The former Mamilla area, now called David’s Village, is a luxury neighbourhood. The apartments are mostly owned by those who live overseas and visit Israel a few times a year – causing it resemble a ghost town or most of the year.
From Kikar Tzahal we walk for about seven or eight minutes along Rechov HaTzanhanim (Paratroopers’ Road) and reach a gem of an area called Musrara in Arabic. In Hebrew it is known as Morasha and is outside the northwest corner of the Old City. The part of Musrara (Rechov Ha’ayin Het) we walk though was established by rich Christian Jordanian Arabs during the late 19th century. They built large, luxurious mansions in an attempt to escape the overcrowding in the Old City. These houses have grand entrances, beautiful masonry, and shingled roofs.
Until 1948 the Arabs of Musrara and their Jewish neighbours lived in peaceful coexistence. When the war broke out the Jordanian legion used the area to attack nearby Jewish neighbourhoods. This caused an exchange of population. The original Arabs ran away to the Jewish Musrara, and the Jews in the Jewish area fled to the area where we are walking.
After the armistice, a barbed wire fence between Jordan and Israel divided Musrara. During the early days of the State there was an extreme shortage of housing, and the Ministry of Housing settled olim there, mainly from North African countries. For 19 years almost daily, the alleyways and stone courtyards resounded with the thunder of Jordanian bullets. There were many casualties in Musrara, and Shabbos morning was the favorite shooting time for the Jordanian soldiers. This continued until the reunification of Jerusalem after the Six Day War in 1967.
In the early 1980s the Jerusalem Municipality planned a project to improve the neighbourhood. Regulations were introduced which were designed to restore the neighbourhood to its former glory. The renovations were all to be done in the style of the magnificent existing Arab structures. Unfortunately, on many of these restored buildings, a clear line can be seen between the lower floors, built in the Arab style, and the upper floors, which look like modern apartment buildings. HaAyin Het Street is named for about 80 innocent people, mostly civilians, including doctors and nurses, who were murdered by Arab forces on April 13, 1948 in a convoy bringing medical supplies and personnel to Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus. The massacre was a gross violation of human rights, international military convention, and common decency. Morasha over the last decade has become more Hareidi. There is a large population of Breslover Chasidim living there.
Our last stop on the walking tour is north of Damascus Gate (Shaar Shechem), at the site where the Mandelbaum Gate used to be situated. This point was the symbol of the divided status of the city. In the 19 years of separation, this was the only crossing point between Jewish Jerusalem and East Jerusalem. The crossing was named after the four-story mansion of Rav Simcha Mandelbaum which stood in close proximity. Rav Mandelbaum built his home on this exact spot because he wanted to extend the northern boundary of Yerushalayim and make sure that a nearby Italian church did not purchase the plot. The villa was built between 1925 and 1929. When the foundations were dug, they found coins from the Bar Kochba period. Engraved on them where the words “freedom of YIsroel” and “freedom of Yerushalayim.” Rav Simcha claimed that these coins were proof that the third wall around the Old City extended to where his home stood. In fact one of the reasons Meah Shearim, which is close to Shaar Mandelbaum, was built where it is, was that the organizers calculated that the area is within the ancient walls of Yerushalayim.
During the War of Independence, the Mandelbaum House was a strategic military stronghold. In an effort to penetrate Meah Shearim, the Arabs first attacked Mandelbaum House. The Arabs succeeded in partially blowing up the building after the Jewish forces evacuated it. Today the renovated Mandelbaum House is a Breslover Yeshiva.
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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