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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Chessed Verachamim Shul©

It is said that at one point the 32 Lev Hair Nachlaot neighborhoods in Yerushalayim had the highest concentration of shuls of anywhere on the globe around  300 within a radius of just a few streets. Many of these were a tiny room with space for not more then a dozen mispallelim. With the passing of years, many of these shuls have been closed, although there are still an estimated 80 shuls in the area.

The beit knesset of Chessed Verachamim is one of these shuls, and is located in the Mazkeret Moshe neighborhood of Nachlaot. Rav Yosef Rivlin, known locally as Yasha der Shtetl Macher (because of all the neighborhoods he set up), engineered the construction of Mazkeret Moshe in
1882. Originally, this area was meant be part of Mishkenot Yisrael, where 140 homes were to be built. However, lack of funding due to the depreciation of money in the wake of the Russo-Turkish war, and the lack of water (following a heavy drought) needed to mix the cement for building, allowed for only 40 homes to be constructed.

The rest of the plot was sold to the organization of Keren Mazkeret Moshe, a London committee set up to honor Sir Moses Montefiores 90th birthday. The purpose of the organization was to build housing in Eretz Yisrael.

In the original plan, Mazkeret Moshe was to be for Ashkenazim, while Ohel Moshe, a Sephardi neighborhood, was to be established alongside in. In those times, the accepted practice was for each eidah (community) to live in its own area. However, again, the lack of funds changed the original plan.

The Sephardi muchtar Rav Izcak Armosah, a warm, caring person with strong feelings for doing the right in Hashems Eyes, was approached to approve funds for financing the building of homes in Mazkeret Moshe. (According to the family, Rav Armosah was the 19th generation of his family in Yerushalayim). He agreed, on condition that Sephardim also be given homes in this neighborhood. In response, an area that housed both Sephardi and Ashkenazi residents was set up.

The problem was that the shul complex of the area belonged to the Ashkenazim (today it belongs to Chabad), and a Sephardi beit knesset was needed. The structure that now houses the Chessed Verachamim shul originally belonged to the Cheshin family. It was bought by someone, though, who opened a pub on the premises. This was against the charter of the neighborhood.

Greatly disturbed by the goings-on therein, Rav Izcak Armosah entered the place and banged on the table, requesting that everyone leave the property. They all objected fiercely, but following an angry struggle they were forced to leave.

In 1925 Rav Armosah allocated part of the building as a shul. He also set up a soup kitchen, a nursery school, and a beit medrash for learning Zohar. The building also housed the first medical clinic in the area. The building soon became a Sephardi stronghold in an Ashkenazi area.

In the 1950s, after the passing of Rav Izcak Armosah, his inheritors paid the original owners for the lot, and legally registered the property in the land registry. They redid the inside of the building, and with the years, many improvements have been made.

Today the building is solely a shul and many different types of Sephardim pray here. There are also shiurim given here. Come Rosh Chodesh Elul, many visitors arrive at 4 a.m. to experience the special Sephardi Yerushalmi nusach of Selichot. On Simchas Torah many come to participate in the hakafot both within the beit knesset and without, in the square of the neighborhood.

There were many Arab riots in the Old City in the years leading up to 1948, when the Jews were all forced to leave the area. During this period, things from the Eliyahu Hanavi beit knesset, located in the Old City, were transferred to the Chessed Verachamim shul.

Before the Jews actually left the Old City, some Arab merchants who were on good terms with the Armosah family offered to help move whatever could be carried out of the Eliyahu Hanavi shul. In the dead of night, the Armosahs carried out three or four sifrei Torah and other holy objects. (The Eliyahu Hanavi shul was used as a horse stable for the 19 years the Old City was under Jordanian rule.)

A sefer Torah, which according to the tradition was written on deerskin 500 years ago in Yerushalayim, was in the Eliyahu Hanavi shul. Today it is found in the mChessed Verachamim shul. About 50 rimonim from the Old City were also relocated here, and today can be found in a special aron in the shul.

The striking aluminium entrance door for men is engraved with the symbols of the 12 Shevatim, while the womens entrance has the perek Eishes Chayil imprinted into it. The interior of the shul is unbelievably exquisite. Upon walking into the building, one encounters a rainbow of colours. Despite the shuls small size, the beauty of every centimetre is overwhelming.

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