Jerusalem, Israel - July 26, 2018  - Khirbet Arza is a little-known archaeological gem on a scenic hilltop in Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood. The back story makes the efforts of dozens of dedicated volunteers to craft this special space even more interesting. Only in Jerusalem, Israel, do neighbors, volunteers and government partners get to build a public park on the grounds of a Second Temple Jewish village.  

Archeological remains are routinely discovered during construction projects throughout Eretz Yisrael. Usually the artifacts are removed and saved, and often construction continues around or over the ancient stones exposed by excavation. In this case, the remains of a Second Temple era Jewish village uncovered during the excavation were kept in place, and an archeological green park replaced the planned apartments and shopping mall.  

The site was an ancient Jewish agricultural village,  with important finds of a water well, olive oil press, and winemaking apparatus.  The discovery of a mikvah supports its Jewish status.

Archeologist David Tanami excavated the site with the assistance of the teen volunteers of the Kvutzat Reut /Beit Yisrael Mechina, who did most of the heavy lifting.

Kvutzat Reut in Gilo, celebrating its 25th year, is an urban kibbutz founded by Rav Hoshea Friedman and his wife Orly, and  a number of core families who moved to Gilo in 1993, choosing to live in the Gilo Aleph public housing project. Their aim was to create community spirit and renewal among poverty-line families, mostly second and third generation immigrants from Edot Mizrach, who were not successful socially and economically.

For 25 years, Kvutzat Reut has worked to make a positive impact on their Gilo neighborhood.

Seventy-five teens each year, from all over the country, study and volunteer together in the Kvutzat Reut /Beit Yisrael Mechina, pre-army program which was established in 1997. The building where they live is Beit Matanya, named after Matanya Robinson z”l.  Matanya was a very special Mechina graduate who fell while serving his country during IDF Operation Defensive Shield. Beit Matanya received funding from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation and Jerusalem Foundation. The Gilo local council, the Jerusalem municipality are partners in developing the Khirbat Arza site.

According to Moshe Friedman, son of Rav Hoshea, the Friday experiential learning sessions with Mechina students teaching local elementary school students in a “nature classroom” in the newly developed  green archeological park, was a special achievement of the past year. Friedman also pointed out to BJL that the site was developed with the help of neighborhood volunteers, who even built the new wooden benches.

On the evening of July 25, Khirbet Arza was opened to Gilo youth and their parents for a special lantern-lit tour of the park.  The evening began with Eran Cohen explaining the importance of the ancient Jewish agricultural community that lived on the hill, hosting travelers on their way to Jerusalem on  Derech Avot, the path of Avraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The Friedman family history is worthy of note. Rav Yisrael Friedman Ben Shalom, z”l, the Pashkaner Rebbe, (1923 – 2017)  of the Rizhiner Hasidic dynasty,  was a lecturer in history at both Tel Aviv and  Ben-Gurion Universities as well as the rosh yeshiva of a hesder yeshiva in Netivot. He survived the Shoah in Bucharest and came illegally to British Mandate Palestine in 1946.   Rav Yisrael z”l, a sixth-generation descendant of R. Yisrael of Rizhin, resided in Gilo and was married to Rebbetzin Tziporah, the daughter of Imrei Chaim of Vizhnitz, and a sister of the Vizhnitzer Rebbe in Monsey, NY.  She is the aunt of the Vizhnitzer Rebbe in Bnei Brak, as well as the Satmar Rebbe in Monroe, the Belzer Rebbe, and the Skver Rebbe of New Square.  The nameBen Shalom,” Hebrew for Friedman, was added when Rav Yisrael z”l went to Marseilles, France, as a shaliach for the Jewish Agency. He was also called the “Zionist admor.” While there is more to tell about the family’s journeys, Hoshea served in the IDF,  attracting media attention for wearing a streimel on Yom Haatzmaut, in recognition of the day's festive nature.

 Reut-Beit Yisrael, was founded as an urban kibbutz, with nine core families pooling and sharing their incomes according to need, making shared decisions about allocations and initiatives. The pluralistic community works to realize a vision of a just society in Israel’s capital, under the mission statement, “It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it.”

Today Beit Yisrael Mechina is supported by the Ministries of Education and Defense, as are other mechinot throughout Israel.