As one looks up Rechov Yisrael Najara (contrary to the announcement on some of Egged’s buses, which pronounce it Nagara), a blend of old and new is observed. The older, single-story, red-roofed houses are dispersed among the newer, taller buildings full of families and children.
Until 1960, the entire area from the Diskin Orphanage near the entrance to the neighborhood consisted mainly of open, empty fields, dotted with a few Arab homes and some vineyards. The vicinity around Najara Road, which runs between Givat Shaul Street and Kanfei Nesharim, was the first area to be developed in the neighborhood. The reason: In contrast to the rest of the locale, it was flat land and easier to build on.
A long, dirt track separated Givat Shaul from the cluster of Arab villages such as Dir Yassin. In late 1946, the Haganah straightened and paved the dirt track in order to use it as a landing strip for the fledging “army.” After the 1948 War of Independence, this road was paved and named Kanfei Nesharim St. Najara St. was the first road in the neighborhood to be tarred after Kanfei Nesharim, and it was the only one for a long time.
The suburb of Givat Shaul was not pre-planned. Its three founders, Rav Nissim Elyashar, Rav Arieh Leib Dayan, and Rav Moshe Kopel Kantrovitz, wanted a housing solution for the paupers of Yerushalayim. Being that it was so far from what was then the city helped make the price attractive. In the year 1906, when it was bought, desolate countryside stretched all the way to Machaneh Yehudah, making the Givat Shaul site seem miles away. To buy what was considered an undesirable place, they were therefore able to purchase more land for their money. Additionally, the area was sandwiched between the Arab villages of Lifta to the north and Dir Yassin to the west.
At the time, the norm was to build very narrow streets. But because a dire lack of funding meant that no
development plan was made, the houses were built far apart. Thus, Najara is today a road relatively broad enough for buses to be able to travel in both directions. The street’s first settlers were Yemenites. Although the original settlers had signed contracts to use the land they had bought for growing crops, their agricultural efforts had yielded poor results and they therefore dealt in poultry and dairy farming. On Thursdays, Arab women who had scrambled up the hill from Lifta or come over from Dir Yassin — with large baskets containing vegetables and fruit, on their heads — sat along Najara Street selling their wares.
In 1915, during the Turkish rule of the land, the Arabs from Dir Yassin chased away the Givat Shaul settlers from their homes. Only in 1919 did the Jews return, when the English took over the Mandate of
The period of British rule was a difficult one for the residents of Givat Shaul. Many of the younger generation were in underground movements, and as Givat Shaul was a “far-away” suburb, many slikim (arm caches) were hidden away in the area. The British made numerous unannounced raids in the area, which struck fear into the hearts of the parents and their neighbors.
During the Mandate period many English personnel and soldiers lived on Najara Street. In the second or third house (the original home is not there) on the left side (coming from Rechov Givat Shaul), lived an English solider and his wife. They had a child and a large dog. Every evening the couple would take a stroll along the street, leaving the child in his playpen to be watched by the dog. After one such outing, they came home and saw a stream of blood flowing out from under their gateway. The woman started screaming and the whole neighborhood came out to see what was happening. The Englishman pulled his gun and pushed the gate open. Their dog bounded out towards his master, his mouth full of flesh and blood. Without hesitation the man pulled the trigger and shot the dog dead.
Everyone ran to the playpen, to find — the child sleeping sweetly. Beneath the pen was a dead wolf that their faithful dog had killed in order to protect the child. The couple was so distraught at having killed their dog — for his bravery in doing his job of protecting their child — that they moved away, never to be seen in the area again.
Speaking of wildlife — snakes and wild animals abounded in the place. Jackals’ howling was heard
every night. Deer were seen in the surrounding forests. This was the case as late as in the 1970s.
Friedman heaters (Tanurei Friedmannamed after the manufacturer,) were manufactured in the building
that used to stand where the Yesh supermarket is today: the corner of Givat Shaul and Najara. The children of the neighborhood used to squat at the low windows of the plant and watch production. When World War II broke out and intensified, the British needed weapons for their war effort against Germany, and Friedman began supplying the parts. Soon demand exceeded the supply, so the Friedman
Factory started working seven days a week, R”l, something unheard of at the time. There was a huge outcry, and people poured into Givat Shaul to protect the honor of Shabbos. In vain did Friedman explain that only non-Jews worked on Shabbos. The end was that he was forced to close on the day of rest.
Because of Givat Shaul’s clear air and countryside atmosphere, many Gedolim would stay in the neighborhood for their “vacations” — a “Switzerland” of sorts. They usually stayed on Rechov Najara. The Biala Rebbe, when he lived in Tel Aviv, vacationed in the first house on the street. The Belzer Rebbe zy”a, before coming to Katamon, would come from Tel Aviv and reside in one of the last houses. Although the Chazon Ish hardly visited Yerushalayim, in the year 1940 he attended his nephew’s wedding in Givat Shaul. It was a historic event and many great Rabbanim came to greet the Chazon Ish. Taxi and bus services added extra vehicles to accommodate the surge of people on their way to Givat Shaul.
Published in Hamodia