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Named for an American officer who came to train the Hagana, Jerusalem's Rehov Marcus boasts magnificent buildings and multi-national history.

January 22, 2009 14:57
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nice talbiye house in marcus. (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

David "Mickey" Marcus, a Jewish colonel in the American army, was summoned to Palestine before the declaration of the state to help shape the Hagana into a modern fighting force. Known here by the pseudonym of "Stone," Marcus had never been an active Zionist. Nevertheless, he was delighted when asked to use his military expertise for the good of the Jewish people. Marcus threw himself into the struggle. His experience and initiative made him such an invaluable asset to the war effort that he was named a brigadier-general and commander of the Jerusalem front on May 28, 1948. Less than two weeks after his appointment, and after an exhausting day of battle, Marcus took a night walk just outside of his camp near Abu Ghosh. Still unversed in Hebrew, he didn't reply with the password when challenged by a cautious sentry. Two more calls went unanswered before the guard nervously fired his gun. Marcus died from a bullet wound in the chest, shot by a Jewish guard. Stone, and his contribution to Israel's victories in the War of Independence, were immortalized in the touching film Cast a Giant Shadow. One of the two main byways in Talbiyeh, a prestigious neighborhood in southern Jerusalem, is named after Mickey Marcus. Houses along the 300-meter street, like others in Talbiyeh, were built by wealthy Christian Arabs during the British Mandate on land purchased from the Greek Orthodox Church. Often quite magnificent, these dwellings were designed with dignified lines and superb gardens. Although most have been renovated with less tasteful modern additions, much of the splendid early architecture has been preserved. On your next visit to Jerusalem (or if you happen to live in the Holy City), take a (wheelchair accessible) walk along Rehov Marcus that begins at Orde Wingate Square (known to locals by its original name of Salameh Square). To make this a circular jaunt, you can descend Rehov Marcus and stroll along the right-hand sidewalk. To return to the square, cross the street and walk back up! Before you head for the large, three-story edifice at the top of the street (Rehov Marcus 2) take a good look at the side that faces the square. A fascinating combination of straight and rounded lines, and originally only two stories high, the unusual dwelling has a stone chimney - one of the first in the city. Note the Bauhaus (International) style of architecture that was fashionable at the time this house was built. Typical of Bauhaus are the balconies, one atop the other, and the tall, narrow glass window the length of the stairwell. When the superb building next door (Rehov Marcus 4) was constructed in 1924, it was only two stories high and belonged to the Spanish Benedictine Montserrat Monastery. The staff here engaged in biblical research and was responsible for translating the Bible into the Catalan language. Look for an "M" for Montserrat woven into the ironwork of the first-floor balcony. The lion guarding the door is new: It was probably purchased from the municipality, which scattered lively colored lions around the city some years ago and sold them off later on. Rarely do you see a biblical inscription written in Arabic on a house in Jerusalem, but if you look hard at the rundown Beit Eben-Ezer at Rehov Marcus 10, you will find a passage from Samuel, in Arabic, beneath the words "Eben-Ezer" and above the date (1925). Eben-Ezer translates literally as "helping stone": "Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Even-Ha'azer, saying, 'Thus far has the Lord helped us.'" (Samuel 1 7:12). Feast your eyes on the fabulous structure at Rehov Marcus 16. Two stories were recently added atop the roof of the original dwelling, but the bottom floors have been preserved. This gorgeous edifice was built by one of two brothers, the second of whom lived next door at Rehov Marcus 18. That imposing villa is known as Harun El Rashid. Notice the fancy garden and ceramic tiles, then walk through the side entrance. The building's name is written above the door in both English and Arabic. Former prime minister Golda Meir lived here in the 1960s when she was the country's foreign minister. Legend has it that before United Nations secretary-general Dag Hammarskjold came to visit, she had her security men cover the sign - supposedly to hide the fact that in the past the house had belonged to an Arab. During the Mandate, the British purchased the house for their Air Force Command. Because Villa Harun El Rashid towered over the rest of the buildings in the neighborhood, both the Hagana and the Iraqi troops occupying the Arab Katamon district nearby wanted to use it as a lookout post. On the eve of the British evacuation of Jerusalem on March 14, 1948, their officials agreed that the Hagana could have the keys if they could get in without Iraqi knowledge. Thus, as the British vacated the house from the front door, the Jews came in through the back. The modern structure on the corner is the Jerusalem Theater, completed in 1971. At the moment it features a fabulous display of costumes worn during decades of theater productions. Across the road and on the corner of Rehov Dubnov, a huge edifice stands neglected. Inaugurated in 1887, it was designed by renowned German-Christian architect Conrad Schick, who also planned Bikur Holim Hospital and the neighborhood of Mea She'arim, to house and care for Jerusalem's lepers. The hospital was funded by a German Protestant baroness, and was called Jesus Hilfe (with the help of Jesus). In 1948, the Israeli government took over the building and renamed it the Hansen Government Hospital for Lepers. Walls surround the once-magnificent structure, which is built of big, beautiful stones. Modern for the times, every room in the hospital was heated by a cast iron, wood or coal burning stove imported from Germany. A German evangelist planted trees and flowers here at the beginning of the 20th century in what was a magnificent garden filled with biblical foliage. No one lives there now, but a tiny clinic treats a few new patients each year. Now begin your walk back up Rehov Marcus. As you stroll, gaze across the road for a different perspective on the houses you viewed earlier on. On the corner of Rehov Pinsker stands the decorative modernistic villa built by the wealthy Sherover family, which helped fund the Jerusalem Theater. Further up the street, the house at Rehov Marcus 11 belonged to Reuven Mass, who transferred his publishing house from Germany to this building in Talbiyeh in 1936. Mass's son Danny was killed in a rescue mission that subsequently became known by the number of volunteers who were killed in 1948 trying to break the siege on the Etzion Bloc: Halamed Heh (the 35). Look for the words Reuven Mass carved into the stone fence. The stories added to Rehov Marcus 7 a few decades ago are nothing less than a travesty. But the original bottom two stories are absolutely stunning, shining with pinkish stones quarried in Bethlehem and boasting a majestic staircase. Ornamental side railings and the lower balcony feature wheel-shaped decorations, while the gate has an unusual leafy motif. Look at it from all sides. At the top of the street, the recently restored house at Rehov Marcus 1 is a delight to behold. Today it serves as headquarters for the wonderfully social-minded Karev Foundation, established by Canadian philanthropist Charles Bronfman. Bronfman, who has advanced all kinds of Jewish causes, was cofounder of the enormously successful Birthright program. Now, if you are hungry after all that walking, head downhill again and finish your walk with a snack at the Jerusalem Theater's coffee shop. Aviva Bar-Am is the author of Jerusalem EasyWalks. For more information, see her Web site:

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