Sir Moses, his wife Judith, Kursheedt and others left
England on April 2, 1855. They travelled through Paris, Vienna, Trieste
and Constantinople. In the capital of the Ottoman Empire, Montefiore
was awarded the Order of Medjidjeh by the Sultan. More important, with
the aid of Britain's ambassador to the Sublime Porte, he succeeded in
obtaining from the Sultan a firman (decree) permitting him to purchase
land near Jerusalem. When the visitors reached Jerusalem on July 18,
many of the city's residents met them at Abu Ghosh, a village some three
hours walk from the city walls, and led them in a ceremonial procession
into the Holy City. After some study, Sir Moses and Kursheedt decided
that the best use to which Touro's money could be put would be the erection
of a hospital which would serve the Jewish residents of Jerusalem. Thus,
Sir Moses sought land within the walls. He found a plot, but decided
that it was not suitable because it was too close to a slaughterhouse
and would be a source of contagious diseases.
Montefiore then approached Ahmed Aga Dizdar, the governor
of Jerusalem, who owned a plot of land outside the walls, facing Mount
Zion. According to legend, Dizdar told Sir Moses:
"You are my friend, my brother, the apple of my eye. Take possession
of it at once. This land I hold as an heirloom from my ancestors. I
would not sell it to anyone for thousands of pounds, but to you I give
it without any money; it is yours, take possession of it. I myself,
my wife and children, we are all yours."
The bargaining then began and reportedly lasted all
day. It ended when Dizdar announced to Dr. Leopold Loewe, a member of
Montefiore's entourage; "Tell Sir Moses to give me a souvenir of one
thousand pounds sterling and we will go at once to the Kadi." The document
confirming the purchase was signed on August 12, 1855. It read as follows:
"By the permission of the Sublime Porte and the Imperial Throne, may
the Lord of Creation preserve them, and in conformity with the letters
on that subject from the Grand Vizier to Sir Moses Montefiore (Baronet),
the pride of the people of Moses, the man of Prudence, etc., etc., the
son of Joseph Eliyahu etc., etc, Sir Moses purchases a piece of land
for the purpose of establishing on it a hospital for the poor of the
Israelites who reside in Jerusalem, and to do with it as he pleases."
A few days later, on August 15th, the inhabitants
of Jerusalem joined Montefiore, Kursheedt and the rest of the party
in laying the cornerstone of the new building. Sir Moses placed a copy
of the deed under the cornerstone and Kursheedt added Touro's ring.
The party pitched their tents on the plot and Sir Moses had a fence
built around it, to mark the property, which he called "The Vineyard
of Moses and Judith." In addition, Sir Moses ordered the building of
two dwellings on the property, for his use when visiting Jerusalem,
stipulating that the builders be Jewish. Upon returning home, Montefiore
decided not only to provide a livelihood for the residents of his newly-acquired
land, but also, at the same time, to help the poor by reducing the price
of flour. He therefore sent a British expert from a firm of millwrights
in Canterbury with the necessary equipment and instructions to construct
a windmill. The windmill was duly built, but it broke down after a few
years and the establishment of other flour mills operated by steam made
the Montefiore windmill uneconomical. And so, it stood unused, a Jerusalem
In 1857, Sir Moses and Kursheedt came to Jerusalem once
more. They determined that their original plan had become obsolete because
a hospital had meanwhile been erected by the Rothschilds that was sufficient
for the needs of the Jewish residents of the Holy City. Instead, they
decided to build an almshouse or hospice for the poor. Thus, Sir Moses,
upon returning to England, sent an architect, W.R. Smith, to design
the new building. The long structure was made of Jerusalem stone, quarried
nearby by Christian Arabs from
Bethlehem. The red tiles for the roof were imported from
Marseilles and the roof was thus nicknamed the "Tarbush" by the residents.
The ornate iron arches and grilles were ordered from Montefiore's home
town of Ramsgate and to this day, on the pillars supporting the roof
of the balcony, the inscription, "G.S. Culver, East Kent Metalworks,
Ramsgate, England" can be seen.
The total cost of the building was 6,000 pounds sterling,
a substantial sum for that time. This sum, local residents argued,was
some 50 times greater than it should have been, because the architect
designed the building without taking the topography into consideration,
so that bedrock had to be cut away to fit the building into the slope,
and a well had to be dug for the inhabitants.
Architectural problems were not the only ones that
the builders faced. Landlords in the Old City, as well as fanatic Moslem
groups, opposed the establishment of new living quarters outside the
city walls. Together they succeeded in halting construction by invoking
a Turkish law which, for military reasons, forbade building near the
walls. Sir Moses had to approach the Sultan for another special permit,
which was granted in 1859. The next year Kursheedt made his third visit
to the Holy Land, this time by himself, to supervise the final stages
of construction and the allocation of the accomodations.
Despite the difficulties, the building was finally
completed. There were 16 apartments, each with two rooms and a kitchen.
There were two synagogues, one each for the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim,
a mikve (ritual bath), a well with a small hand-pump from England -
a modern marvel that people came specially to see - individual garden
plots for each resident, and the windmill. The building was dedicated
early in 1861. Rabbi Joseph Nissim Burla, president of the Beth Din
(Rabbinical Court), delivered a sermon praising the efforts of Montefiore
Five years later, during his sixth visit to Eretz-Israel,
Montefiore, after consulting the leaders of the Jewish community, decided
to add an additional house, containing another four apartments. The
cornerstone was ceremoniously laid while Sir Moses was still in Jerusalem
but three years passed before Rabbi Isaac Rosenthal was appointed to
supervise construction. Although the new buiding was completed in a
year, it was another five years before the tenants finally moved in,
during Montefiore's seventh and last trip to Palestine in 1875.
In the centre of the building, on the top of the stone
façade, the following words were inscribed: "Mishkenot Sha'ananim
was established with the money bequeathed by the benefactor Judah Touro,
may his soul rejoice in Eden, in the holy community of New Orleans,
may God protect it, in America, by Sir Moses Montefiore, in the year
5620 of the Creation." In the founding charter of Mishkenot the inhabitants
are enjoined to recite prayers in memory of Touro daily and on the anniversary
of his death. Yet, despite the inscription and the charter, Mishkenot
was often still called by its original name, Kerem Moshe - "The Vineyard
of Moses." Many Americans were disturbed by the fact that Montefiore
seemed to have received the sole credit for establishing the new neighbourhood
and that the roles of Touro and Kursheedt were forgotten. Moreover,
the philanthropists in America and England, who felt themselves responsible
for the project, were disappointed when the residents did not achieve
economic independence within the expected time and failed to establish
a new way of life outside the walls of the Old City and they did not
hesitate to voice their concern.
Mishkenot Sha'ananim derives its name from Isaiah
32:18: "My people will abide in peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings
and in quiet resting places." But that prophecy was not immediately
fulfilled. The difficulties in enticing the residents of Jerusalem to
leave the safety of the city walls have already been noted. These were
overcome to some extent, by special allocations provided by Sir Moses
to those families willing to live in Mishkenot. Nevertheless, in the
early years, many residents lived in the new settlement during the day
and returned to the Old City at night. The problem of safety was very
real. During the first few years, one resident was murdered on his way
from the Old City and another was killed trying to chase away marauders.
Soon, however, the opposite problem arose.
Because Montefiore was interested in alleviating the
poverty rampant throughout Jerusalem, he wanted all of the city's poor
to benefit from the improved conditions at Mishkenot, not just a small
number of families. Thus the Mishkenot regulations specifically stated
that residence in the new homes would be limited in time and that the
apartments should change hands every so often. But the original residents
refused to move out and Montefiore, impressed by their pioneering spirit,
was not prepared to evict them. Montefiore's heirs, however, considered
imposing rent collection in order to avoid permanent squatters' rights.
The move, however, was unsuccessful and as late as 1948, several of
the residents were still the descendants of the original inhabitants.
The isolation of Mishkenot was also a mixed blessing.
Every night the gates of the Old City were closed, as were the gates of the new settlement.
It was only in 1875, 15 years after Mishkenot was founded, that a small
opening was made in the city walls to permit sick people to be brought
to the hospital in the Old City at night. Only in 1898 were the city
gates kept open both day and night.
While the isolation made life difficult for the settlers,
it also forged a spirit of solidarity which allowed the residents to
overcome hardships and create an integrated neighbourhood from members
of the different communities.
During World War I, the economic assistance upon which
most of the families of that time depended - the haluka or charitable
contributions from abroad - was stopped. Hunger and disease prevailed,
not only in Jerusalem but throughout the country. The defeat of the
Ottoman Empire only embittered it further against the Jews. Thousands
were banished or fled; others had to pay a ransom to avoid being drafted
into the Turkish army, and typhoid took its toll among the remnant of
Property and essential foodstuffs were often confiscated
by the authorities and nature, too, seemed intent upon trying the enfeebled
population with a plague of locusts which invaded the country. During
the battle for Jerusalem in 1917, many of the residents of Mishkenot
sought shelter in the Old City where they felt safer behind the walls
and were, in fact, saved because the British avoided bombarding the
Holy City. Throughout the country, the diminished yishuv welcomed the
British as saviours.
Declaration, issued on November 2, 1917, and the ensuing British
Mandate gave the Jews of Palestine renewed hope and the belief that
they could rebuild their homeland in peace. But the hope was short-lived.
Only two years after the war had ended, an enraged mob, incited by Haj
Amin al-Husseini, later appointed Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, attacked
the Jews of Jerusalem the riot of April 1920 was a foretaste
of the coming struggle.
In response to the attack, Zev
Jabotinsky, then Jerusalem commander of the Haganah,
the clandestine Jewish defense organization, organized the residents
of the Old City and the new quarters outside the walls for self-defense.
Jabotinsky was arrested by the British authorities shortly thereafter
and expelled from the country. But his work bore fruit. It served as
a deterrent to rioters and gave the residents of the exposed neighbourhoods
a much-needed feeling of security. As a result, the population of the
area was spared the fate of their brethren in Hebron and Safed when 133 Jews were massacred
by Arabs and 339 wounded in August 1929.
Again and again the outlying quarters of Jerusalem were attacked by
well-armed Arab bands, only to be saved by a handful of Haganah members
who risked their lives with a few pistols and grenades.
But such tactics would have been unsuccessful without
the active participation of the residents, who were willing to inhabit
the exposed neighbourhoods, to stand guard duty, to supply food to the
Haganah defenders and to hide their arms from the British, who searched
the area thoroughly after each attack. At the beginning of the fighting
which broke out following the United Nations vote on the partition of Palestine on November 29, 1947, the British ordered the evacuation
of both Mishkenot Sha'ananim and the adjoining suburb of Yemin Moshe.
The two lone quarters were of particular importance
to the Arabs because they stood on the road to Hebron and their location
near the Old City walls allowed them to serve as a link to the besieged
Jewish quarter in the Old City. But they were also dangerously isolated.
Situated about a kilometre from the nearest Jewish neighbourhoods, to
the north and northwest, Mishkenot and Yemin Moshe were separated from
them by British "safety zones." To the south were a string of Arab villages
and in the east they were exposed to Arab fire from the Old City walls.
The Arab forces made repeated attacks during the first
months of 1948, but one after another they were repulsed. Between attacks,
the residents were the target of Arab marksmen and sporadic bombardments
(which they called "concerts") from Mount Zion. In addition, they suffered
from a constant shortage of food and water. Nevertheless, it was from
Mishkenot that soldiers of the Haganah set out to reinforce the units
on Mount Zion and to attempt to relieve the beleagered Jewish quarter.
Mount Zion remained in Jewish hands, but the Old City fell to the Arab
Legion on May 29, 1948. With the departure of the British, communication
between Mishkenot Sha'ananim, Yemin Moshe and the rest of Jerusalem
At the conclusion of the War
of Independence, Jerusalem was divided. The residents of the new
state of Israel were cut off from the Old City and its holy places.
Mishkenot Sha'ananim lay right on the border between Israel and Jordan.
It was within easy rifle range of the Old City walls across a stretch
of no-man's land and for some 19 years was at the mercy of Arab Legion
Many long-time residents left the dilapidated buildings.
When hundreds of thousands of immigrants thronged to Israel in the 1950s,
Mishkenot became the home of numerous large families, mainly from Turkey,
as well as others who had been expelled by the Arabs from the Old City.
The strong construction of the building, its thick
walls and doors, gave the residents a feeling of security. But the constant
sniping took its toll. Moreover, the small living area and the lack
of facilities forced the residents to add improvised tin and aluminium
shacks to the original building, further increasing its deterioration.
In short, Mishkenot became a slum.
Recognizing the uniqueness and the historical importance
of Mishkenot Sha'ananim, Jerusalemites and friends of the city in Israel
and abroad sought to restore the building and give it a useful purpose.
In 1966, shortly after the election of Teddy
Kollek as mayor of Jerusalem, the architectural team of Ehud Netzer
and Tuvia Ketz was commissioned by the Jerusalem Foundation to begin
work on giving the building a new lease of life. The original plan called
for the conversion of the 106 year-old Mishkenot into an arts and crafts
centre, with studios and workshops in which local artisans would ply
their traditional crafts.
At about the same time, neighbouring Yemin Moshe was
declared a redevelopment area. Extensive plans were drawn up to rehabilitate
the community and restore its original appearance. Then, in June 1967,
Jerusalem was once again united as a result of the Six Day War. The
guns and the snipers disappeared from the Old City walls. The no-man's
land and the rubble between Mishkenot and the walls were turned into
parks and gardens. With the establishment of an arts and crafts centre
at the adjacent Khutzot Hayotzer ("Artisans' Lane"), the original proposal
for the rehabilitation of Mishkenot became redundant and a new use for
the buildings was sought. After much thought, it was decided by the
Jerusalem Foundation to turn Mishkenot into a guest house for creative
people. The site, opposite Mount Zion and the Old City, would provide
a place of quiet seclusion where leading writers, artists and scholars
from Israel and abroad could spend some time in the unique atmosphere
of the city and participate in the cultural life of Israel's capital.
Architects Gavriel Kertesz and Saadia Mandel joined
Netzer in planning the new complex. Preserving the original façade
and character of the building, they added modern conveniences by reducing
the original 16 apartments to nine, building an addition on to the rear
of each to accomodate a kitchen and bathrooms, and constructing a new
building to house an entrance hall and lobby and a reception hall.
On August 13, 1973, 118 years almost to the day after
Sir Moses Montefiore had signed the deed for the land on which he was
to build Mishkenot, the restored Mishkenot Sha'ananim guest house was
dedicated. In the two decades since then, the roster of Mishkenot guests
reads like a list of the world's most illustrious artists. Some of the
guests conceive a work of art during their stay, others continue their
work of research, while still others simply enjoy the peace and quiet
offered by Mishkenot. In 1993, the opening of a restaurant provided
a pleasant meeting place for Mishkenot's guests from Israel and abroad
Over the past two decades, the guest house at Mishkenot Sha'ananim has
developed both as a residence for outstanding creative people from around
the world and as a centre of cultural activity. The snatches of music,
sketches, poems and inscriptions in Mishkenot's guest book attest to
its special atmosphere, perhaps most succinctly expressed by Umberto
Eco, who wrote: Et in Arcadio Eco.
As a cultural centre, Mishkenot has evolved in accordance
with the nature of its foreign guests, who have the opportunity to meet,
share their expertise and exchange views with their Israeli counterparts
through lectures, workshops, informal encounters and small conferences,
sponsored jointly by Mishkenot and other institutions. Thus, Mishkenot
Sha'ananim has become a leading venue for international, interdisciplinary
and inter- cultural activities.
Much of the cultural work at Mishkenot has been literary
in nature: since 1990, it has organized three week-long international
poetry festivals, and has begun preparing the fourth, to take place
in 1997. The success of these festivals, and the publications associated
with each of them, have earned Mishkenot Sha'ananim an important place
on the world's literary map. Lecture series and readings of poetry and
prose are regular features of Mishkenot's literary programmes.
Additional events include a residential workshop for
young poets, a poetics forum and narrative colloquium, bilateral meetings
between Israeli writers and writers from other countries, and programmes
to encourage the translation of Hebrew literature. Saul Bellow, Philip
Roth, Mordechai Richler and John Le Carré are just a few of the
authors who have written at Mishkenot, and a number of Israeli writers,
among them David Grossman and Meir Shalev, have begun
or finished some of their works at Mishkenot. In addition to men and
women of letters, artists and musicians also find their place at Mishkenot.
Two painters' studios are available, and the grand piano in the library
serves for both practice and concerts.
Concerts, as well as art exhibitions, are often held
in the adjacent music centre, Fisher Hall, or in neighbouring Yemin
Leading academic figures, too, have found Mishkenot
a congenial place to pursue their studies and confer with their colleagues
from Israel and abroad. The staff of Mishkenot maintains contact with
leading scholars in a variety of fields, and initiate and facilitate
conferences, symposia and lectures. Mishkenot Sha'ananim maintains a
small library built partly of planned acquisitions but largely of gifts
donated by its guests, its poetry collection being particularly well-endowed.
Its photographic archive and files of correspondence with some of the
leading figures of the past two decades often serve as a resource for
journalists and scholars.
Mishkenot Sha'ananim is a partner in the Words and
Images Jerusalem Literature Project, a series of videotaped interviews
with leading contemporary Jewish writers and intellectuals, among them Aharon Appelfeld, Gyorgy
Konrad and Moacyr Scliar. Taking advantage of its secluded ambience,
Mishkenot Sha'ananim has served, over the years, as a discreet meeting
place where Israelis and Palestinians meet to discuss issues of public
policy and the arts. Recently, Mishkenot Sha'ananim has expanded its
involvement in regional issues, and together with the Van Leer Jerusalem
Institute, has established the Israeli Forum for Mediterranean Culture.
The aim of the Forum is to explore, together with experts from neighbouring
countries, the concept of Mediterranean culture by comparing images,
symbols and myths of local societies and by searching for what can be
Because of its growing importance as a cultural centre,
Mishkenot Sha'ananim has drawn up plans which include programmes for
its development as a cross-cultural centre as well as additional accommodations,
offices and an auditorium.
Political developments and the ongoing peace process in the Middle East make it seem likely that the "peaceful
habitation" of Isaiah's prophecy will be realized in our lifetime. When
it does, Mishkenot Sha'ananim will not only have contributed to its
fulfillment, but will also be an integral part of it.