Right after the War of Independence, seven-year-old Hayim Yom Tov moved to
the Jerusalem neighborhood of Yemin Moshe together with other immigrants
from Turkey and Iraq.
The houses they were offered by government agencies had been severely damaged both before and during the war, and previous inhabitants had moved to safer ground. Sadly, the splendid Sephardi synagogue built in 1894 and used as a military position by the Hagana, had been shattered by Arab shells.
The new residents removed the heavy sacks that stood on the window sills and, despite their extremely limited means, steadfastly restored the synagogue to its former beauty. And although they lived directly across from the Jordanian border, and suffered repeated Arab attacks over the next 20 years, they never complained.
After the Six Day War reunited Jerusalem, and Yemin Moshe was no longer a border neighborhood, the powers that be decided to transform it into a posh little colony for people with enough money to renovate the houses.
Unfortunately, as newcomers to the country, the Turkish and Iraqi immigrants had been na.ve and had neither bought the houses nor registered them at the Land Registry. As a result, they were offered pitifully low compensation and sent to other less desirable areas in the city.
Yet they never forgot Yemin Moshe nor the synagogue that had been the center of life in the neighborhood, says Yom Tov, today the synagogue cantor. So when there was talk of turning the synagogue into a museum, the evacuees fought back — and won.Nowadays, as a gesture of protest at the injustice done to them, evacuees return to their Yemin Moshe synagogue every Shabbat and holiday and fill the unique house of worship with their prayers.
Ashkenazi Jews begin slihot (penitential prayers) on Saturday night, joining the Sephardim who have been getting up early for slihot for a couple of weeks already.
In the September 19 article on early Jerusalem synagogues, I suggested a route through the Nahlaot quarters that offered a look at a variety of very special houses of worship (’Synagogues for slihot’). This week I am sending you to even more of these fascinating, historic synagogues.
Visit them in Yemin Moshe, for example, in the Bukharan Quarter, with a few more in Nahlaot. Last but definitely not least, visit an unusual edifice on Jaffa Road.YEMIN MOSHE
Boasting one of the most striking interiors in Jerusalem, Yemin Moshe’s Sephardi synagogue features spectacular, multi-colored chandeliers made of crystal from Moreno, Italy.
Each of the ceiling’s four corners features a brightly colored animal, referring to the Ethics of the Fathers teaching: ’Be bold as the leopard and swift as the eagle, fleet as the gazelle and brave as the lion....’
According to Yom Tov, the original paintings were even more beautiful than those you see today. But enthusiastic restorers redid them in a different, more modern style.
Even more distinctive than the chandeliers is the raised pulpit — damaged by Arab shells — which stands at a diagonal in the middle of the synagogue.
When the synagogue was first built and the pulpit placed inside, settlers meant it to face the Temple Mount. Incredibly, when Yom Tov and comrades from his army unit checked the angle, they found that it does, indeed, stand directly across from Jerusalem’s holiest Jewish site. Spend a bit of time on the porch for an absolutely breathtaking view.
Yemin Moshe’s Ashkenazi synagogue, Beit Yisrael, is even older than the Sephardi one and is located at Rehov Pele Yoetz 2, on the northern side of the neighborhood overlooking the Old City walls.
Built by the original Hungarian residents of Yemin Moshe, it was renovated several decades ago with new furniture. The relatively comfortable women’s gallery is separated by a high, latticed partition, and the walls are fairly stark. Expect to hear English spoken here. BUKHARAN QUARTER
Very little is left of Jerusalem’s once elegant Bukharan Quarter, situated north of the city center between Yehezkel and Bar-Ilan streets.While the community originally housed wealthy immigrants from the Bukhara region of Uzbekistan and was known for its warmth and tolerance, today it is home to haredi families and newly observant Jews. Indeed, hardly any of the old buildings remain, the earliest residents are gone and the atmosphere has changed.
When it was first established in 1891, the Bukharan Quarter boasted some of the grandest structures in the city. Unlike the other, newly built Jewish neighborhoods, the Bukharan suburb was not adjacent to any existing communities and its design was unusual for Jerusalem.The plan called for spacious homes on tree-lined boulevards with main roads a generous 10.5 meters wide and side streets five meters wide. Houses were to take up an entire block and to center around an elegant courtyard.
Of the few original buildings in the quarter, two synagogues remain: the Baba Tama and the house of worship established by Shlomo Musayoff in his backyard.
The Baba Tama, named for the Bukharan whose legacy provided money for its construction, is located on the corner of Habukharim and Yehezkel streets.
Built in 1895, and the most important synagogue in this part of the neighborhood, the Baba Tama is seven meters high and almost completely decorated in bright blue.
Founders probably hoped that this would keep the synagogue and its worshipers safe. According to tradition, Satan is afraid of the color blue.
To reach the Musayoff synagogue, pass the construction on the street and when you reach the second corner take a very sharp left onto Rehov Yoel.
The first opening on your left is now more of a junkyard than the courtyard paradise of fruit trees and flowing water described in a contemporary Hebrew book (and which I myself saw some decades ago). The house, the first in the neighborhood, was put up in 1894 by Musayoff.
Typical of other houses that would be built in the Bukharan Quarter, this first structure’s courtyard included several stairways leading up to the homes of members of the extended family. And like the other dwellings that would be constructed here, the Musayoff complex included a synagogue for family prayers.
Keep walking, and on your left is the arched entrance to the Musayoff synagogue — today, actually eight different synagogues. The original is the one with the ’alef’ on top. There is always action here; as one minyan finishes, another begins.
NAHLAOT and JAFFA ROADTalk to anyone who grew up in Nahlaot and you will hear the nostalgia in his or her voice. Nahlaot is the catch-all name for a cluster of tiny residential neighborhoods between Agrippas and Bezalel streets, built at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, in which people generally lived in and around a common courtyard.Residents washed their clothes together in the courtyard and hung them to dry on a common clothesline. They also ate outside together, laughed and cried together, and loved all the children as their own.
Indeed, one old-timer told me that his mother would go off to work with no worries, knowing that he would be well cared for no matter whose yard he wandered into.
An elderly man who lived on Rehov Shiloh remembers the baker who owned the neighborhood oven. ’He knew exactly which pots belonged to the rich and which to the poor,’ he says. ’As the Shabbat meal baked in the large, community oven, he would open the lids and transfer goodies from a wealthy customer to his poverty-stricken neighbor.’
Several interesting synagogues in one small area of Nahlaot were not included in my September 19 article. To visit them, head for Rehov Nissim Bachar, perpendicular to Rehov Bezalel. Across from the synagogue at No. 30, make a sharp turn to the left and descend Rehov Yarkon.
You are now in a small residential quarter called Zichron Ya’akov but known locally as the Kurdish Neighborhood. Look up to see two ’competing’ synagogues: Barashi on your left, and a few meters further down, across the street, the Prophet Ezekiel Synagogue.
Worshipers at the first came, originally, from Barash in Kurdistan; at the second, from a neighboring hilltop village called Amedi. The interior of the latter is remarkably modern, featuring stunning lettering on the Holy Ark and three large crowns on the pulpit.
When you reach the end of the street, look left to examine a colorful mosaic wall illustrating the immigration of Kurdish Jews to Israel. Then cross the little plaza to the Iranian P’tahiya Synagogue at Rehov Arnon 26, on the very edge of the Shevet Tzedek Quarter, also known as the tin neighborhood (shechunat hapahim).
Founders of this area, mainly Iranians, were so poor that they had originally squatted on an empty plot next to Mishkenot Sha’ananim (the first Jewish neighborhood outside the Old City walls) in 1886.
The shacks and tents in which they lived created quite an eyesore so that they were evicted a few years later to an empty area that would become Shevet Tzedek.
Ofer Rashti, a 10th-generation Jerusalemite born in the quarter, relates that the first settlers were so broke that they had to build the first houses out of tin. They would take enormous, empty gasoline cans, separate the sides, smooth them out and stand them up to form walls. They then put dirt in the middle for the floor.
Look around you to find that many of the homes in this quaint and picturesque quarter still retain at least one wall or parts of a wall made of tin which, it turns out, is great for keeping out both cold and rain.
Destitute as they were, the residents wanted a synagogue where they could pray in their own special style and hear sermons in Farsi.
P’tahiya Synagogue was built in 1894 as a simple hut with a packed dirt floor, whose permanent walls were added one by one whenever the poverty-stricken residents were able to scrounge up a donation.
Continue through a narrow alley to the original entrance at the back of the synagogue, and turn right to ascend Rehov Bibes. Most of the tiny family synagogues here are closed, although on holidays and Shabbat the Sanduri (Kurdish) synagogue at No. 8, where Rashti’s late father Arie was beadle (gabai), is usually open.
Not only has it kept its simple, original style, but the hospitality for which Arie Rashti was famous seems to have endured. We walked by just before evening prayers one late afternoon, were invited inside and handed plates laden with homemade burekas!
If you go all the way up Rehov Bibes, you come out on Rehov Agrippas. Cross through the open market at Rehov Mahaneh Yehuda or the enclosed market on Rehov Etz Hayim to reach Jaffa Road.
Turn right and stop across from the historic structure at No. 92: Jerusalem’s first skyscraper. The force behind this lofty building was American immigrant Rabbi Shmuel Levi, who constructed the three-story edifice at the beginning of the 20th century.
Over the years it grew from three to five stories and was known for its hospitality to indigent pilgrims. On the fourth floor was the Zoharei Hama Synagogue, frequented by the venerated Arye Levin, the spiritual father to Hagana members imprisoned in Jerusalem’s British jail.
What makes this building so famous is its huge sundial. Moshe Shapiro, a rabbi from Mea She’arim who taught himself astronomy, put it up in 1908. Before its construction, haredim would climb the Mount of Olives and the slopes of the Bayit Vagan neighborhood to determine the exact hours of sunrise and sunset.
The tower on the fourth floor tumbled down during an earthquake in 1927. Fourteen years later, a short circuit in the building caused a fire. The fifth story burnt down and the synagogue below was badly damaged.
The facade was restored and the sundial reconstructed in 1980. Two clocks on the front of the building were used in winter: One showed ’European time’ and the other showed halachic Jerusalem time.
Women aren’t allowed inside Zoharei Hama, an extremely modest synagogue where services take place throughout the day.
Worshipers are a fascinating fusion of ages, backgrounds and ethnic groups, participating in afternoon prayers on the first floor (and rushing to get through them before sunset), then climbing to the second floor where evening services take place.
Prayers are not the only sounds that resonate from this historic synagogue. It is from Zoharei Hama that the sirens blast in Jerusalem, letting residents of the holy city know that it is time to light the Shabbat candles.