"If we want to escape the computers and the air-conditioned ivory tower of the university and experience Mother Nature of the Land of Israel in all its beauty, all we have to do is cross the road. There is no other experience like it." With these words Haim Mizrachi, Chairman of the Hebrew University, opened his address at the festive ceremony marking completion of the botanical garden development project on the Mount Scopus campus.
The garden has been renovated during the past two years under the supervision of environmental planner Ran Morin in cooperation with H.U.on Mount Scopus and KKL-JNF with the help of generous contributions of Stephen and Gail Victor, friends of KKL-JNF in Canada. The work in the garden included improving paths to make the garden accessible to the disabled, preserving the archeological-historical site of the Tomb of Nicanor, creating infrastructures for more new sections, renovating the water and electric systems, remodeling the main entrance tunnel to the garden, building canals of running water and creating wall drawings of root systems.
The botanical garden of indigenous plants from the Land of Israel and its surroundings is one of the loveliest and least-known gardens in the Jerusalem area, located at the north-eastern section of the ridge of Mount Scopus, overlooking the Judean Desert and the Jordan. In the center of the garden is a system of catacombs from the time of the Second Temple known as the Tomb of Nicanor: a burial site that belonged to the Nicanor Family of Alexandria that is mentioned in the Mishnah and the Talmud as building the eastern gates of the Temple. The early Zionist leader Yehuda Leib Pinsker and Menachem Usishkin are buried in one of the ancient halls within the caves.
The botanical garden on Mount Scopus, the first university garden in Israel, was established in 1931 by Professor Otto Wareburg and Professor Alexander Eig, founders of the Botany Department of the Hebrew University and pioneers in botanical and phyto-geographical research in Israel. The garden is among the few devoted to wild plants of the Land of Israel and its surroundings, encompassing about 25 dunam and contains 950 varieties of plants, 40% of which are wild. The garden is unique and important in that it is one of the first in the world established as an "ecological garden". Unlike other botanical gardens that display individual plants on a taxonomical basis, the garden on Mount Scopus displays the various plant species that exist in Israel, with their changing natural colors throughout the seasons of the year, with the main plants that are characteristic of each group.
Elhanan Hacohen, Vice-President of the University, described the garden as a treasure trove hidden among the concrete buildings of the University, that contain the heritage of the Jewish people, and its history from the tombs of Nicanor to the present. "We are not just talking about green areas - we are creating them!" He thanked the Canadian philanthropists and commented on the ties between them, the university and KKL-JNF that enabled this remarkable project.
Efi Stenzler, KKL-JNF World Chairman noted that this year marks 95 years of cooperation between KKL-JNF and the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus which began at the 11th Zionist Congress in Vienna in 1913. There Menachem Usishkin, the first chairman of KKL-JNF, spoke about the importance of establishing a university where Hebrew would be the language of instruction. Following his vision, KKL-JNF purchased the land that was then transferred to the university. "Usishkin viewed the establishment of the University as a prerequisite to the establishment of the Third Temple and thus began the proposition to create the botanical garden. When the bones of Pinsker were brought here he too asked to be buried here, near the Nicanor family who helped build the second Temple. The garden is thus both a valuable asset and one of the more beautiful ones and will become a focal point for both local and foreign tourists."
Professor Haim Kendel, Chairman of the Academic Committee, described the unique character of the garden that distinguishes it from other botanical gardens in that it is arranged in the singular manner representing the flora of the Land of Israel. The garden "has survived two wars - the War of Independence and the Six Day War - and now has acquired a new image. Thanks to the contributions, the paths have been reconstructed to make them accessible to the disabled. The garden, whose existence was formerly known only to few, will now be open to the general public, youth movements, students, and nature-lovers."
After a short musical interlude Professor Yoram Tzafrir, the representative of the Archeological Institute, spoke about Tuvia Kushnir, one of the fallen heroes of the pre-State "Lamed-Hei," (the 35 killed trying to bring help to the besieged Gush Etzion) who had planted irises in the garden that were discovered and revived only after the Six Day War. "I always considered Kushnir to be an exceptional figure because of the great sacrifices he made."
Ran Morin, project planner for KKL-JNF noted that "the greatest challenge was to preserve what existed and not to cause harm to what remained. As you can see in the wall drawings, the topic of rehabilitation was "establishing roots" which is a deep, essential need of the human soul. The garden is a place full of memories and heritage connecting with nature and the preservation of nature."
After the ribbons were cut, Ran Morin led the guests on a tour of the garden, during which we met a group of art students from the nearby Bezalel School of Art. "I love this garden," noted Eitan. "The passages between the School and Nature are beautiful." A student sitting next to him added. "I never knew about this garden before, but now that I have seen it and experienced it, I will come here often. It is amazing to know that such a lovely place exists right here in the university."