Daniel Luria was in New York for a short three days in conjunction with the Ateret Cohanim dinner. Luria embarked on his mission in the States to bring the Yom Yerushalayim spirit to our shores. Many of us would call Purim or Chanukah our favorite chag, but for Luria, Yom Yerushalayim shines as his most cherished Yom Tov on the Jewish calendar. Luria was visibly pained at missing the festivities back at home, but his depiction of the flag parade evoked a memorable yearning to be celebrating with his Israeli brethren: “The flag parade makes a huge statement in Jerusalem, throughout the State of Israel, and to all those abroad who witness its glorious joy.”

Queens Jewish Link: Why is being in America on Yom Yerushalayim so vital for you as a key Ateret Cohanim representative?

Daniel Luria: The partnership and involvement that Ateret Cohanim has with the Jewish community of New York is key to the organization’s survival.

QJL: What does the work of AC involve?

DL: At AC, we facilitate the revival of Jewish life in the heart of Jerusalem in a practical sense. Our focus is on real estate, but it is ideological real estate with an enormous number of political ramifications.

QJL: Interesting. Are there any complications in AC’s works to fill Jerusalem homes with Israeli families?

DL: Our efforts face twists with the Muslim edicts that make every acquisition nearly impossible. Yet, there is no shortage of Arab families ready to sell their properties. In fact, there are more Arabs selling than Jews buying. Unfortunately, we’re in a situation where we have this multi-million-dollar fund to buy back Jerusalem – not the JNF – although theoretically that entity should be buying back Jerusalem. For various reasons, they’ve kept away from doing so.

The credit goes to one man, Mutty Dunn, who for the last 43 years, has been trying to reestablish Jewish life in the heart of Jerusalem. His work started off in the Old City, the Old Jewish Quarter, the area where the bulk of Jewish life used to shine. There were 21 synagogues and six yeshivos in the area that today is called the Muslim Quarter. The pogroms and the riots and the fact that the British took out all the Jews that were living there ultimately decimated all Jewish life there.

In 1948, we lost Jerusalem and therefore, the Jewish majority went down to zero. Then, Mutty comes back and says, “Listen, shouldn’t we able to live there? If anyone wants to sell, why can’t we buy their property?” Please bear in mind, it’s not like we go door-knocking; Arabs want to sell, and we find Jews who are ready to buy. AC makes the shidduch, and we use Arab middlemen who then get transported overseas. We are hampered by the Muslim edict that forbids an Arab to sell to Jews, holding the punishment of death over them. Even a middleman who helps make a deal happen is allowed to be tortured, receive life imprisonment, and he and his immediate family can’t be buried in a Muslim cemetery.

QJL: Can you reveal an episode that occurred with a middleman?

DL: Thanks to G-d, all people who have sold, we have managed to protect. Sometimes, it means not moving into a place for seven or eight years before we can take action. Some move to Western regions like the United States or South America. To protect the Arabs, there might be pretend court cases, instead of moving overseas. In general, most cases do not require a move. There was a famous case where a middleman was abducted, taken back to Ramallah, and beaten. Then, Ambassador to Israel David Friedman placed enough pressure on the PA to release the man.

QJL: Can you share further knowledge?

DL: There’s no shortage of Arabs willing to sell. We’re looking for the Jewish world to get involved. Acquisitions obviously do not go through the American office because you cannot get a tax deduction. Additionally, we work on various projects and investments. An investment operates directly through AC, where we place Israeli families ready to move in from a growing list. Families pay five to six dollars for a square meter. Nobody is becoming rich. That’s why it is an ideological investment.

In the long term, there is money to be made. Take for example the first family that moved into the Old Jewish Quarter some 40 years ago. Then, they were in the middle of nowhere, but today that street is like the Rova, full of action and is now quite pricey. But the person who bought it didn’t buy it because he wanted to make money. It was a long-term, realistic, ideological investment, where the families pay rent in an arrangement with the owner. Each case is different, and this is aside from the acquisitions.

Other projects include restoring an old shul, play centers, nurseries, and even a rooftop playground. Our work is only in the Holy Basin, which is the Old City and surrounding areas, and this is the area that the world says the Arabs desire. This is the corridor from Abu Diski or Shalam, and the only thing standing in the way is the Jerusalem Dome acting like a shield.

QJL: Does anyone else deal with these transactions?

DL: No, we’re the only one that deals with the heart of Jerusalem. Ir David is a separate organization that focuses mainly on tourism and archaeology. But, in relation to reclamation and buying in the Holy Basin, only we operate. Our fact on the ground is, this is the only thing stopping any division of Jerusalem.

QJL: How big is the AC team?

DL: There’s 10-12 people who work full-time. There are two or three part-timers. Everything we do is huge, but we’re not fully understood, and we do not have a team of 100.

QJL: What can people here in New York do?

DL: Anyone who loves Jerusalem, who believes that the land should stay in Jewish hands, it is not enough just to daven and to sing that we will reunite in Jerusalem. Even on Shabbos, if an Arab wants to sell, you can ask a goy to sign on Shabbos. The reclamation and the redeeming of Jerusalem is a priority today because that’s the only thing the Arab world wants. You know that the missiles that come from the Gaza Strip have the words Al-Quds written on them because they want Jerusalem, and we must do everything possible to stop them.

QJL: What does the flag parade mean?

DL: The flag parade is the highlight of my year. It’s the highlight of my aliyah when we’re making the statement that says Yerushalayim belongs to us, we are the indigenous people, we have rights to live in every and any single neighborhood in the heart of Jerusalem, and that flag parade is not just a symbol of the State of Israel, it’s the statement of am Yisrael saying “zeh shelanu,” it’s ours and we can walk and go anywhere. It is without a doubt my favorite holiday.

By Shabsie Saphirstein