Thursday, November 21, 2013

Rechov Hanevi’im 6 — Hunt House©


Most of the buildings on Rechov Haneviim are constructed of stone and fronted by high walls built of stone and mortar. The street features different types of buildings, including communal ones such as hospitals as well as private homes.

There are also buildings by the Ethiopians and others by the Nashashibis Arabs. The latter had no intention of living in the buildings they built; they wanted to rent them out. At the turn of the century, the Husseinis Arabs also built a complex of houses on nearby Rechov Shivtei Yisrael.

Upon entering the driveway of William Holman Hunt House, located at 64 Rechov Haneviim, you will find yourself in a totally country-like setting. In the mid-1850s, when the English painter Holman Hunt traveled to Jerusalem in search of accurate topographical and ethnographical material for his artworks he found the area was bare. Enthralled by the view, Hunt built a home for himself (designed by Conrad Schick) in 1869 on the then-empty lot on Rechov Haneviim. On the roof, he erected a large balcony that allowed him an all-encompassing view of the surroundings.

He painted scenes of Jerusalem, that are notable for their great attention to detail, vivid colour and elaborate symbolism; the pieces fetched high prices in England. His painting entitled The
Scapegoat was painted from Armon Hanetziv. After his death, his wife donated a bench in that area in his memory. The bench has Biblical inscriptions in Hebrew, Arabic, Greek and English.

A later tenant of this home was Dr. Helena Kagan, Jerusalems first paediatrician (in fact, the first paediatrician in the country). She was born in 1889 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. In the spring of 1914, when she made aliyah, the young 25-year-old physician opened a clinic in her new home in Jerusalem. However, she found the Arabs/Turks did not want to come to be treated by her, as she was a woman. The Jews of the old Yishuv shunned her services for the same reason.

However, at the outset of World War I, the Turks were in dire need of doctors, so despite her gender they enlisted her services. The Jews also came to greatly appreciate her work. A Yerushalmi child contracted meningitis and his state of health was deteriorating drastically. Someone thought of Dr. Kagan, and the parents brought the child to her for treatment. She instructed them to leave him overnight with her. That nightwas the turning point of the illness, and by the morning, the little patient was improving. This change of health was attributed to Dr. Helenas expertise. The child that she treated was Amram Blau, who was later to become famous as the founder of Neturei Karta. From this point on, people began using her.

Working under the auspices of Hadassah Hospital, Dr. Kagan founded institutions to improve the health of Jerusalem children. In her later years, Dr. Kagan worked as adviser to the Ministry of
Health, while keeping up her pediatric consulting work at home. She passed away in September 1978, in Jerusalem.

In 1975, she was awarded the Israel Prize for the special contribution to society and the state in communityservice. The pediatric department of Bikur Cholim Hospital bore bear her name since 1962 as does the community center in the Katamon neighborhood  since 1968.

In 1925 when Rachel Hameshoreret (a Hebrew poetess) was ill with tuberculosis, then an incurable disease, and she had to leave her beloved Kinneret (Sea of Gallilee), Dr. Kagan took her in and let her live in the small white house in the courtyard. Here Rachel wrote a poem inspired by a pear tree Hunt had once planted in the courtyard. The garden is full of fruit trees even today.

In 2006, two homes on nearby Rechov Bnei Brith sold for a combined sum of $2.7 million, so whoever can stake their claim to the property where Hunt built his home has a lot to gain. The Russian Religious Mission asserts that the property is theirs and is trying to take over the whole place. Four dmei mafteach (key-money) Jewish tenants of No. 64 Rechov Haneviim received eviction notices, ordering them to vacate the building they have called home for over 40 years. (One of the renters has been there since the 1930s.) One tenant claims she has discovered that the property is actually not legally registered in the name of the Russian Mission (also known as the Russian delegation) or of anyone else, for that matter.


One of the occupants won a lawsuit against the Russians, but another is still in the middle of the process of trying to ward them off legally.

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