who Thursday came to pray in the synagogue that had been attacked, said their parents were begging them on the phone to come home.

Benjamin Rose, a news editor in the English edition of the ultra-Orthodox weekly Mishpacha (family), says many in the English speaking ultra-Orthodox community feel a growing connection to the local Haredi community and to the wider Israeli public.

"During the Gaza war we published stories about soldiers and I personally interviewed wounded soldiers," Rose says.

"The ultra-Orthodox people's view of the IDF has changed, but to my regret what unites us happens this wayThis is God's will: if we don't do it properly, He brings blows and messages so that we see what needs to be done. It's sad, but all the great rabbis are talking about it," he says.