Etz Haim Yeshiva gets a new lease on life

Jaffa Road's landmark Etz Haim Yeshiva is going to be spared the wrecker's ball - to the disappointment of the property-rich, cash-poor seminary that owns the 100-year-old building. The District Committee for Planning and Construction in the Jerusalem area ruled last week to accept the main objections to a new construction plan in downtown Jerusalem. The plan called for the destruction of the historic haredi yeshiva, which sits on a huge swath of prime land just east of the Mahaneh Yehuda market stretching south from Jaffa Road. The objections were submitted by the Council for the Preservation of Sites, the Society for the Preservation of Nature in Israel and the Jerusalem Courtyards Association. The rejected planners wished to destroy the yeshiva compound, adjoining storefronts and a historic kindergarten, and build two 15-story buildings for offices, businesses and homes. As previously reported in In Jerusalem ("Speed, greed and need," October 20), Etz Haim also owns a hekdesh (religious charity-owned land) of the same name opposite the Central Bus Station. The property's key-money tenants are trapped next to the construction site of the Light Rapid Transit line and Calatrava Bridge. Jerusalem developer Haim Golovencicz wants to erect a 33-story skyscraper and commercial center - Jerusalem's equivalent of the Azrieli Center in Tel Aviv - on the site, which also stands at the nexus of highway, rail and public transit routes. Golovencicz and Rabbi Yosef Tucazinsky, a member of the board of the Etz Haim hekdesh, also had wanted to develop their valuable Jaffa Road site. Etz Haim was founded in 1841 by Jerusalem's chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Shmuel Salant and touts itself as the "first and leading Torah center in Israel." His student and grandson-in-law, Rabbi Yechiel Michel Tukichinsky, later headed the yeshiva, and in 1908 oversaw the purchase of the plot of land on which the yeshiva building now stands. Other heads of the Etz Haim Yeshiva were Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer and Rabbi Elazar Menachem Shach. Rabbi Aryeh Levine, the subject of the book A Tzaddik in Our Time by Simcha Raz, served as mashgiah (spiritual supervisor) of the yeshiva. The building was included on a list of historic sites to be preserved that was prepared by the Jerusalem Municipality 20 years ago.