It is interesting to note that most of Givat Shaul’s streets are named after two groups: (1) the Geonim, such as Rav Amram Gaon, Rav Shrira Gaon, Rav Hai Gaon, and Baal Hashe’iltos, (the name of the sefer by Rav Acha Gaon); and (2) great mekubalim, talmidim of the Arizal. Rechov Najara, which we visited last week, is named after Harav Yisrael Najara, who lived in Tzfas and was a talmid of the Arizal. He authored the zemer Kah Ribon, which so many families sing at their Shabbos table.
To the right of Rechov Najara and parallel to it is Rechov Alkabetz, named after Harav Shlomo
Alkabetz, zt”l. He was born in Salonika, Greece, to a family that was expelled from Spain during the
Inquisition. Eventually he met up with the Beis Yosef, and learned Torah with him and the tzaddikim who comprised their group. On Shavuos night they stayed up to learn, and they were told to ascend to Eretz Yisrael. The group later came to live in Tzfas. Harav Alkabetz was the author of Lecha Dodi,
which is sung to greet the Shabbos Queen as the sun sets on Friday. His holy words were accepted by all of Klal Yisrael to fittingly greet the Shabbos with simchah. He is buried near the Arizal in the old beis hachaim in Tzfas. Other streets in the Givat Shaul neighborhood are named after Harav Moshe
Cordovero, who married Rav Alkabetz’s sister; and the Arizal’s primary talmid, Harav Chaim Vital, zt”l.
This week we visit Alkabetz Street. Near the beginning of the street, the old home of the Ashkenazi Rav of the neighborhood, Rav Lichtenstein, is viewed behind a long, white wall. The Rav was a wealthy talmid chacham from Hungary. He would financially help many residents of the area. The British built a water resource whose pump was in the Rav’s backyard. (Until that time, most people had used “borot,” water holes which each home had in its courtyard.) The postman was called Chip. Besides delivering letters, he would deliver water from the Rav for an additional small fee.
Next to the Rav lived the painter (tzayar). Zalmanowitz’s cowshed was next. There were 10 cowsheds
in all of Givat Shaul; Zalmanowitz’s was the smallest in the area. Looking out beyond the empty field where Zalmanowitz’s cows once grazed, one can see the round-topped building of the Snif Seminar. In
between is a valley to which condemned criminals were taken and executed, in Ottoman times.
Further up Rechov Alkabetz there stands a threestory building, now Yeshivah Beit Oriyah, on a plot that once housed an even taller building which belonged to the shochet of the area, named Goldschmidt. The shochet’s son was a member of the underground. He had hidden a slike (weapon cache) in his parents’ home and it was discovered by the English. All the residents of the area were taken to Motza, outside Yerushalayim, and the Goldschmidt home was blown to smithereens with dynamite.
After that spot, the road’s incline steepens. In fact, it used to be much more precipitous; the hill was
shaved down as the area developed. Most of the roads parallel to Najara used to be on very steep slopes and were reduced. The rise on Rechov Amram Gaon was so sheer, people joked that it was the place from where the “sa’ir la’azazel” was thrown on Yom Kippur during the times of the Beis Hamikdash.
A right turn will bring you onto the picturesque Rechov Yonasan ben Uziel. At No. 12 is an empty plot. A tall tree hides the modern high-rise buildings so that only the older, lower red-roofed dwellings are seen, giving an impression of what Givat Shaul used to be like.
Going back to Rechov Najara, we find a blue sign pointing to a narrow little side street at whose end is a Teimani (Yemenite) shul called Tiferet Yisrael. The old house opposite the shul is partly underground, as the builders used the street’s slope to scrimp on building materials.
Although Givat Shaul is well passed its centennial (it was established in 1906/7), the area has no Jewish houses that are a century old. This is due to the fact that the first settlers built with perishable materials, such as corrugated-iron and tin, and the structures didn’t last long. Most of the old homes are from the very late 1920s and onwards. There are no conservation laws in Givat Shaul, in contrast to other old areas in the ancient city, and the old edifices are disappearing at a rapid rate.
There are 36 shuls of all stripes and colors in the neighborhood. On Rechov Amram Gaon stands the old Prushim shul, built by Rav Shmuel Weinberg. Rav Weinberg came to Eretz Yisrael in 1906, and was given land by the Jewish Agency in Jaffa. After a short while, he realized that this was no place to bring up his five daughters, so he purchased three parcels of land from the founders of Givat Shaul and moved there. (Today those plots are built up with tall, white residential towers.)
One Sunday morning Rav Weinberg was on his way when he heard shouting, “I’ve been robbed, I’ve been robbed! Thieves, stop! Come back and return my donkey and belongings!” Looking up, he saw a venerable Jew calling after some Arab youths who were escaping posthaste, leading a laden donkey. Not one to fear the Arabs - in fact, they feared him - Rav Weinberg ran after the scoundrels, retrieved the animal and returned it to its rightful owner. Rav Weinberg asked the victim where he was headed. “I am on my way to Motza, where I teach in my yeshivah all week, returning only on Friday to my family in Yerushalayim,” was the response. “Rebbi, if you are prepared to teach here in Givat Shaul, I will build you a beautiful edifice right here on this spot.”
And so it was. The sage agreed, and Rav Weinberg built the Beis Knesset Perushim where numerous
great talmidei chachamim would study day and night. From then until today (save for a short while during World War I) the sound of Torah has resounded in this structure
Published in Hamodia.