This story originally appeared in שבת בשבתו in 2001 in a weekly Parsha sheet put out by מכון צומת and was retold by Rav Aviner.
During the 1929 riots, on Friday, the 17th of Av, rioters ran wild throughout the country, cruelly ransacking and murdering. In the afternoon, thousands of inflamed Arabs stormed out of the Mosque of Omar after being saturated with the hateful incitement of the Mufti, Haj Amin Al-Huseini, and marched forward, armed with knives and clubs. Most of them advanced towards the neighborhoods of Meah Shearim and Beit Yisrael, with cries of “Slaughter the Jews.” At the head of the inflamed throng marched an Arab sheik, waving a long sword and firing up the rioters not to have pity on men, women or children, since it was a holy war — a jihad.
When the rioters reached the Italian hospital, two Charedi youths emerged from the flour mill at the southern edge of Meah Shearim and advanced towards the rioters. One of them, who had curly side-locks flowing from under his hat, pulled out a pistol and shot straight into the mouth of the sheik walking in front, and he died on the spot. The inflamed masses were seized with fright and they began to flee in the direction of Damascus Gate, while the two youths chased after them, throwing a hand grenade which killed three more rioters. Moreover, the rioters trampled one another to death during their escape.
That same bearded youth who fired the pistol was the saintly Rabbi Aharon Fisher, father of the illustrious Rabbi Yisrael Ya’akov Fisher,
Chief Rabbinic Justice of Edah HaCharedit in our own times [now ז’ל, this was correct in 2001].
The next day, the great Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld,
who lived in the Old City, had to go to Meah Shearim as a Mohel [circumciser]. His family and friends were terribly worried about him, and they begged him not to go, but he insisted. He would not forego the mitzvah.
The eighty-year-old rabbi, clad in his tallit, walked to Meah Shearim not by way of Jaffa Gate, but by way of Damascus Gate, a troublesome spot even in normal times. He walked calmly along the same route where thousands of murderers had walked, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of circumcision, and he returned by way of Jaffa Gate. When he was later asked why he went precisely by way of Damascus Gate, he responded, “So that the Arabs would not think that they had succeeded in banishing the Jews from even one corner or street in Jerusalem.” And why had he returned by way of Jaffa Gate? “Such is my regular custom, in order to fulfill the words, “Walk around Zion. Circle her” (Psalm 48:13) (BeDor Tahapuchot, Rabbi Shlomo Zalmen Sonnenfeld, pages 226-229;393-396).
It is well-known that the illustrious Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld was not a Zionist. Quite the contrary, he ascribed to the opposite view. He was the most Charedi of Charedim, and an opponent of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook.
To say that the Charedim did not sacrifice themselves for this land is a severe libel.
Meah Shearim was established on a spot where people were afraid of bandits.
The Charedim sacrificed themselves for the Land, or more precisely, for the word of G-d, who commanded us to settle the Land.