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Closing the Circle in the City Walls: A childhood in Jerusalem’s Old City

CM 19/05/2021

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As a child, Miki Wasserteil was among the first 15 families to settle in the Old City after the Six Day War. Now, at age 62, he returns to the home of his youth as the Director of External Relations of the Company for the Development of the Jewish Quarter.
“Our childhood in the Old City of Jerusalem was the stuff that legends are made of. As my friends and I played in the streets, we lived the prophecy. ‘Young boys and girls will play in its streets,’ the prophet said, but he didn’t say anything about how we would jump off the rooftops too.”
On the 55th anniversary of the liberation of Jerusalem, Micky Wasserteil (age 62) recalls his childhood among the “Children of the Walls,” in a special interview with The Jerusalem Post to mark the week of Yom Yerushalayim.
Deeply rooted in the past of Jerusalem, Wasserteil now returns to the Old City in his capacity as Director of External Relations of the Company for the Development of the Jewish Quarter, whose ambitious projects include the restoration of the Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue, and the construction of the Kotel Elevator to make the Old City wheelchair accessible.
The First to Come Home
Micky and his friends were among the first 15 families who moved into the Jewish Quarter immediately after the Six Day War. They have since gone their separate ways, but the sixty-year connection between them remains strong through regular reunions and a vibrant WhatsApp group. 
When Micky was a child, he was called “the Little Archaeologist” by his teachers, family and friends. Growing up between the walls of the Old City, Micky stood on the side and watched workers demolish dangerous walls. He was amazed to see the ancient, historical finds that were discovered during intense excavations beneath the floor of his home. In the years that followed the Six-Day War, he and his young friends witnessed the history of Jerusalem being revealed before their very eyes.
Micky described what it was like being a child of the Old City: “We grew up as a group of fearless kids without borders, living alongside Arab families who had a hard time coming to terms with their new neighbors. In school and among friends, we felt like an elite unit. It was a constant state of euphoria. We were the privileged few who merited to settle in the Jewish Quarter. It was the only place in the world where Jews had lived uninterrupted for over 3,000 years, including the period after the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, during the Persian and Roman Empires, and ever since. The only time in history in which Jews did not live there was between 1948-1967. We grew up hearing this narrative from our parents and families, while all the time we saw generals the likes of Moshe Dayan, Dado and Ezer Weizman walking outside our windows. It was all part of the excitement that gripped the country after the Six-Day War. It is no surprise that we felt like we were living in an ancient legend.”

“As a group of children, between the ages of 12-15, we lived through the greatest moments of the Zionist dream. We didn’t pass up a single archaeological find. Past, present and future swirled together in the dust and ashes of Jerusalem. We saw the city rebuilt upon its ruins. Warning signs about dangerous pits and unsturdy buildings drew us in like magnets. Our childhood playground was a historic construction site. We played catch with 2,000-year-old pottery. We were the first to touch painted walls from the Second Temple period. We walked on mosaic floors from the ancient past. The historian, General Yaakov Chasidai, would give us tours on Shabbat and explain to us the significance of the new discoveries in the Jewish Quarter.”
“Nuriel Getz z”l, the son of Rabbi Getz and brother of a paratrooper who fell in battle in the liberation of Jerusalem, would test our bravery. (Paratrooping was in his blood.)  He led us as we jumped from one rooftop to the next across the Old City, from the Jewish Quarter all the way to Damascus Gate. Sometimes we even jumped across alleyways to the rooftop on the far side. We ran where our parents feared to tread.”
After his marriage, Micky left his parents’ home, but he could not bring himself to leave the Old City. He spent several years moving from one apartment to the next in the Arab and Christian quarters. When his seventh child was born, he was finally forced to leave the place he loved most and make the move to the Beit El settlement. “We just couldn’t fit a family with seven kids into a one room apartment,” Micky recalls with a smile.
Coming Full Circle
Twenty-seven years later, Wasserteil came full circle and returned to the Jewish Quarter. This time, the “Little Archaeologist” took on a professional position as the Director of External Relations of the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter, responsible for the restoration of historic landmarks in the Old City. 
Of particular importance, he notes his current project to restore the Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue, which was destroyed in 1948, and has just now begun a program of restoration. After exhausting bureaucratic battles, Hertzel Ben Ari, the director and CEO, reached an agreement between all the relevant parties, allowing for the restoration of Tiferet Yisrael to begin. The last hurdle is a fundraising endeavor, as they search for partners who share their love and vision for the rebuilding of Jerusalem. The Israeli government is providing partial funding, but there is still an important opportunity for partnership of resources from those who treasure the holy city.
Past, Present and Future
The history of the Jewish people is carved into the stones of Jerusalem. There too lies our future. The Directors of the Company for the Development of the Jewish Quarter, Hertzel Ben-Ari and Daniel Shokron, are tirelessly pressing forward to fill the gaps and renew the face of the tourist locations that touch the hearts and souls of all who visit them. Modern media tools are put to use, highlighting the treasures of the past that are constantly being discovered. “We are leaving an important mark on the eternal city. Today, the Kotel is by far the most visited tourist spot in Israel. Still, the physical structure of the ancient city makes it inaccessible to the handicapped. We are overcoming bureaucratic hurdles and gathering support of caring partners to make the Kotel Elevator a reality. The elderly and the handicapped will easily be able to share the joys and wonders of the Kotel, the Old City and the City of David.”
“Everything is here,” Wasserteil concludes. “It is the greatest privilege in the world to take part in the renewal of the beating heart of the Jewish people. We have merited to see the ruins rebuilt, here in the center of it all. For hundreds of years, Jerusalem was left in ruins. The Jewish people have never forgotten her, throughout all the years of our exile, and now at long last we have returned. Now the time has come to lend a hand in restoring her glory, and help her sing her song in a way that will touch the hearts of all her visitors.” 

Source: Jerusalem Post

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