Givat Shaul — The Mezuzah of Yerushalayim
Givat Shaul is today a prominent residential neighborhood and busy industrial and economic hub at the
entrance of Yerushalayim. Upon entering the city from the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv Highway (Kvish Echad), there is a broad road that one can turn onto with almost a full U-turn, which is the gateway to the Givat Shaul neighborhood and the residential area’s main thoroughfare of the same name. Coming from the direction of the city center, the road curves off Sderot Weitzman — which becomes Kvish Echad — and all the buses going to the neighborhood travel the road from early morning till late at night.
It wasn’t always that way. There is a modest road below, whose first part runs parallel with the current Rechov Givat Shaul. Until 1960 that street below was the area’s main road; the No. 11 bus from the Ha’mekasher Company (Egged’s predecessor) used it and it was called Givat Shaul. Today this quite unpretentious, shaded street is called Rechov Ksav Sofer. The reason for the switch was that the section around the upper street was developed first, and so buses and other vehicles preferred it.
Walking along the original Givat Shaul Street, one still encounters a few old Arab homes. Once upon a
time (not that long ago) the whole area consisted of empty fields full of kalaniyot (crown anemone) and rakefet (cyclamen) flowers. Dotted here and there were the Arab structures surrounded by vineyards. One will also see a makolet, grocery store, that has been serving the neighborhood for the past 45 years and is run by Mr. Sinai. The street then curves left, where it intersects with the new Rechov Givat Shaul.
A little further up, across the road, is Rechov Amram Gaon, which has a very precipitous incline … that used to be twice as steep. The building seen at the top of the slope is now the Ner Moshe yeshivah. It used to be a therapeutic community home called Rosental. At the end of the street is a playground called Ha’bor (the Pit). Originally, there was a large pit in which the park was situated. Today the pit has been filled in, making a sweet, little, round recreational area, but the name still stuck.
On the corner of Amram Gaon Street and the “new” Rechov Givat Shaul is a long, brown residential building with no balconies. A twin of the first building is found further back. On Sukkos, the courtyard between the two is transformed into what looks like one large sukkah.
The name Givat Shaul is first mentioned in the passuk (Shmuel I 15:34) as the home, and apparently the center of government, of Shaul Hamelech. As a result, many people erroneously think the neighborhood is named for and is the approximate location of the Biblical Givat Shaul. In fact, his capital was probably located on Tel el-Ful (literally Hill of Beans), the site of Gibeah, near Pisgat Ze’ev. Givat Shaul (the modern neighborhood) was named as a tribute to Harav Yaakov Shaul Elyashar, who served as the Rishon LeTzion (Sephardic Chief Rabbi) from 1893 to1906. He authored the sefer Yisa Brachah (the word Yisa in Hebrew spells the initials of his name) and was the father of one of the founders of the suburb,
Rav Nissim Elyashar.
Givat Shaul stands 820 meters above sea level. Its land was purchased from the Arab villages of Deir Yassin and Lifta by a society headed by Rav Nissim Elyashar, Rav Arieh Leib Dayan and Rav Moshe Kopel Kantrovitz in 1906. The society wanted to provide homes for some of the destitute of Yerushalayim. Their plan was that these paupers would eventually be able to support themselves. Each family was sold a plot of 200 square meters and was required to commit itself to farming the land to grow fresh produce that was to be marketed in the city. About 160 plots were sold. In 1912, an embroidery and sewing workshop opened with the help of a Jewish philanthropist, Rabbi Slutzkin.
The first settlers were mainly Yemenite Jews who were later joined by others from Meah She’arim and the Old City. Starting out as an agricultural village, Givat Shaul passed through many phases. Today it has metamorphasized into a wonderful makom Torah, with numerous yeshivos and other places of learning. The sound of Torah has replaced the mooing of cows and cackling of chickens.
This was achieved with much hardship. Chazal’s teaching that “Eretz Yisrael nikneis b’yesurim — Eretz Yisrael is acquired with suffering” was experienced every step of the way. The vibrant pulsating neighborhood that has emerged despite all the difficulties, shows the Siyata De’ Shmayah that HaShem gives to those that build His city Yerushalayim.
An inherent disadvantage to the shchunah was the fact that the organizers of the place did not have the funds to draw up the basic plan needed to set up a neighborhood properly, and so things were built haphazardly. Also no plots had been set aside for schools and public use.
From its inception in 1906 until about 1958/1960 Givat Shaul seemed stagnant with a bare minimum of development. Approximately from 1958 onwards new buildings and homes started being built. The whole locale was considered a failing place. The many industries based in Givat Shaul (the Froumine biscuit factory, a factory for kerosene heaters that manufactured arms for the British army during the British Mandate, a matza factory, Angel’s Bakery, Berman’s Bakery, ect, ect) were noisy and polluting. The residents of the area waiting for the bus would watch and count sometimes up to 11 busses going by full of workmen (this was a daily occurrence). The eleven homes for the mentally deficient in the area did not do much to improve the image of neighborhood.
In the early eighties the municipality decided to invest in improving the area and in about 1988 the roads were improved and new bus routes were added. Since the late 1980’s, ageing industrial plants have been replaced by housing projects in Givat Shaul Bet. The 1990’s saw the growth and improvement of the conditions in the vicinity, making Givat Shaul the desirable and requested place it is today.A mezuzah is to one’s right on the upper part of the doorway as one enters a place. Givat Shaul can be analogized as the mezuzah of Yerushalyim as it is to one right higher up as one enters the city on Highway One. Standing in Givat Shaul itself beneath Migdalah Saul on Givat HaZofim a panoramic view of the whole of the Holy city and its surroundings are viewed. Just as a mezuzah protects, so too does Givat Shaul at the gateway of Yerushalyim, - overlooking it -, protect the whole vicinity that is seen from Givat HaZofim, with the constant Torah learned and observed within the neighborhood in the many educational intuitions, shuls and homes therein.