Year Course Siyur Post #3: Baka to The Old City By Josh Less
On Thursday January 23, 2014, our Zionism class took a siyur (tour) walking from our neighborhood of Baka to the Old City. Along the way we stopped at a number of historic locations to learn about the local history.
Stop 1: Beit Ar El
Our first stop was actually inside Beit Ar El, the Year Course campus. We looked at a sewage system that predates the State of Israel – a time when Baka, which means “The Valley” in Arabic, was primarily Arab. In the 1930’s and before Beit Ar El was a part of the neighborhood and the buildings that we now use as dorms and classrooms were the homes and businesses of Arabs. Walking out of the campus it was explained that the streets of the neighborhood are named after the 12 tribes of Israel. I found it fascinating that the neighborhood I’m living in has a layout that is the foundation of the jewish people. Stop 2: First Intifada Memorial
The next stop was a memorial of a 19 year old Jewish girl who was killed in our neighborhood, by a Palestinian in the First Intifada. When we were there, I felt insecurity knowing that this girl was shot less than 10 minutes from the place that I now call home. Rabbi Rob asked us whether we thought that this 19 year old soldier, who was in uniform, a legitimate target in the eyes of a Palestinian. My natural instinct was that she was absolutely not a legitimate target. However,after some thinking I began to understand the Palestinian perspective as well. Given the unstable circumstances at this time I can see how a Palestinian might have thought of this off duty as a target or threat simply because of her uniform. This isn’t to say that I think the attack was at all justified, but I will say that it was an useful exercise to empathize with an action that I found unfathomable at first, if only for the sake of seeking understanding.
Stop 3: Gan Ha’Paamon and Moshava HaGermanit (picture to be added)
I continued to think about this conundrum as we exited Baka on a path covering the old Ottoman train tracks that Theodore Herzel rode on his trip to Israel in 1898. Soon we found ourselves at Gan Ha’Paamon (The Bell Park) on the edge of Moshava HaGermanit (The German Colony). The neighborhood, which is now one of the hubs of “Anglo,” or English speaking, life in Jerusalem, is named after a group of German Templars, Christian Zionists, led by Christoff Hoffman, a charismatic pastor, who settled the area in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This group was expelled by the British during World War II because of their suspected German allegiance.
Getting closer to the Old City, we talked about Christian Zionism and its origins. Hoffman’s group were among the first to settle outside of the Old City. The first neighborhoods went up in the 1860s. Beforehand there was a curfew meaning that if you weren’t inside the locked gates on time you would be left in the wilderness for the night. This is hard to believe considering that more than 550,00 of Jerusalem’s 600,000 residents live outside of the Ottoman walls.
Stop 4: Mishkanot Sha’ananim
The first of the neighborhoods in the New City was Mishkenot Shaananim, which roughly translates to “tranquil abodes.” The neighborhood was founded by Moses Montefiore, a Jewish philanthropist from London. The neighborhood was funded by Judah Touro, a Jew from New Orleans, and was meant to help the poor of Jerusal
em. Montefiore was revolutionary. The idea of expanding outside of the old borders of Jerusalem changed the character of the city in a profound way.
Next on our tour we walked around a very beautiful neighborhood called Yemin Moshe, which is named after Montefiore. The neighborhood was initially founded in 1891 as an artist colony using funds from Montefiore’s will. We learned that today most of the neighborhood is owned by wealthy Americans and Europeans live who use the property as vacation homes. The property is expensive and under-utilized which is ironic considering that the iconic Windmill in Yemin Moshe was built to provide poor Jews with cheap flour. I was jealous to know that people own these houses but rarely use them. It was so beautiful. (picture to be added)
Stop 6: Mamila
The last stop on our tour was a Mamila pool that used to be an ancient Roman reservoir. The area is part of the Mamila neighborhood that was a mixed Jewish Arab neighborhood adjacent to the Old City that got a major facelift when the Mamila Mall, an upscale shopping center, was finished in 2007. Next to the pool was a Muslim cemetery, attesting to the neighborhood’s multi-cultural past. I’m sure to most people it looks like a gross area with ugly water in comparison with the fancy stores nearby, but I thought that it was pretty cool. After seeing the pool we ended our Siyur with delicious tea from a cafe in the neighborhood. Ultimately, in a city like Jerusalem with a long, shared, complex history even walking a couple of miles requires looking at old and complicated questions.