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Just four years ago, RRoi Uliel and his family moved to the Abu Tor (Givat Chananya) neighborhood of Yerushalayim in order to work with the Jewish families there. He managed to form a small community, to start a yeshiva and even to be elected, against all odds, to the vaad of the neighborhood. If you are familiar with the neighborhood, you know this is nothing short of an open miracle. * Lets take a tour of Abu Tor with the shliach and his khilla.

Abu Tor, or Givat Chananya which is its Hebrew name, is located south of the Old City. It is a unique neighborhood in that Jews live in the upper half and Arabs live in the lower half. The neighborhood is located precisely 770 meters above sea level. For this reason, the upper part of the neighborhood overlooks beautiful scenery from where you can also see the Temple Mount.

Abu Tor is a neighborhood full of history and battles. It was founded over 200 years ago as a Moslem neighborhood but at the same time a business development was founded called Beit Yosef where Jewish homes were built. This neighborhood suffered from repeated attacks by Arabs and after the pogroms of 1929 the Jews left their homes. In 1948, the western portion was conquered in an operation called Mivtza Kilshon (Operation Pitchfork).

In the ceasefire agreement, the border was established on Rechov Asael with the Jewish section up the hill and the Arab section on the lower level. Government officials and new immigrants settled in the Jewish section.

During the Six Day War, the entire neighborhood was re-conquered after a bitter battle that cost sixteen lives. Since then, the neighborhood is considered one of the elite neighborhoods of Yerushalayim. It consists of spacious stone houses surrounded by high walls. Most recently, the neighborhood was mentioned in the news when police killed convicted terrorist Moataz Hejazi in a shootout in the Abu Tor neighborhood. Hejazi attempted to murder Yehuda Glick.

Most residents of Abu Tor are old-time, wealthy Jews. During the 90’s and the beginning of the 2000’s a number of Jewish families from America and France moved in with the nucleus of the neighborhood remaining the old-timers who were mostly from North Africa. Another nucleus of Jews is those who hold extreme Leftist views who moved to the neighborhood hoping for coexistence with their Arab neighbors.

Up until four years ago, not a single religious Jew lived in Abu Tor. There were two shuls, one Sefardi and one Ashkenazi, one of which was about to close, while the other operated primarily on Shabbos and holidays and even then, only partially. The transformation of the neighborhood in the past four years is thanks to a Lubavitcher Chassid, R’ Roi Uliel.

R’ Uliel rehabilitated the Sephardic shul, founded a yeshiva there for baalei t’shuva which has become a spiritual beacon even for other nearby neighborhoods, and breathed Jewish life into Abu Tor. Neither those opposed to his work nor his admirers can remain indifferent to this dynamic Chassid who operates in the neighborhood with so much love. The positive change in the neighborhood is so dramatic that in recent elections R’ Uliel was elected to serve as deputy to the head of the neighborhood vaad.

How did this all happen in such a short period of time, we wondered. It couldn’t have been easy. Difficulties were not lacking at first, nor as time went on, but consistency and determination are the secret to his success. To R’ Uliel, this is just the beginning; he has many plans for the future.


R’ Roi Uliel was born in the nearby Armon HaNatziv neighborhood. He was raised in a typical, traditional Yerushalmi home. When he grew older he began searching and after a long journey with many twists and turns he began taking his first steps in the world of t’shuva. Later, he became acquainted with the shliach, R’ Chaim Nisselevitz through whom he learned about the world of Chabad. He became mekushar to the Rebbe and became a Chassid. After he married, he lived in Crown Heights for a few years.

Then the couple decided to return to Eretz Yisroel and go on shlichus. The plan was to settle in Yerushalayim and to light up another neighborhood with the light of Chassidus. R’ Uliel is the kind of person who dreams big and so he decided that his first activity would be to start a yeshiva.

He was familiar with Abu Tor since he was a boy, as he had lived nearby. It is a pretty, well taken care of neighborhood with large expanses of grass, trees, and parks. Almost no signs of Jewish tradition were to be seen. He thought he would adopt this neighborhood and start working there.

“My only concern was about money. Where would I get money to start a yeshiva? I knew it cost a lot and I wrote to the Rebbe about this. The answer I opened to in the Igros Kodesh was astonishing. The Rebbe was writing to a Chassid “who works in mosdos under the leadership of the Rebbe, my father-in-law,” and the Rebbe told him you see inordinate success in your work and have merited ample children, life, and a livelihood and not just for you but for your descendants.

“When I read this answer, all my doubts vanished. I knew I was going on shlichus.”

Back then, the Uliel family lived in Katamon. Every morning, R’ Roi went to Abu Tor to get acquainted and to look for a suitable place from where he could operate. One day, he arrived at the highest point in the neighborhood, a piece of land belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church, one of the most beautiful lookout points in the world. He noticed there, to his surprise, a building that belonged to the Sephardic shul, “Sholom V’Reiut.”

“It was wintertime, the place was open, and I walked in. I saw a total of three people davening there. I davened Mincha with them and then asked one of the older men about the shul. He said that in the past the place had been busy but most of the veteran worshipers had died and the minyan had shrunk until only three of them remained. He gave me the gabbai’s telephone number. The building was spacious and I figured that if the place was hardly used, maybe I could use it.

“I called the gabbai that night and made my proposal to start doing Chabad outreach and programming out of the shul. His first reaction was a definite no. ‘In the past, other religious activists tried to enter the shul but they just disturbed and ruined things,’ he said firmly. I told him about Chabad and about the Rebbe and asked him to at least think it over. I told him about the rumors that I had heard, that the administration of the Greek Church was thinking of asking for the shul building and putting one of their buildings there.

“The gabbai, who was surprised by my persistence, promised to think things over. I was sure he would not get back to me after he had been so definite in his refusal and I began looking at other places. A few days later he called me back and said yes, along with a few easy terms. We arranged to collaborate and our first activity was Mivtza Purim.

“The week before Purim, we went from house to house in the neighborhood and announced the Megilla reading which would take place in the Sephardic shul. We had no idea how many people would show up as it was our first foray in the neighborhood.

“The reactions we heard were dramatic, both for and against. Those who were happy to see us asked us why we hadn’t come until now and raised doubts about the success of our work. Some of them gave us only a few weeks before we would break. There were also those who slammed their doors in our faces and hissed things like, ‘Chareidim, scram,’ and ‘don’t chareidize our neighborhood.’ The gabbai himself snickered at my naiveté. He thought it was a shame to waste our time and efforts but I had faith and soldiered on.

“Six people came to the Megilla reading and I considered this a great success. When I told the gabbai, he was surprised and he left me the keys to the shul. ‘From now on, you operate without asking me,’ he said.

“The next project was before Pesach when we distributed shmura matza. There is one house which I will never forget. A Filipina opened the door and said I could not come in since the man of the house was old and sick. I insisted and asked her to ask permission from him. She asked him and he was happy to let us in. When he saw the matzos he burst into tears. He said he had grown up in a religious home and had not seen shmura matza in many years. I cheered him up and promised I would come again to visit him. When I left his house I thought that just for him all the humiliation I had suffered was worthwhile.”

This is a neighborhood where they were not used to seeing Jews wearing beards and tzitzis.

“When I first came to the neighborhood, nearly every week policemen stopped me and asked me to show them my ID. I found it strange. I suspected they were harassing me because of my work which displeased someone in the neighborhood who was connected with the police.

“A year later, I met someone who was in the administration of the Ashkenazi shul who wanted to speak to me privately. He was already familiar with my work and he wanted to tell me something. He said that when I was first starting out, some break-ins had occurred in the neighborhood. As a volunteer policeman he noticed me and innocently thought that I was the thief, dressing up like a religious person. He told the police his suspicions and that is why they kept checking up after me.

“This story is just one example of what I had to deal with when I was first starting out.”


R’ Uliel decided it was time to move.

“It is difficult to find empty apartments in this exclusive neighborhood. It is not a place where they are building new homes and the existing homes are occupied. Few people move. Through connections that my family has, a suitable apartment was found but the owner wanted me to move in within two weeks. The problem was that our contract for our apartment in Katamon ended in half a year and this would mean I would have to pay rent for two homes, which was too much for me.

“I decided to go l’chat’chilla aribber and I told the owner of the apartment in Abu Tor that we would move within two weeks. In the meantime, I advertised my apartment in Katamon for rent. A few hours later, a person came, walked around the apartment for three minutes and then asked me when we were leaving since he wanted to move in in two weeks.”

Two weeks later, the family of shluchim moved to Abu Tor.

After a year of activities R’ Uliel decided to move ahead with his plans for a yeshiva.

“I met with four people in chinuch and asked them to be the pioneers in founding the yeshiva. They asked me about money and I told them about the Rebbe’s answer. As for the practical end of things, I told them that I had several wealthy mekuravim in the US and I planned on raising money from them that would enable the founding of the yeshiva and establishing it in the initial months.”

After R’ Uliel returned from the US, the yeshiva began coming together. On 12 Tammuz there was a farbrengen with the mashpia, R’ Chaim Nisselevitz, in the course of which the yeshiva was officially founded.

“The first talmidim were balabatim from the neighborhood who learned Nigleh and Chassidus. After Tishrei, three bachurim from 770 came and the yeshiva was on the map. The Moroccan shul became the zal and during breaks, the bachurim did outreach on the streets of the neighborhood and outside of it as well.”

The yeshiva’s reputation spread throughout the neighborhood and about a minyan of baalei t’shuva joined it. The yeshiva staff includes the mashpia R’ Zalman Notik, R’ Abba Merzel, R’ Noam Harpaz, and R’ Chaim Nisselevitz. The administrative staff includes Shai Sharon, Liraz Tuval, and Omer Michael.

With the help of the T’mimim, the work of hafatza in the neighborhood grew tremendously.

“One of our friends who is a maggid shiur in Yeshivat HaKotel, R’ Tzvi Berlin, began giving shiurim in the Rebbe’s sichos in the night kollel we started in the Moroccan shul. Many residents, who in the past had hardly seen a shul from the inside, began visiting regularly.

“We also started a Tzivos Hashem club with twelve children. In a neighborhood like Abu Tor there are relatively few children, so this is a success.”

The Moroccan shul is now busy and there are shiurim and t’fillos daily. Who even remembers the period of neglect?

In the meantime, the yeshiva became independent and moved elsewhere.

“Before I made this decision I asked the Rebbe for a bracha and whether this was the right thing to do. The answer was to a yeshiva in Pittsburgh and the Rebbe wished them mazal tov upon their moving into new quarters.

“Since then, within a short period of time, we have brought in two Sifrei Torah to the yeshiva and the shul. Worshipers bought an Aron Kodesh and a new bima and a library full of s’farim. Many local residents visit throughout the day. The bachurim are the ones who give the place its special chayus.”


The neighborhood has really changed. There is no doubt about that. R’ Uliel’s many stories serve to underscore the extent of the transformation.

“There is a young mekurav with whom I learned Likkutei Sichos regularly in his home. Over time, he became more committed to Torah and mitzvos. You could see how the Rebbe’s sichos penetrated and changed him for the better. A short while before we began learning he had met a girl and they planned on marrying, but now he faced a dilemma. She was living a secular life while he was becoming more religious and wanted a religious home. He shared this with me and we decided he had to write to the Rebbe and ask his advice.

“The Rebbe’s answer was clear. In a long letter the Rebbe wrote about the necessity for a man to stand strong regarding all aspects of Torah and mitzvos, especially as relates to founding a Jewish home when it is mandatory for it to be based on the foundation of Torah.

“I myself was amazed by this display of ruach ha’kodesh. In simple words, the Rebbe was letting him know that this match was not for him. It was very hard for him to accept this but in the end he listened to the Rebbe. A few weeks later, he shared information he had heard about that girl and it turns out that the Rebbe had saved him from her.”

Another story:

“Near the yeshiva is a Lotto stand. Bachurim from the yeshiva go to the stand every day to put t’fillin on with the owner and sometimes they meet Jewish customers there. Most of the time the customers are Arabs. One day, an Arab left a large group of Arabs in order to talk with them without his friends listening. To the bachurim’s surprise, he said that his mother is Jewish, from Yerushalayim, and her name is Rochel. The bachurim told him that according to Jewish law he is Jewish and they asked him to put on t’fillin. He said he would be happy to do so but he was afraid that if his father found out, he would kill him. The bachurim arranged for him to put t’fillin on in the yeshiva.

“The next day, they waited for him but he did not show up. They were sure he wouldn’t come and were surprised to meet him in the shul where he put on t’fillin for the first time in his life.

“There is an older man in the neighborhood, from the US, whom I met not long ago. When he heard that I am a Lubavitcher Chassid, he wanted to tell me about his encounter with the Rebbe.

“He said he had a senior position for a long time at The New York Times and one day a request came from the Rebbe’s secretariat to put in an ad about Mivtza Neiros Shabbos in the paper. The first thought was to have a little girl lighting candles but his professional opinion was otherwise. He thought that the most convincing thing would be to show an older woman lighting candles which would get other Jewish women to do the mitzva.

“The secretary said he would ask the Rebbe and the Rebbe’s answer was to do what an expert said to do, and that’s what they did. He said this episode made him greatly admire the Rebbe, for, unlike other leaders, he allowed room for other opinions, the main thing being that the job gets done.”


That fact that R’ Uliel was elected to serve as deputy head of the neighborhood vaad demonstrates what a positive change has occurred in Abu Tor since he arrived.

“One night, I was talking with my friend, R’ Berlin, and he told me that soon elections would be held for the vaad and he suggested that I participate. He said, ‘Your success in getting into the vaad will help Chabad’s activities and all Jewish activities in the neighborhood.’ Over the years, the elections for the vaad had been very low key. Most people did not bother to vote even though the vaad has a lot of clout with the municipality and with the neighborhood cultural center as well as social events.

“After receiving the Rebbe’s bracha, I collected fifty signatures of residents and submitted my candidacy. Then I continued with my usual routine and forgot about it. I did not imagine how my participation in the elections would cause these elections to seem like no less than a mayoral race to run the entire city. A few weeks before the elections, a woman called me and told me about her celebrated past as an adviser to several prime ministers and she tried to dissuade me from running. She said that my candidacy would generate controversy. She also ‘suddenly’ remembered that she is a descendant of the Baal Shem Tov and she asked me to withdraw my candidacy.

“A few days went by and someone by the name of David Epstein called me. He is a well known Leftist activist, who describes himself as Reform and who had also announced his candidacy. He told me that most of the old-timers would oppose my candidacy and why should I humiliate myself? He said he called because he was looking out for my dignity.

“When I saw that my candidacy was in fact stirring up controversy and that the elections would be anything but low key, I consulted with two rabbanim. One told me to carry on and the other told me to drop out. So I wrote to the Rebbe and asked for a clear answer. The answer I opened to said to consult with a shliach on site. I called R’ Chaim Gottlieb, shliach in nearby Armon HaNatziv, and he encouraged me to continue.

“A week before the elections, signs were hung around the neighborhood against the yeshiva and against Chabad’s activities. They contained lies which said that soon we would throw rocks at cars that drove on Shabbos and we would close roads. The leading candidate even downloaded an announcement from our website about the yeshiva, printed it up in color and hung it on all the streets to show how serious we were about conquering the neighborhood.

“It turned out that all this negative campaigning was good for us. If up until now there were residents who had not heard of us, now there was nobody who had not heard of the yeshiva and our work. While other candidates made house calls and hung up signs in the street, we continued our routine at the yeshiva and in spreading the wellsprings. I was really curious about what the election results would be out of the 500 families who could vote.”

After the votes were counted, R’ Uliel was informed that he was elected to second place along with the Reform guy as chairman. Residents were stunned. Someone who had come to the neighborhood just four years before had gotten so many votes!

“In retrospect, it was the negative advertising that got many people to vote for us. It is interesting to note that the chairman is married to the granddaughter of R’ Shmuel Kramer who was one of the distinguished supporters of the Rebbe Rayatz.

“The day after the elections, the newly elected council leader hosted a meeting in his home for all the Who’s Who of the neighborhood, including many Leftists. Because of my new position, I was also invited and I showed up with R’ Zalman Notik. The chairman announced that the first thing on his agenda was to find ways for co-existence with the Arab neighbors. Each person in turn said his piece, and then it was our turn. I said that we, Chabad Chassidim, already had a plan for co-existence that was being implemented all over the country and that was the Seven Noachide Laws. ‘Only by the Arabs accepting the Seven Noachide Laws will they live with us in peace.’

“This intrigued the crowd who had not expected to hear things like this from us, supposed extremists, and they asked questions.

“After that meeting, the attitude of the top man changed towards us and our activities. He even arranged a meeting with Moslem leaders in Silwan and R’ Zalman Notik gave two classes in Shaar HaYichud V’HaEmuna. The entire discussion with them was on the topic of how to bring Geula to the world.”

R’ Uliel sums up the events leading up to and following the elections, “From bitterness came out sweetness, and since the elections, we found ourselves reaching people whom, if not for the elections, who knows whether we would ever have connected.”


The impact of the yeshiva doesn’t stop with Abu Tor. In its four years of existence, about twenty graduates of the yeshiva married and established Chassidic homes. Likewise, quite a few of its graduates went out to serve as shluchim in nearby neighborhoods. R’ Lior Mariasis went on shlichus to the nearby Baka neighborhood and R’ Chai Klingel went to Arnona which is also nearby (see sidebar). Other graduates of the yeshiva are on shlichus in various cities and neighborhoods across the country. R’ Avi Zilberman went on shlichus to Tel Aviv to help veteran shliach, R’ Dovid Aziza.

R’ Uliel is justifiably proud. “That is what we were aiming for from the moment we started the yeshiva,” he says with undisguised pride.


I asked R’ Uliel how much Moshiach and Geula is emphasized in his work. He said:

“We live according to the Rebbe’s horaos in the sicha to the shluchim in 5752 in that everything we do is permeated with Moshiach. We publicize Moshiach and everyone knows our views. We came with the goal to influence others and not to be influenced, and people accept this. They know us to be serious people and this makes it easier for them to relate to a subject that is seemingly too spiritual.

“There is a family of American olim who knew Chabad in the place they came from. At first it was hard for them with all the enthusiasm about Moshiach in the yeshiva, but they got used to it and now they are regulars at the minyan and of the small community that has formed. They understand that it comes from a place that is p’nimius’dik and real. People regularly attend R’ Notik’s shiurim and they understand that this isn’t the belief of foolish Chassidim but a deep faith.”

I asked R’ Uliel, when a young person discovers Chabad, what attracts him today, after Gimmel Tammuz? He answered:

“I myself am a baal t’shuva and I can answer you from my personal experience. At first, I was niskarev not by Chabad, but as soon as I saw a Lubavitcher ‘Tamim,’ I felt I wanted to connect to him. A born and bred Chassid might not understand this, but T’mimim and the Rebbe’s shluchim have a special chein that you don’t see elsewhere. The bachurim we have here are not smarter or more learned than others; their uniqueness is that they live the Rebbe’s words. Someone who is connected to the Rebbe’s inyanim has a special glow on his face. The Rebbe has an impact on him and it is recognizable and attracts people who want to be a part of the joy that you radiate.”

As for plans for the future:

“To continue spreading the wellsprings outward until the hisgalus.”



We met R’ Klingel, the first shliach to come to the yeshiva when it was founded, at the new Chabad house he and his wife started in Arnona. R’ Klingel is the son-in-law of R’ Chaim Gottlieb, the shliach in Armon HaNatziv.

“Before I went to Abu Tor, I learned in Ramat Aviv. The talmidim in the yeshiva in Abu Tor came to stay with us and that’s when I found out about a yeshiva in Abu Tor.

“When I was asked to go on shlichus to the yeshiva, I was unsure. It was something new and how would I manage there? I wrote to the Rebbe and opened to an amazing answer. The letter was addressed to a Chassid who lives in Yerushalayim and gives shiurim in a Moroccan shul. In those days, the yeshiva was in the Moroccan shul and I considered this a clear answer.”

R’ Klingel relates that when he wrote to the Rebbe about his shidduch, he opened to an answer that said something about surely he would continue his shlichus in Morocco.

“After this clear answer, and after I got married, I continued learning in yeshiva for another half a year.”

Then the Klingels moved to nearby Arnona where they started a Chabad house. I interviewed him as he was on his way with his wife for another house call, a project they started as soon as they came to the neighborhood.

“One of the first things we did was to advertise throughout the neighborhood under the heading, ‘Writing to the Rebbe.’ Many people contacted us or other shluchim in Yerushalayim as a result.”

R’ Klingel speaks well of the yeshiva and its impact that is felt not only in Abu Tor. Even though he is no longer learning there and is busy in his own neighborhood, he still continues to attend farbrengens in the yeshiva on special days.


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