If rain is a sign of God's benevolence, then the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design was blessed in the winter of 2003 when a heavy snowfall caused the collapse of the roof of a building in the school's historic compound. That damage led to the complete reconstruction of the school's two original Ottoman-era structures dating from 1880, purchased by the Jewish National Fund in 1906, and dedicated October 18 as the rebuilt faculty of architecture. The project's key benefactor, Prof. Marcella Brenner of Washington, D.C., could not attend the ceremony. But the other major donors were present - Sabby Mionis, a businessman from Athens who recently retired to Israel; and David Gradel, a London property developer whose gift was meant to memorialize his father Jacob (Jack) Gradel, who himself was an architect. The restoration of the two buildings cost NIS 12 million, said Bezalel spokeswoman Nava Levy. Dignitaries included Education Minister Yuli Tamir, Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, chairman of the Board of Governors Aharon Dovrat, and director of Bezalel's architecture department Prof. Zvi Efrat. The dedication was a runner-up for Bezalel's bigger project to mark the art school's centenary: in February, the finalists will be announced of an international architectural competition for the design of the school's 9,000-sq.m. campus in the Russian Compound downtown. The new grounds will be built on the site of a parking lot wedged between City Hall, the Magistrate's Court and the Museum of Underground Prisoners. In addition, the Israel Police plans to relocate its main Jerusalem station and lock-up to a new building in Sheikh Jarrah adjoining the national headquarters. Jurists for the competition will be: Prof. Toshiko Mori of Harvard University's Department of Architecture; Moshe Safdie of Boston and Jerusalem - who also teaches at Harvard; Prof. Arnon Zuckerman, president of Bezalel; Prof. Hanoch Gutfreund, former president of the Hebrew University; Prof. Zvi Efrat, head of Bezalel's Department of Architecture; and a Bezalel student who has yet to be chosen. The winning bid for the $60m. project will be announced next summer, said Levy. When completed in a decade or so, Bezalel will return to the city center from Mount Scopus, where it relocated in 1990 to a site adjoining the Hebrew University. The move to a new downtown campus is part of plans to expand Bezalel, increase its student body and add new departments. Safra Square bureaucrats also hope the relocated arts school will help resuscitate Jerusalem's near-moribund city center gutted by years of poor planning decisions, terrorism and the construction of suburban shopping malls. The campus may necessitate a future tram stop at Rehov Shlomzion Hamalka and Jaffa Road. Current plans for the Light Rapid Transit, slated to open in January 2009, have no stations between Safra Square and King George Avenue. Participants in the Bezalel competition will be required to design one or more buildings intended to promote a creative atmosphere and maximize interaction between the school's departments. The campus is intended to have extensive public spaces, with an open design encouraging movement and 24-hour activity. The first stage of the competition will be open. Three to five proposals will be selected for the second round. Four architect firms will be invited in advance: Jerusalem's Rosenfeld Arens Architects Ltd., Tel Aviv's Ada Karmi-Melamede Architects, London's Foreign Office Architects and a fourth firm that has not yet been chosen. Bezalel takes its name from Bezalel Ben Uri Ben Hur of the tribe of Judah, the biblical artisan who fashioned the Ark of the Covenant after the Israelites left Egypt (Exodus 31:1-6). In 1905 Prof. Boris Schatz (1867-1932), a Lithuanian-born artist and sculptor then teaching at the Royal Academy of Arts in Sofia, Bulgaria, persuaded the leaders of the Seventh Zionist Congress taking place in Basel, Switzerland, to establish an arts school in Jerusalem. Beginning with four teachers and 20 students, the Bezalel School of Handicrafts struggled to survive and contribute to the cultural life of the pre-state Yishuv. The school closed due to financial difficulties in 1929, and Schatz died penniless in the United States while trying to raise funds to revive it. Reopening in 1935 as the New Bezalel School for Arts and Crafts, it attracted many of its teachers and students from Germany, some of them refugees from the modernist Bauhaus school in Dessau that was shut down by the Nazis. In 1969 Bezalel was converted into a state-supported institution and assumed its current name. Schatz's family continued to live in the apartment at the rear of the Bezalel complex - which was built in a typical Ottoman style by Effendi Abu Shaqer complete with a crenellated wall. The arts dynasty included Boris's wife and art critic Olga Schatz (1881-1969), son painter and sculptor Bezalel (Kilik) Schatz (1912-1978) and his wife painter Louise Schatz (1916-1997), and daughter sculptress and painter Zahara Schatz (1916-1999). In 2000, after the last occupant of that apartment passed away, the building was converted to the faculty of architecture. And then the roof caved in three years later. Boris Schatz could not have imagined the internationally recognized level of creative achievement that would be reached by Bezalel students and alumni. In the past year alone, the work of Bezalel artists and designers has been exhibited in London, Istanbul, Milan, New York, Washington D.C., and locations in Germany, France and Holland, to name a few. Those handful of artisans a century ago weaving carpets and creating copper repousse souvenirs has today grown to a leading art academy of 400 faculty and 1,765 students in 10 departments, who earn both graduate and undergraduate degrees in a wide range of art and design disciplines. In addition to the school's newly restored historic buildings in downtown Jerusalem and its campus on Mount Scopus, Bezalel maintains a branch in Tel Aviv.

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