Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Rechov Hanevi’im 2: A Hub for Medical ‘Missions’©


 Off Rechov Haneviim is Pines Street, which is home to what is now called the Prima Palace Hotel. This property was a major player in the history of Rechov Haneviim.

Many of us remember this hotel as the Central Hotel, or Malon Hamerkaz, belonging to Menachem Porush. The Central Hotel was inaugurated in 1966. Everyone streamed to see the exquisite decorations in its front courtyard sukkah.


However, the history of the place goes much further back. Yerushalayim of the mid-19th century was within the Old City walls. Life in Yerushalayim was extremely harsh, and for sheer lack of space there was unbearable crowding. There was no plumbing system or sanitary regulation; open sewers ran though the streets, and the nearby Arab lanes were even worse.

In the Arab market, the slaughtering of animals took place outdoors and the resultant blood attracted big, black flies. Rotting produce and accumulated rubbish littered the ground, and horrendous odours filled the city. So no matter how clean Jewish housewives would keep their homes, whenever people stepped outside, they were affected by the unsanitary habits of the Arabs.

In addition, the extreme poverty caused by the difficult financial situation resulted in nutrition problems, which weakened the inhabitants and made them more susceptible to disease. It must also be remembered that this was an era before antibiotics.

The missionaries realized that the precarious health situation was fertile soil to convert’” both Jews and Arabs. The English mission was the first to jump on the band wagon; they were followed by the French, the Germans, and then others. Until 1838 there had not been a single resident medical practitioner in the entire region. By the First World War, though, 19 hospitals were established in Jerusalem most of them as part of the mission.

Already in 1838, the English mission (London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews, known as the London Jews Society mission) sent a team to open a clinic that would provide free medical services. At its head were two apostate Jews: Dr. Albert Gerstmann (1815-41) and a pharmacist, Dr. Melville Peter Bergheim (1815-90). At first, the unsuspecting Jews defended these people from the Turkish government. By 1844 the clinic had become a 24-bed hospital, and the Rabbanim felt that too much admiration was being given to the renegade medical-men, and that their influence was damaging. A cherem of both Ashkenazic and Sephardic Rabbanim was issued, which forbade using the services of apostate medical men. Unfortunately, it was a decree the public could not abide by, as there was at the time nothing in place of the teams medical care.

The Rothschild Hospital was first opened in 1854 in the Old City. The Rabbis instructed that it be built so that Jews could be independent of Christian missionary hospitals. This hospital was meant to counteract the missionary hospitals that were out to entrap Jewish souls.

In 1888, the Rothschild Hospital relocated and became the first Jewish hospital outside the Old City. It had all the modern amenities of those days, which included 120 beds and expert medical attention. In addition, it boasted a beautiful garden for the sick to enjoy. (It stood where today is 37 Rechov Haneviim, at the corner of Rechov Harav Kook. In 1970 Michlelet Hadassah [Hadassah College of Technology] was established on this handsome, historic campus. As you enter the courtyard, you will find yourself in the most gorgeous 19th century setting, with balconies all around.

The hospital was eventually forced to close down. At a later date, the Hadassah Womens Zionist Organization of America took it over and it became the first Hadassah Hospital.

After the Rothschild Hospital was opened, the Anglican mission saw they might lose customers, and they set up a counterbalance to the Jewish hospital the Anglican English Mission Hospital. It opened in 1863 (now at 82 Rechov Haneviim), behind the building that is currently the Prima Palace. Even though they had verses from our Tanach imprinted on the facade, other engravings on the building made it clear that it was a mission hospital. This hospital is but one example of the ominous battle to draw Jews away from their Maker that can be seen all along Rechov Haneviim.

Earlier in 1862, a sanatorium operated by the English Mission had been founded in the building that preceded the Central Hotel. It later became part of the compound of the Anglican English Mission Hospital. Later, the whole complex served as headquarters for the Turkish authority. During the First World War, the Turks used it as a hospital, until finally, in December 1917, the entire Anglican complex became the headquarters of the 60th British Infantry Division.

It is very probable that General Allenby left from here en route to Jaffa Gate for the official Turkish surrender ceremony of on December 11, 1917. It would also seem likely he returned here subsequently for a luncheon with various officials, including the French High Commissioner designate, Franחoise Picot, and T.E. Lawrence of Lawrence of Arabia fame.

In 1948, an Israeli flag, was hoisted in the sanatorium building, and from then on, the edifice became known as Beit Hadegel (house of the flag). Then in the 1960s, Rabbi Porush pulled down the structure and built the Central Hotel on the site. Today it is the Prima Palace Hotel.

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