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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Chol HaMoed Walking Tour Starting at Rechov Agripas.©

By Vardah Littmann        
Photos by Rimonah Traub www.israelcamerafocus.blogspot.com

Even Yisrael

We will start our tour at Agripas No. 12, exactly where the first round stone pot-plant of pansies stands, on the same side of Binyan Klal, but walking towards King George Street and opposite the traffic circle. Entering HaRav Chaim Elboher Alley, we find ourselves in Even Yisrael.

Founded by Rav Yosef Rivlin  in 1875, Even Yisrael was the first of the neighborhoods built in the area that surrounds Agripas Street. The neighborhood contains 53 plots of land, the numerical value of even, “stone.”  A small amphitheater stands now where there was once a communal courtyard, but the buildings, themselves, are mostly as they were at its inception. There are large notices around the area that tell a short history of the place.

The Founding of Rechov Agripas

Leaving Even Yisrael the same way we entered, we return to Rechov Agripas. We will walk down to the shuk area and past it (still on Agripas) to view the interesting wall murals on this street.

The land where Rechov Agripas is today was legally purchased with cash, from its Arab owner. When Rav Yosef Rivlin, the head of the building committee and his crew came to try to start building the road, the former landlord was plowing the fields and claimed he had never sold his land. Rav Rivlin went to complain to the Turkish authorities. Concrete help was not forthcoming. But one of the clerks told him: "What moves at night stays in place during the day.”

Rav Yosef got the hint. One fine night he and many of the men, women, and children of the Old Yishuv came to the area with building materials and equipment. That night they laid the whole road. For many years Rechov Agripas was called BL”H (Rechov Bilah), the acronym of Bein Lylah Hayah (it happened in one night).

The Wall Murals

About 13 years ago, waves of intifada attacks on downtown Jerusalem and Machaneh Yehudah made them almost deserted of shoppers. The municipality of Jerusalem decided to give the area a facelift by painting a number of wall murals in order to boost the morale of the residents and re-attract customers.

Murals date back to ancient times, and their history is rich and complex. What are claimed to be the earliest recorded murals were discovered in a complex of caves in Lascaux, France and in Alamira, Spain. The murals depicted primitive images of large animals. Some Egyptian pyramids also contain murals. Murals still exist from Greek and Roman times, and there is a famous one in the remains of Pompeii. During the Middle Ages, churches where heavily adorned with wall murals. 

In more modern times, the famous Mexican mural movement in the 1930s brought a new prominence to murals as a social and political tool. Before the 1960s, murals were largely found indoors, but around this time, outdoor murals also began to crop up in large cities.  In the early 1970s in Lyon, France, wall murals helped change a slum district into a thriving area. The Municipality of Jerusalem also decided to try the use of murals in the urban renewal project for Agripas.

The residents were asked about their preferences concerning the subject matter for the paintings. The overwhelming request was for a representation of their own market. Some decrepit, rusted, tin-covered walls of Rechov Agripas were used as the location of the murals.

The murals employ the “trompe l'oeil” art technique involving extremely realistic imagery that creates an optical illusion where two dimensional paintings appear to be three dimensional. The optical illusion goes further to make the walls appear as if they are made of Jerusalem stone.

At 70 Agripas Street, a five-story-high mural depicts three floors of windows. On the top floor a lady is airing her carpet on the head of her downstairs neighbor, who is watering his plants without noticing that his neighbor below is getting wet. Maybe a moral lesson is being implied here: Try to be careful in your neighborly relationships.

Mazkeret Moshe and Ohel Moshe

Then we backtrack on Agripas road until we reach the pavement opposite the Binyan Klal. At the Macrobiotic Center, 63 Agripas, and  also at 87 Agripas are stone archway entrances above which are stone placards with dedications to Sir Moshe Montefiore for financing the building of the two neighborhoods-- Mazkeret Moshe (founded in 1882) and Ohel Moshe (1885). Both neighborhoods are fascinating to explore. The houses tell their own history. On their outside walls are placards showing the photos of former residents with details about who they were and how they looked.

Walking though Mazkeret Moshe, we reach Rechov Rabbi Aryeh. Here we find the home of Rav Aryeh Levin, the Tzaddik of Jerusalem and Father of the Prisoners. He was the rabbi for the many young men in underground groups before 1948 who tried to sabotage the British and were often imprisoned.  Here in this modest home, Rav Aryeh made the goral HaGra and identified the 35 boys who were killed and disfigured beyond recognition by Arabs as they brought supplies to Gush Etzion in January, 1948. 

You will be crossing Tavor Street in order to enter HaNatziv Street. Then Rand, Munkatch, and Knesses Gimmel will be on your left with Brodie, Knesses Beis and Minsk to the right. If you had continued on Tavor, then  Knesses Alef would on the left slightly further on.

Seven New Neighborhoods

These seven chareidi neighborhoods, nicknamed ”'Der Shteterlach,” were built by the Vaad HaKlali with the encouragement of HaRav Shmuel Salant who saw the need for building beyond the walls of the Old City because of its terribly crowded conditions. The managers of the Vaad at first wanted to build near the grave of Shimon HaTzaddik, but this did not work out. (Later it was realized that if they had built there, they would not have been allowed to live there). They therefore decided to buy land near Mazkeret Moshe and Ohel Moshe.

HaRav Shmuel Salant sent a letter to chutz laaretz requesting financial help in building the new housing. The funds were donated mainly by American Jewry. Rav Naftali Zvi Porush, the secretary of HaRav Salant, was the main mover of the project. 

The first colony to be built in 1893 was Knesses Alef. This consisted of 13 homes of one story each, with the shul, called Beis Rachel, in the middle. This was where Rav Aryeh Levin used to pray. Older residents remember seeing him walking slowly to shul every day. Rav Aryeh used to give a daily lesson in Ein Yacov to the congregation of Bies Rachel. One of the members of the community was having a lot of marital problems. Rav Aryeh decided to speak about  to being nice to ones wife in one of  his classes, in the hope this person would take note and remedy his situation. Rav Isor Zalman Meltzer attended the shuir. After the lesson Rav Isor Zalman came up to Rav Aryeh and thanked him profusely, for having aroused him to take this matter of being heart. Rav Aryeh asserted that his words had definitely not been directed at Rav Isor Zalman. But the latter insisted that he would seriously try and improve. Of late his wife, Bailah Hinda, was helping him to write his book, Even HaEzel, and he had surely pressured her. Now after this mussar by Rav Aryeh he would do his utmost to be nice to his wife.   

The residents of Knesses Alef were numbered among the Torah greats and Tzaddikim, and they lived in their apartments rent free. The erection of this suburb took ten years. Before its completion, it was already apparent that many more apartments were needed. An adjoining parcel of land was bought in 1908, and Knesses Beis was built there. It was slightly more luxurious with two floors instead of one. The Halperin Matzah Bakery was built behind it.

There is an interesting story behind the building of Batei Minsk in1894. The head of Kollel Minsk of Jerusalem received a telegram from a head of the community in Minsk. The telegram implored him go to the Kosel with his family and the Tzaddikim of Jerusalem to daven for the son of the community head, who had left the derech and threatened that he wouldn’t be coming to the Pesach seder. As a result, they all assembled at the Kosel and began to pray.

At the very same time the tefillahs were being raised on high, the errant son repented. With tremendous gratitude, the happy father donated money to build Batei Minsk which consisted of ten apartments for the members of the Kollel Minsk. 

One of Jerusalem’s askanim, Rav Jacobson, received a letter from a wealthy man in Warsaw, Rav Yaakov Yosef Brodie who wrote that as he had not been blessed with offspring, he therefore, wanted to eternalize his name by building apartments for Torah Scholars outside the Old City. He financed the buying of another parcel of land near Knesses Alef and Knesses Beis in 1902. Since a foreign resident could not buy land, it was bought under the name of a Jerusalem resident and was considered hekdesh for poor scholars of the Prushim (Ashkenazi Litaim) community.

Since Rav Brodie didn’t have sons, he stipulated that the residents of this neighborhood should learn for him in the shul and say Kaddish for him in his nusach, the nusach of the Prushim. Even though all of Am Yisrael was precious to him, the 26 apartments in this area, known as Batei Brodie, are meant only for Prushim. Even nowadays, residents must sign that they will daven only in the shul of the neighborhood.

Rav Brodie sent seven crates of expensive seforim to be learned in the shul. The Vaad Ha Klali made a large Chanukas HaBayis ceremony at the opening of Batei Brodie. Rav Brodie wanted to pay for the ceremony, so he sent the Vaad an extra four hundred pounds sterling without specifying what the money should be used for. This was the very sum used to buy land for Knesses Gimel, built in 1925 opposite Batei Brodie. These houses were already much more spacious with porches for every two apartments.

In 1910, Batei Rand was built opposite Batei Brodie. Batei Rand was the chassidic counterpart to the litvishe Batei Brodie. To point out the differences between the two neighborhoods, it was said that in Brodie, they were describing the flames of Gehenom before Maariv of Motzaei Shabbos, while in Rand they would still be singing the zemiros of the Third Meal. As the elders of Brodie awoke and washed hands before the Vasikim prayers on Sunday, the elders of Rand were washing mayim achronim after their Malava Malka seudah. The day that most sharply showed the difference between Brodie and Rand was Lag B'omer. Enthusiastic dancing on this day can be seen today in Batei Rand on Lag B'omer.

Batei Rand was built by Rav Meir Rand, a chassid of the Divei Chaim, who had owned vast tracks of forest lands in Galitcia before he made aliyah and moved to Tsfas. When he later moved to Jerusalem, he decided to build Batei Rand with 22 apartments, a shul, and a mikvah. The houses were built with long iron beams which were brought to Jerusalem by train and then transported on two camels walking in unison (each camel holding up one end of the beam) to the building site.

The last of the seven neighborhoods was Batei Munkatch which was built a number of years after Rand when the Rebbe of Munkatch asked some of his adherents to purchase land and build houses on it.

Spiritual Grandeur

Rav Hillel Liberman, the pioneer of Bais Yaakov in Eretz Yisrael, lived in Knesses Gimel. Once when teachers did not receive a salary for a few months, three teachers from Petach Tikva came to his home with the intention of demanding payment. They probably thought Rav Hillel lived in a villa since they believed his home was near the Knesset in Rechavia.

The beds had to be moved to make space for the visitors who were astounded to see that people could live in such cramped conditions. They did not say a word about their back salaries and just picked up and left. Knesses Gimmel was more spacious than all her predecessors,yet it still had extremely small and modest residences. The lack of space did not detract from the spiritual grandeur of these neighborhoods.

Published in "The English Update" 14 April 2011

1 comment:

  1. We may try this this year. I wandered those simtaot alot when I was younger. I don't think my wife has ever seen the murals, either; which are really cool! Thanks for posting this, and hag sameah!