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 surrounding Agripas Street. The neighborhood is made up of 53 plots of land, the numerical value of even, stone. Today, a small amphitheatre stands 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 relating its history.
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 begin building the road, the former landlord was ploughing the fields claiming 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 15 years ago, waves of intifada attacks on downtown Jerusalem and Machaneh Yehudah kept shoppers away. The Jerusalem Municipality hoped to attract visitors by giving the area of facelift. They choose to decorate using murals.
Murals date back to ancient times, and their history is rich and complex. It is said that the earliest recorded murals were discovered in a complex of caves in Lascaux, France and in Alamira, Spain. The murals depict 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 them 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.
Residents in the Agripas area were asked about their preferences concerning the subject matter. The overwhelming request was for a representation of their own market.
The murals employ the “trompe l’oeil” art technique which involves extremely realistic imagery that creates an optical illusion where two dimensional paintings appear to be three dimensional. Even more so, it creates the impression that the tin walls used were actually 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
Let us now backtrack on Agripas until we reach the pavement opposite the Binyan Klal. At the Macrobiotic Center, 63 Agripas, and at 87 Agripas there are stone archway entrances above with stone placards marked with dedications to Sir Moshe Montefiore for financing the building of 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 with images of former residents and details of who they were.
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 underground military groups before 1948. Many of them were arrested during their acts of sabotage and he would spend time visiting them. In addition, in his modest home, Rav Aryeh did the Goral HaGra and identified the 35 boys who were killed by Arabs and disfigured as they brought supplies to Gush Etzion in January 1948.
As you continue walking, you will cross 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 buildings beyond the walls of the Old City because of its terribly crowded conditions. The managers of the Vaad first wanted to build near the grave of Shimon HaTzaddik, but this did not work out. (That land would become part of Jordan from 1948-1967). They were able to buy land near Mazkeret Moshe and Ohel Moshe.
HaRav Shmuel Salant sent letters to Chutz laAretz requesting financial help and American Jerwy responded generously. Rav Naftali Zvi Porush, Rav Salant’s secretary was largely responsible for the project.
The first colony to be built in 1893 was Knesses Alef. It was made up of 13 one story homes, with the shul, Beis Rachel, in the center. 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 Beis Rachel. When he heard that a couple was having marital problems, Rav Aryeh decided to speak about being nice to one’s wife in class in the hope this person would take note and remedy his situation. Rav Issar Zalman Meltzer attended the shuir. After the lesson Rav Issar Zalman came up to Rav Aryeh and thanked him profusely for making him realize that his was an area he needed to work on. Rav Aryeh was adamant that he had not directed his words at Rav Issar 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 Torah giants and great tzaddikim, and they lived in their apartments rent free. Building the suburb took ten years and even before its completion, it was apparent that many more apartments were needed. An adjoining parcel of land was purchased in 1908, and Knesses Beis was built there. It was slightly more luxurious as the homes had two stories. The Halperin Matzah Bakery was built behind it.
There is an interesting story behind the building of Batei Minsk in1894. The Rosh Kollel of Kollel Minsk in Yerushalayim received a telegram from the head of the Jewish community in Minsk. He was being implored to have the entire community daven at the Kotel for the son of the Rosh Khal. He had gone off the derech and threatened to not come home for the Pesach Seder. In Eretz Yisrael a mass gathering was held at the Kotel.
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.
One of Jerusalem’s askanim, Rav Jacobson, received a letter from Rav Yaakov Yosef Brodie, a wealthy man in Warsaw who had not been blessed with children. He wanted to eternalize his name by building apartments for Torah scholars outside the Old City. He financed the purchase 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 Lita’im) community.
Rav Brodie stipulated that the residents of this neighborhood learn for him 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 HaKlali made a large Chanukas HaBayis 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 – the chassidic counterpart to the litvishe neighborhood. To point out the differences between the two neighborhoods, it was said that in Brodie they were describing the flames of Gihennom before Maariv of Motzaei Shabbos, while in Rand they would still be singing the zemiros of Seudat Shlishit. As the elders of Brodie awoke and washed hands before the Vasikin minyan on Sunday, the elders of Rand were washing mayim achronim after their Melava Malka seudah. The day on which the differences are most sharply noted is Lag B’omer. Enthusiastic dancing on this day can be still be seen in Batei Rand.
Batei Rand was built by Rav Meir Rand, a chassid of the Divrei Chaim, who had owned vast tracks of forest lands in Galicia before he made aliyah and moved to Tsfas. When he later moved to Jerusalem, he built 22 apartments, a shul and a mikvah. The houses were built with long iron beams, 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.
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 to demand payment. They thought Rav Hillel lived in a villa. What they saw instead was beds being moved to make space for the visitors to come into the living area. They did not say a word about their back salaries and left. While the homes in Knesses Gimmel were more spacious than in the other areas, they were still small and modest residences. Yet the lack of space did not detract from the spiritual grandeur of these neighborhoods.Vardah Littmann
About the Author: Originally from south Africa, Vardah has been living in Eretz Yisrael since 1974 and the more she learns about our glorious Holy Land the more she gets to love this prime property that Hashem has given to the Jewish People. She is studying to be a tour guide and hopes with the help of Hashem, through this column to give readers a small taste of the land.
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