If walls could talk, the walls of the Old City in Jerusalem would tell a million
In an effort to capture the stories that took place within the
Old City from 1917 to 1948 – a unique period, often overlooked by the drama of
the War of Independence – a new initiative called the Moskowitz Jerusalem
Archive was launched on Thursday in the Old City.
Funded by American
millionaires Irving and Cherna Moskowitz (whom also finance a variety of
controversial Jewish-building projects in predominantly Arab neighborhoods), the
project aims to gather the testimony of at least 50 people from across the
spectrum of communities.
Those interviewed will be videotaped walking
around the Old City, and explaining what the neighborhood was like growing
“The fact that we are here – and will be here – cannot be taken for
granted. Awareness is very important,” said MK Benny Begin (Likud) at the
project’s official launch on Thursday afternoon in the Hurva Synagogue courtyard
of the Old City. “It is important to guard the memory for future
In addition to the project launch, 85- year-old Meir
Shalum, who grew up in the Old City, gave taped testimony and a tour of his old
stomping ground, where he was involved in the fight against the British Mandate
as an 18-year-old. Shalum can still point out areas where he and his friends had
altercations with British officers.
Despite living just a few kilometers
from the Old City in the Katamon neighborhood, Shalum said he’d only been back a
handful of times since 1967, and was continually amazed by the changes in his
“This isn’t the Old City that I know!” exclaimed
Shalum, as he identified his old house, now part of the Yeshivat Hakotel
complex. He added that just down the street, on what are now the stairs leading
to the Western Wall, was a dairy that used to produce milk for the entire
“As we go back over our history, usually what we remember
are the big events,” said Dr. Hagi Amitzur, the academic consultant overseeing
the research. “We don’t look at so much of the daily life of the people: What
did they study, how did they live, where did they walk on the narrow alleys and
stairs?” “Most of the research in the Old City is connected to the War of
Independence. Here we had an opportunity to trace people who came here to
Jerusalem, to find out what is the meaning of Jerusalem and the meaning of
Zionism,” he said.
The project has made contact with over 300 old
residents, and has already interviewed 37 at their homes and in the Old City.
(Because the project was conceived to document Jewish history in the Old City,
Arab residents will not be interviewed.) Many of the testimonies describe the
close quarters, with entire families of six to 10 children crowded into a single
room, and Arab and Jewish families living in the same house.
we would feel if we could find films and stories from the 1880s – imagine if we
could have that information about how people lived,” said Cherna Moskowitz, who
has numerous real-estate projects on contested land that belonged to Jewish
families in the 1880s, now inhabited by Arab families.
“We hope in the
future people will see this archive and understand the period from 1917 to 1948,
that was traumatic in some aspects, and beautiful in others. And it’s important
to have an understanding of how those people lived,” Moskowitz added.
chief rabbi of the Western Wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, recalled how his
family also lived in the Old City during this period, and that his father was
six years old when the family was forced to leave in 1948.
are talking about the basis of the Jewish soul – they lived in very difficult
conditions in the area that was the center of Jewish sovereignty,” he said. “It
is forbidden for us to forget these times.”