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Nathan Zilberstein z”l was a familiar figure in Jerusalem and one of the first Hebrew tour guides in Israel. He was born in 1896 in the city of Kostopol in Poland, the youngest of six siblings. He immigrated to Israel at the age of 26 and after working as a road paver and wood chopper, he joined the first tour guides course of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce under the auspices of the Zionist General Organization of Workers (Histadrut). He completed the course with honors and became on of the most sought-after tour guides of the period. In his role, he worked hard to connect tourists and public figures from around the world to the Zionist idea.
On January 24, 1938, Nathan was visiting a friend, a new immigrant from Kostopol who lived in Givat Shaul in Jerusalem. On his way back, Nathan was the only one riding the evening bus. When the bus passed by the village of Lifta, two explosives were thrown at the bus. Nathan and the driver, Naftali Peli were both severely injured. Naftali, the driver, recovered; however Nathan spent months in the hospital battling his injuries, and on the 21st of Adar Bet (March 23, 1938) he succumbed to his injuries.
He was buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem and was eulogized on behalf of the national organizations by the man who would later become Israel’s second president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi: “Today we accompany another victim to his final rest. Not an individual victim but a public victim, a dear friend, one of Jerusalem’s finest, whose blood was spilled in sanctifying God (kiddush Hashem) and the land. One of those who paved the paths and guided others on the trails of our homeland … we thought he would recover and return to his work, but unfortunately death caught up with him.”
In the Kostopol Jewish community’s memory book, he was described as follows: “His language did not always catch up with the flow of his ideas, and his words were often fragmented and stammered. But in conversations with friends or with youth groups he was bright and convincing. As a child of a family of rabbis and scholars, he absorbed the atmosphere of spirituality and love of humanity in his father’s house. The light of his countenance, his smiling eyes, his sense of humor and his kindness – all these captured the hearts of his listeners, both young and old.”
About a decade after he was buried on the Mount of Olives, the Jordanians occupied the Mount and desecrated a large number of the tombs there. Nathan’s tomb was also desecrated, and in 1967 with Israel’s return to the Mount of Olives, there was no one to rebuild his tombstone, since most of his family had been killed in the Holocaust, and his sister who moved to Israel had already passed away in 1948, at the beginning of Jordanian rule over the Mount of Olives.
For a period of 55 years, the state of Israel did not recognize Nathan Zilberstein as a victim of a hostile act and did not rebuild his tombstone.
Thanks to collaboration between the City of David, Mount of Olives researcher Sarah Barnea, the Giving a Face to the Fallen organization, and additional partners, family members of the deceased were found, and the tombstone was rebuilt.
This week, for the first time in decades, the family members will have the opportunity to recite kaddish over the grave.
Moments before the ceremony, Sarah Barnea, the Mount of Olives researcher and guide for the City of David who led the rehabilitation of the tombstone said: “After decades in which the grave was destroyed and had no words on it, today we have the honor of receiving closure and making a memorial for a life story that had been almost completely forgotten.”
Yonatan Manovich, the administrator of the Mount of Olives Information Center, run by the City of David, added: “The Jordanian destruction of the Mount of Olives between 1948 and 1967 made it so that, to this day, there are quite a few people buried on the Mount whose burial sites are unknown. The Information Center, together with other partners, helps families that reach out to us find the burial sites and rebuild the tombstones. Every full circle moment like this is touching, even more so when it is someone who was so influential in the Jerusalem landscape in the days leading up to the establishment of the state of Israel.”