Yossi Mizrahi’s father was a leader in their community in Iran – a rabbi, a mohel, a shochet (ritual slaughterer), and a Torah scribe and he continued to lead the community even when they immigrated to Israel in 1950 when Yossi was five years old. Government officials wanted to disperse the community to different areas, but they asked to stay together and settle in Jerusalem. When the state authorities said that there was no room for them, the community responded and said that they would fend for themselves and they settled in the slum Mamilla neighborhood, under the shadow of the wall that divided the city.
The members of the community settled among the ruins and Yossi’s father found a cave at the foot of the King David Hotel where the family could live. They began to clear the rubble and rebuild. They lived in poverty, under the constant threat of shooting by the Legionnaires in the eastern part of the city as well as the mines and ammunition left in the area, and members of the community were indeed killed. Protective walls shielded the windows and doors of the houses and protected the pedestrians walking down the street, and the children would set up “courage tests” and try to enter the demilitarized zone.
During the Six-Day War, Mizrahi was drafted and fought in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood and in the south of the city. When he returned to the neighborhood it was completely different. The fear in the streets was gone, tractors were busy destroying the fortifications on the street and clearing the barbed-wire fences, and Yossi could hardly believe his eyes. The road to East Jerusalem was opened and Yossi could go up to the Old City, from which the muezzin sounded, which he enjoyed listening to as a child. When he arrived in the Old City, he stood where the Legionnaires once stood and was amazed to discover that the confident sense of security that the protective walls erected in the neighborhood would shield him was baseless. The entire neighborhood was spread out at his feet, completely visible and given to the mercy of whoever was holding a weapon. But Mizrachi’s heart was overflowing with joy, because he sat there peacefully, without weapons or evil plans.
A few years ago, Mizrachi returned to the area where the community settled when they first arrived in Jerusalem, and found the cave that his father had made into their home. His dream is to turn it into a museum that will commemorate the people who clung to their homes, despite the difficulties and the dangers.