A testament to passion and perseverance

Inspired by the story of Moses Montefiore, a Nahlaot resident creates a garden in the 19th-century benefactor's name.

Here's a question: What do a salad bowl, an ice bucket, a toy wagon, a candleholder, a bedpost, a glazed rock and a bathroom sink have in common? Answer: They all serve as planters in a unique garden in Nahlaot. The brainchild and the handiwork of local resident and fitness instructor Sid ("Skippy") Marcus, the small public garden is a testament to passion and perseverance. Abloom with a colorful array of petunias, geraniums, cacti and a profusion of other flowering plants, it attracts the attention of everyone who passes by. But the story does not begin with the garden. The preliminary seeds were sown two years ago when the rabbi of the Moses Montefiore Synagogue asked Marcus to help repair the small 19th-century structure. A regular congregant at the shul, Marcus had been saying Kaddish for his mother every morning. He also has a storage alcove in the shul's courtyard, where he keeps his equipment for the exercise and skipping classes he teaches in the outdoor soccer area across the way. A former furniture manufacturer, interior designer and steel factory owner, as well as the director of his own fitness club in his native Chicago, Marcus has a good eye for design and a strong constitution for hard work. Throwing himself into the task, he began remodeling the interior and exterior of the old synagogue, painting, plastering, stripping, cutting and staining the walls and woodwork and laying carpeting on the floor. Marcus estimates that he put in more than 2,000 hours of voluntary work, as well as his own out-of-pocket expenses. "It became an ongoing passion," he says. "It made every day more exciting by enhancing the look of the synagogue," which was built in 1886. The passion that had incited Marcus was the life story of the synagogue's namesake. The more Marcus learned about Sir Moses Montefiore (1784-1885), the more reverent he became. "When I found out how much Moses Montefiore had done for Jerusalem, it motivated me every day to give the synagogue the pristine look it had over 100 years ago," he says. Thus inspired, Marcus didn't have to look far to see how else he could pay homage to the legendary philanthropist and benefactor. Six mornings a week, Marcus gives classes in rope skipping and weight training at the Nahlaot outdoor soccer field, located between Einayim Lamishpat and Sherizli streets. And every morning, he says, "the cats and dogs would come and do their business outside the fence while we were working out. It smelled awful!" So Marcus approached the local community center and asked if the city could repair the fence and brick over the 15-meter strip- beyond it. If so, he told them that he would like to build a garden in memory of Moses Montefiore. They agreed, and the city completed the job last May. In October, Marcus set to work on his labor of love, The Sir Moses Montefiore Garden AN OLD hand at finding and refurbishing, Marcus began picking up discarded items from all over the city and using them for his purposes. Pots and pans, coffee urns, teapots, pitchers, strainers, colanders, baskets, platters and bowls all became containers for the plants he had made from cuttings or had been donated by a plant store on Rehov Agrippas. More grist for Marcus's mill came in the form of rocks, tree trunks, tables, cabinet doors, curlicues from chairs and beds, stools, gates and broomsticks, which he sawed, glazed, varnished or painted to serve as stands in his botanical garden. And to ensure that all his treasures are kept intact and in place, Marcus has tied, hammered, nailed or welded everything down. Figuring prominently in the garden is a framed plaque that Marcus constructed and phrased. It bears the following dedication: "Sir Moses Montefiore (1784-1885) Botanical Garden We glorify the memory of Sir Moses Montefiore with the building of this garden for the precious and wonderful contributions he made to Jerusalem in his lifetime. Those of you who pass by do give praise to this most wonderful human being for his love and clear vision for the Jewish people, his devotion to mankind throughout his entire lifetime, and his commitment to a better future for the Jewish people. "We would like to acknowledge those who have contributed to and participated in the development of this garden: Michal Carmon, Nahlaot Community Center; Ruth Cohen; David Hasson; Dalia Niazof; Sigalit Alalouf; Judy Paikin; and Joshua and Jenny Weisberg." Inspired and inspiring, the neighborhood park is truly a delight to the eye. "The park belongs to the city, to the people," says Marcus. People sit on the ledge to eat or relax. And tourists always stop and take a picture, he says. Although he is always gratified when people admire and compliment his handiwork, Marcus stresses that "I don't do it to get praise, I do it to give praise." As we begin to walk way from the garden, I ask Marcus almost rhetorically, "And you know what the name 'Montefiore' means in English, right?" "No," he replies. "It means 'mountain of flowers,'" I inform him. Struck by the delectable symmetry of the situation, the usually effusive Marcus is simply too overcome to speak.