Do Paris, London or Washington need special schools dedicated to their study in order to strengthen understanding of their historic role as capitals? Probably not. But then these cities are universally recognized and undisputed capitals. Jerusalem doesn't even have one foreign embassy within its municipal boundaries and its status and borders, as well as its historical links to the Jewish people, are constantly being called into question. Against this background, Yad Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, the research and educational institute established to preserve the legacy of Israel's second president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, is in the final stages of setting up the School for Jerusalem Studies. "People cannot make pragmatic decisions about this city without knowing the facts. We want to teach about Jerusalem, while bringing the Jerusalem experience to the wider public," explains Dr. Zvi Zameret, director of Yad Ben-Zvi. Scheduled to formally open in 2007, in time to mark the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War and the reunification of Jerusalem, this $12 million project will be an educational institute designed to impart knowledge on diverse Jerusalem-related topics to schoolchildren, teachers, soldiers and senior personnel in Israel, as well as foreign dignitaries, educators and students from abroad. "Too many people base Zionist identity on the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, pogroms and Jewish trauma," says Zameret. "Too few base it on Jewish tradition, culture, historical connection and historical memory. My hope is that, at the very least, this school will form one prong of a three-pronged Zionist/Jewish identity consisting of religion, culture and history." At present, the study of Jerusalem and its unique problems through the ages is carried out by diverse groups and institutions without any real coordination or cooperation. The school will constitute a nationally recognized body that will be the vanguard of Jerusalem studies. It will coordinate, advise and aid various groups and frameworks, create educational programs and materials, encourage research and serve as a central repository of data on Jerusalem. Yad Ben-Zvi envisions the school as fulfilling a national need to enhance the relationship of Jews in Israel and abroad to their historical capital, as well as helping to promote a deeper understanding of all the elements that exert influence on Jerusalem, including those related to Islam and Christianity. "While we will place emphasis on the special Jewish connection to Jerusalem, we will not deny the role of Muslims and Christians," Zameret relates. "I think it is significant that the Bible mentions Jerusalem 667 times, but the city is not even mentioned once in the Koran. However, this in no way says that there is no connection between Islam and Jerusalem. It only testifies to the special Jewish connection to the city… For 170 years now, Jews have made up the city's largest community. Zameret stresses that the school will be apolitical and objective. It will offer scholarly colloquia, short- and long-term seminars, guided educational tours of Jerusalem and its surroundings, conferences, special events, develop educational curricula and materials, operate a pedagogic center and engage in academic research on all aspects of Jerusalem. "Today, surveys show that some 50% of Israeli youth before army service have never set foot in Jerusalem," he continues. "We want to change that. We want every Israeli schoolchild to have paid at least one visit to the capital before finishing school." Yad Ben-Zvi sees the school as serving a target population of some 120,000 schoolchildren and 54,000 adults annually. Yad Ben-Zvi, a recipient of the Israel Prize, is a non-profit organization chartered by the Knesset in 1969 to pursue the scholarly interests of Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, who was a devoted scholar of the cultural heritage of Oriental and Sephardi Jews and the history of the Land of Israel and Jerusalem. It is Israel's leading institution engaged in research on the political, geographic, social and economic history of the Land of Israel and Jerusalem, and is the city's most popular provider of Land of Israel studies for the general public. In addition, Yad Ben-Zvi publishes scholarly works - putting out a new book every 10 days, according to Zameret - and maintains a comprehensive library. It derives 30 percent of its funding from government sources and 60% from self-supporting courses, tours and book sales. The remaining 10% is earmarked for community outreach and dependent on available funding. Now in the last stages of fund-raising for the school, Yad Ben-Zvi has already raised $9 million from public and private sources. This includes $1.12m. from the government and some $3 million from the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) for giving up its lease for the land where its current parking lot stands. It also intends to apply for government recognition, granting the school official status and entitling it to staff positions from the Education Ministry. The school will be based in two locations. Activities for schoolchildren will take place at the Rachel Yanait Ben-Zvi Center (named for the late president's wife) in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, which will be upgraded for this purpose. Adult activities will be on the newly expanded Rehavia campus. "For the purpose of establishing the school, we are doubling the physical area of our Rehavia campus," Zameret notes. Yad Ben-Zvi, which, since its inception, has been located between Alharizi and Abrabanel streets adjacent to Gan Hakuzari, recently purchased the adjoining property of Beit Hahalutzot, the historic League of Women's building on Rehov Ibn Gevirol for nearly $5m. It plans to invest an additional $6m. in renovation, new construction and refurbishing the property. This will include adding a half story to the three-and-a-half story building, and building a large auditorium under the front lawn. Moreover, Yad Ben-Zvi has committed itself to tearing down a controversial wall, built for security reasons in 1953 when Ben-Zvi was president. The wall appropriated a section of Gan Hakuzari to serve as the president's official garden. In 1973, then mayor and Rehavia resident Teddy Kollek declared that the wall should come down and Yad Ben-Zvi wrote a letter to the city promising to do so. This planned expansion, which has been approved by all the relevant government bodies, is a drastically pared-down version of Yad Ben-Zvi's original plan, which seven years ago aroused the opposition of neighborhood residents and what was then the community administration - the Nahlaot, Rehavia, Sha'arei Hessed Neighborhood Administration. That plan called for construction of a new five-story building on the campus, a 120-car underground parking garage and dismantling and reconstruction of the Tzrif and Beit Valero, the historic reception quarters and residence of president Ben-Zvi. Neighborhood residents felt it would irrevocably ruin the historic and residential character of Rehavia and create monumental traffic jams. Zameret admits that he is relieved that the original plan is no more. "To tell you the truth," he admits, "it was good that the neighbors objected. The idea to move the Tzrif was not a good one. This is a plan we all can accept. In fact, neighbors have thanked us for buying Beit Hahalutzot." Zameret told In Jerusalem that the current plan had been discussed with neighborhood residents. But Dr. Yechil Ozeri, head of the Residents Committee for Gan Hakuzari and the Preservation of the Quality of Life in Rehavia, an organization representing some 700 Rehavia families or nearly every household, disputes this. He says residents were invited to a public meeting a few months ago where the plan was presented to them as a fait accompli. Since then his group has heard nothing from Yad Ben-Zvi and the organization has not explained to residents the impact of 54,000 people a year attending courses and lectures at Beit Hahalutzot. "We opposed the original plan because we felt it was massive and would disturb the delicate balance between residential and institutional in Rehavia, plus it would generate a tremendous amount of human and vehicular traffic on our narrow streets," Ozeri explains. "Rehavia is a historic neighborhood, with a special character and we don't want this destroyed." Ozeri still harbors fears as to the impact of the new school on the neighborhood. "We have terrible traffic and parking problems as things stand today," he remarks. He would like Yad Ben-Zvi to sit down with neighborhood residents and explain to them in more detail what the school will mean for the neighborhood. He also feels that the fact that Yad Ben-Zvi has tied taking down the wall to its expansion plans is not a sign of good faith. "We had three court cases concerning tearing down the wall and we won all three. Yad Ben-Zvi has repeatedly told us the wall is coming down. But it then just ignores us and the wall remains. We would like Yad Ben-Zvi to periodically update us on its plans. What kind of a disaster would it be for them to keep us in the picture?" In addition, the fate of the parking lot is unresolved, since it is being returned to the ILA, which will make the final determination as to use of the land. Ozeri claims that the area is zoned for residential building and residents will insist that it remain so. Nevertheless, Zameret is confident that the new school will have its intended impact. "My dream is that just as all foreign dignitaries are taken to Yad Vashem, so, in the future, they will be taken to our School for Jerusalem Studies to receive a summary of Jerusalem from King David to the present," he concludes.

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