Thursday, January 19, 2012

Machane Yisrael©



By Vardah Littmann

After Moshe Montefiore's colony Mishkenot Sha'ananim was settled in 1866, the inhabitance of the crowded Od Cty realized that it was possible to leave behind the squalor of their living quarters and move outside the walls. The fear of living in the untamed countryside surrounding Jerusalem was lessened and they could envision themselves living courageously in new settlements without the protection afforded by the thick walls of the Old City built by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.

Most people know that Mishkenot Sha'ananim was the first colony (as a settlement was called in those days) that was settled beyond the Old City walls.  
But few people realize that a second suburb was built in1868 near the Mamilla Pools and called, Machane Yisrael. It was the first colony built by residents of the Old City on their own behalf, as part of the process to "leave the walls." Whereas Mishkenot Sha'ananim was built with funds from chutz la’aretz, Machane Yisrael was a local endeavor built by the Moroccan community, at the time called “Maravim” (Westerners) as Morocco is west of Eretz Yisrael. Mahane Israel is a "communal neighborhood" and was built by and for Maghreb (western North African) Jews. Their leader, Rav David Ben-Shimon.Tzuf Devash, was an energetic young man who pushed the project through.
 
 Although the neighborhood was very small and the houses were poorly built, the residents were spirited and courageous. Men studied Torah in different shifts throughout the night in the central shul – Tzuf Devash. The Torah learning provided a spiritual shield against the dangers of the night. Also in this way they were up and alert to fend off any possible surprise Bedouin attack. 

This old-fashioned corner can still be seen today. Enter the two columns at 14 Melech David Street and go down the yellow-specked, navy blue mosaic flight of steps to find yourself in a place of “One Thousand and One Arabian Nights.” Having just left the bustling modern thoroughfare, the contrast is incredible. Before you is a Moroccan garden patio complete with fountain and magnificent vegetation. The ground is covered in beautiful pinkish paving, and mosaic inlay designs edge the flower beds and water cascade. The 24 artisans brought in especially from Morocco produced these wonderful Moroccan mosaics.  

This is the courtyard of The World Center for North African Jewry in Jerusalem. The actual building of the Center is one of the jewels in the crown of Jerusalem. Its exquisite woodwork doors, carved by the Moroccan artisans, are the entranceway to enable people to learn about the richness of the Moroccan Heritage.

The building once belonged to Rav David Ben-Shimon. During the War of Independence, the area was included in the no-man’s land beyond which was Jordan. It remained standing but was looted of its contents and fell into disrepair. After the Six Day War, the building was restored to some extent. Around 20 years ago major improvements were made, and it became a cultural center and a museum. Thousands visited it during its 17 years of operation.

The building has been recently renovated to the tune of about of $3 million. Although it was officially inaugurated this past summer, it is not yet been open on a regular basis.  In addition to permanent exhibitions, there is a state-of-the art audiovisual center and CD library enabling access to almost anything about the history and heritage of North African Jews.

At the back of the courtyard, on Rechov Hama’ravim and Rechov Zamenohoff, are some of the few remaining alleyways with homes and gardens looking the way Machane Yisrael used to look like in the past. But as frantic building is in process here as in many Jerusalem neighborhood, it would be worth while to visit the area as soon as possible, before it disappears.
Published in the English Update







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