Jerusalem: A Week of Transitions

After over a year filled with uncertainty and pandemic isolation, followed by rockets and 11 days of the war, we had a week filled with transitions in Jerusalem, Israel.

Beit Hanasi, the Israeli President’s residence, has been getting ready for the change of residents for many weeks.

The term of Reuven Rivlin, the tenth President of Israel, is coming to an end. His position of honor in the garden was being prepared months ago.

President-elect Isaac Herzog spoke as head of the Jewish Agency at the last major event before corona that I attended at Beit Hanasi.

However, it was at a bar mitzvah event in a Jerusalem synagogue, where Herzog was impressive. The deaf youngsters had a father or older male standing next to them, except for one 13-year-old in the front row, who stood – alone. Herzog noticed and came over immediately to the help the boy put on tefillin for the first time.

Will there be a transition to a new Prime Minister also this week?

The Netanyahu House gate was open a bit this week. Passing cars slowed to get a glimpse at what is happening behind the new security wall. Will this Jerusalem neighborhood get new full time residents? Stay tuned.

New signs were up for the transition to summer in Jerusalem parks, which include new Shabbat activities for children.

The Israel Festival as I mentioned is underway now and with live events.

New Jerusalem playgrounds have popped up like colorful mushrooms,

and everyday more blue historical information signs,

as the skyline is rising rapidly higher at the entrance to Jerusalem.

The new school for music and the arts is ready for the next school year. This 2021 year, Jerusalem high schoolers had so few days in schools.

The construction work continues to go down as well as up, these pipes were ready to be used under King David Street.

The first section resurfacing between the King David Hotel and YMCA has been showing signs of progress.

Walking around this past week to see what was happening, things felt different. The transition from corona-closed to coming back to life could be felt. The weather was great for walking. Seeing friends after over a year and recognizing them was marvelous.

One visitor to Jerusalem I recognized leaving the Citadel Hotel. Senator Ted Cruz was here on a support mission, as was a group of US rabbis.

People travelled, with lots of paper work and tests, from around the world to attend weddings and family celebrations held in Jerusalem.

A wedding on the Tayelet with the Old City in the background – always a favorite and not to be missed, especially when you have connections to the families for many years.

The umbrellas were back over Yoel Salomon Street for summer fun.

The shops on the street were lit and open again, transitioning back to life.

This one of Jerusalem’s less ‘proper’ streets, is slowly transitioning away from sleazy bars. Walking on the street was an English-speaking couple I guessed were looking for a restaurant one street over.

Yes, lights were up again at night to welcome the visitors downtown.

Ben Yehudah Street store fronts were bright and ready for business again.

While uncertainty and transition surround us daily,

in nature, we see a continuity of transition, pomegranates forming from the blossoms on the trees lining the paths along the Jerusalem streets,

and the wonderful vivid colors of the flowers along those streets.

Hoping to see you all here again soon on the Jerusalem streets.

Schneller Compound Connecting Past and Future

The corona cloud is finally lifting. Jerusalem is slowly coming alive again after over a year of closings and restrictions.

Have you seen behind the old stone walls of the Schneller Compound?

It’s time to get back to what’s happening on and off the Jerusalem streets.

Schneller Orphanage, also known as the Syrian Orphanage, was built by Johann Ludwig Schneller, a German Lutheran missionary who came to Jerusalem in 1854. 

In 1855, Schneller bought land from the Lifta village with the intention of living with and missionizing to the local Arab population.

Their house was constructed from 1855–56, but Schneller and his family were attacked multiple times by robbers. As we have said before security problems are not new, and have been an issue too often in the past. The Schneller family was forced to move to safety inside the Old City walls.

The German Protestant orphanage was one of the first structures to be built outside the Old City, around the same time as Sir Moses Montefiore was working to establish Mishkenot Sha’ananim. Over time as the situation became more stable, Jerusalem did expand outside the walls. The orphanage grew and operated from 1860 to 1940.

At the beginning of World War II, the British mandatory government deported the Germans to Australia and turned the compound into a closed military camp – with the distinction of being the largest ammunition stockpile in the Middle East.

On March 17, 1948, the British abandoned the camp and the Etzioni Brigade of the Haganah took it over, and used it as a base of operations during the 1948 Israeli War of Independence. 

For the next 60 years, the site served as an Israeli army base known as Camp Schneller.

The army vacated the premises in 2008 and for years there was no decision regarding what to do with this huge piece of prime Jerusalem real estate.

In 2011, the compound began to be developed for luxury housing. But first, the Israeli Antiques Authority checks every site to see what is under the ground before buildings go up. In 2017, the Jerusalem Municipality decided to divide up the compound with a portion of the complex for private residential construction, and the main old building to serve as a unique experiential, interactive museum and visitor center and community center.   

A Roman olive oil factory was uncovered and unveiled in the spring of 2016.

Progress over the past six years has been slow and complicated.

Every room in the main complex needs full repair and restoration.

Parts of the main structure have been redone with attention to detail.

Everything of value was stolen by vandals during the years of neglect.

The old clock though was still up on the tower.

The interior courtyard has several rooms which are to be renovated for community meetings and neighborhood activities.

Here an original stone floor has been exposed.

Room in need of repair Schneller

Did you know Schneller was the first to use metal beams in ceilings? Ceilings in Jerusalem had not been flat but made of salvaged wood from boat hulls brought to Jerusalem from the port of Jaffo.

It will take time and money to restore Schneller as a functioning property

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from its neglected and dilapidated condition.

From the roof, the Beis Yaakov school, one of eight original buildings on the Schneller property can be seen clearly. Each building is named for a city, where the German donors lived.

New housing and new Jerusalem buildings can be found in all directions.

However, I thought this was the most dramatic view.

The first time I saw this part of Schneller Compound it looked like this.

And today it looks like a magazine picture-perfect model community.

Building cranes abound everywhere in Jerusalem, Israel, as construction and change are going at a rapid pace.

Schneller Compound is to house a new interactive museum to feature Jewish communities, kehillot, from around the world.

“This isn’t going to be another boring museum filled with artifacts you forget about after ten minutes, it will be a celebration of Jewish culture that will leave visitors feeling excited about being a part of the Jewish nation,” explained Hanan Benayahu Director of Kehillot Yisrael Institute.

“We all have roots from different communities, but do we have any idea how to connect to those roots? Being able to experience the richness of each community – its customs, literature, poetry art, music, liturgy, and folktales – will create a sense of connection, no matter where your family came from.

We want visitors to feel excited and proud, to say, ‘Yes, I recognize my Jewish culture. I am part of this Jewish nation.”

Stay tuned for what happens next in Jerusalem off of Malchei Israel Street.

Hopefully, international visitors will be back on the Jerusalem streets soon to see what has happened for themselves.

Tel Aviv and Jerusalem Under Attack

Oh, Jerusalem!

Jerusalem, the center of the world.

Jerusalem, Israel, the center of world attention.

Thanks to rockets from Gaza, more people heard of Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, this year – which was interrupted as multiple incoming rocket sirens blasted warning over the Holy City.

But I was in Tel Aviv near a quiet park this Yom Yerushalayim

where the flowers were blooming.

The Tel Aviv food delivery men rode bikes, not motorcycles.

The bus stop images and ads were not the same in Tel Aviv,

even the street libraries look different to those in Jerusalem.

But then…

The Tel Aviv street cafes filled the night before with diners enjoying the pleasant evening weather, under threat of rocket fire, were deserted on what should have been a busy night.

My pleasant loft rental had no bomb shelter, so this was the safest spot to take pillows and blankets for two nights of sirens and loud booms.

However, a favorite sight in Tel Aviv was the new shuk, as three window washers were at work cleaning the large panes of glass even as rockets were being aimed from Gaza.

Back in Jerusalem, after Hamas and PIJ fired over 4,000 rockets and internet sources stirred up masses, there were reports of riots on the Temple Mount. “The hudna (cease-fire) is only temporary and conditional,” was shouted over social media “and we are raising our head in this city and saying to everyone: you must always protect our holy places and our mosque.”

Finally, on Friday afternoon, I had a chance to go see what was really happening in the Old City of Jerusalem.

It was quiet. A few yeshiva students were arriving, no one else.

Security near the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Muslim Quarter and Arab shuk, was not as I expected – at times no one appeared to be watching.

An Arab woman was shopping as usual in Mamilla Mall.

The Jewish Quarter was very quiet, way too quiet.

It was not a good day for this vendor with his table set on the steps down to the Kotel, Western Wall, where the elevator construction has begun.

The Friday afternoon at the Kotel crowds were missing.

The newly resurfaced plaza area empty except for two security officers.

Corona divisions have been removed, so there was plenty of room in the men’s section, on the sunny, but not too hot afternoon.

Have we ever seen so few women at the Kotel on a Friday afternoon?

The remains of the tree set on fire by Muslim firecrackers was still visible

But a sorrier sight was the empty roads below at the gates of the Old City.

The Armenian way so often bustling with a stream of cars, had no traffic.

One vendor was open, but there was no business from passing tourists.

Reports of rioters and trouble, and the Old City streets were empty.

The safety door of this Armenian convent building is a physical reminder that Jerusalem has had many attackers over the millennia.

Like the dragons’ teeth used decades ago for security in previous eras.

The Walls of the Old City were built to keep invaders out of Jerusalem.

So folks, on Friday afternoon, I could not find those riots which scared people away. Israeli security was out and around, but appeared relaxed.

In these upside down times, it is hard to know what to believe or think.

Of over 4,000 rockets from Gaza aimed at Israel, hundreds landed in Gaza.

How many caused damage and death to their own we will never know.

You will see the sad emotional photos of cement terror tunnels and military buildings destroyed in Gaza by big bad Israel.

But also know the Gaza that you don’t see that my friend shares on Twitter.

The latest “mini-war” is over. Though does anyone assume there won’t be another one in the future as Hamas rearms with the humanitarian materials once again sent to rebuild?

Hamas spokesperson Bassem Naim claimed to Sky News that international law does not apply to them – they can fire rockets from civilian areas & target Israeli civilians.

In the past 15 years, we have had Summer Rains, Cast Lead, Pillar of Defense, Protective Edge, Black Belt and Guardian of the Walls. What name will the computer generate next time? (They do sound better in Hebrew.)

Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, with corona slowly becoming a memory, let’s hope the Israel Festival is the first of many Jerusalem events to return.

Time to go back to complaining that Jerusalem is one big construction site.

Which streets will be closed next, after they finish King David Street?

Oh and will there be a new government or 5th election?

The only thing that seems certain now – President Reuven Rivlin’s term is over very soon. Either Yitzhak Herzog or Miriam Perez are in the running for the position to be voted on by the Israeli Knesset.

Stay well out there.

Hope to see you all soon on the Jerusalem streets.