Aish HaTorah building.
(photo credit: )
Aish HaTorah, the institution known for its programs that bring unaffiliated Jews closer to traditional Judaism, dedicated the building last week in Jerusalem's Old City overlooking the Kotel that holds its new world headquarters.
About $20 million was raised from various donors including Kirk Douglas; the Dan family (founders of Novopharm, Canada's second largest generic drug company, which was sold to Teva for half a billion dollars); Len Leader, the founder and former CFO of AOL; Sol Kerzner, the South African hotel and gambling magnate; Louis Mayberg, founder and principal of National Capital; and the Bronfman family.
The building has a long history.
During the Second Temple era an 81 kilometer-long aqueduct which descended one centimeter per kilometer ran through the building, bringing water from Hebron to the Temple Mount.
In the mid-1800s Reverend James Barclay of Virginia used the building as a base for missionary activities among Jews.
The building was purchased by a wealthy Bulgarian tobacco merchant by the name of Shmuel Bechar-Yeshaya, who moved to Israel from Salonika, Greece in 1880. Rabbi Bechar-Yeshaya refurbished the building, adding a synagogue and yeshiva, and the building became a center of prayer for Jews throughout the Old City.
In the 1948 War of Independence, the building, deemed indefensible by the Hagana, was abandoned. Arab forces quickly took control of it, making it one of the few buildings that was not destroyed by the Arabs during that campaign.
Another $20m. will be invested in the building to create a "museum for the Jewish idea.
"Basically, what we are planning to create is an 'exploratorium of Jewish history'," said Ephraim Shore, executive director of Aish HaTorah Jerusalem.
"The main focus is going to be using the museum as a springboard for expressing the principles and values that we as Jews stand for, our national mission and how we have made an impact on the world."
Shore said that many visitors to the Kotel come away with a memorable feeling.
"But this feeling lacks depth and they do not understand how the Temple fits in to 3,800 years of Jewish history. We want to change that," he said.
Presently, Aish HaTorah's seven-story building provides a view of the entire Temple Mount as well as a model of the Second Temple.
The center runs various educational programs that include courses in traditional Judaism.