Jewel in the crown

A special peek inside a Jewish Quarter abode for Jerusalem Day.

old city house 88 224 (photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
old city house 88 224
(photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
'Why did I come to live in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City?" Prof. Zvi Eyal repeats my question and answers. "The question should have been why I came to Israel in the first place. I came from Holland in 1946 and I survived the Holocaust, although most of my family did not. Even before the war, during my studies in Holland, I dreamed of coming to Palestine, and as soon as I could, I got here on an illegal ship and was detained in Atlit. In 1967 when the quarter was liberated, we were enthralled. Ten years after the rebuilding began we were able to fulfill the dream of living here. And we have been here for the last twenty-eight years." The house, parts of which are 400 years old, was put up for sale through a lottery. They won the draw and set about changing and rebuilding as they did not like what had been done to it up to that point. "The house was half finished when we acquired it," recounts Eyal, who retired 12 years ago from his job as head of Surgery A at Hadassah-University Hospital, Ein Kerem. "It had been planned by Moshe Safdie, the architect who was responsible for rebuilding the whole quarter, and we did not like some of the changes." Eyal's wife Hephzibah, a professor of zoology and head of experimental embryology, took a sabbatical from the Hebrew University to supervise the whole building process, which took another year. The entire ground floor is 400 years old, while the upper floor which contains the bedrooms was added on. The first change was to enlarge the small windows which looked onto the view of the Western Wall and the Mount of Olives and to install two large windows in the lounge and kitchen to be able to watch the continuing pageantry outside. "There's always something going on," says Eyal. "If it's not an IDF swearing-in ceremony, it's a demonstration, a cultural event or just hordes of people praying there. Whatever it is, you can't get bored. It's very stimulating to live here." The house, which has been photographed many times, is considered one of the most beautiful in the quarter, possibly because of the indoor garden which was created from the vaults and archways around what was an inner courtyard. The addition of glass walls to fill in the arches is a striking feature and dominates the whole downstairs area. The entire structure is two stories tall and is furnished with a mosaic-topped table depicting the ancient map of Jerusalem which was specially ordered by the Eyals. Next to this a small dining room is strategically placed so that diners can enjoy both the atrium and the views out of the back window. The kitchen is completely modern as there was nothing there except a pillar between kitchen and living room which they removed to allow an uninterrupted view of the endless goings-on outside. The thick walls needed replastering but not much else was done to them. "The way they built in those days meant that we always have good climate control in the house," says Eyal. "They absorb heat and yet don't let the cold in. It's always very comfortable here in terms of temperature." The living room has a cozy European feel and it is hard to believe one is in an ancient house in the Middle East. Eyal explains how it got to look like it does. "We have been married for over 50 years and accumulated a lot of things. We have also traveled a great deal and many of the objects are souvenirs brought back from distant lands. But mainly we have always acquired paintings. We didn't have a penny when we married, but the first thing we bought was a painting. We were also given many gifts and we knew many painters. Every picture has a story as many Israeli painters used their own background and stories. I think our home can show the development of modern Israel and how it is related to its past." Facing the narrow street at the front is another sitting room, full of colorful rugs and with one wall under the wide windowsill actually covered by a stair runner. To reach the newly built second floor an entrance and staircase were added and upstairs are bedrooms, bathrooms and a large studio which leads onto a garden roof. The garden blooms with fruit trees and flowers in large pots. In spite of some of the problems of living in the Jewish Quarter - especially that of parking which has dogged the residents for years - the Eyals are very happy there. "There are many interesting and beautiful houses in the quarter," he says, "but this house is special - it is the jewel in the crown." Do you feel you own one of Israel's most beautiful homes? Please e-mail: [email protected] By GLORIA DEUTSCH Photos: Eyal Izhar A special peek inside a Jewish Quarter abode for Jerusalem Day 'Why did I come to live in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City?" Prof. Zvi Eyal repeats my question and answers. "The question should have been why I came to Israel in the first place. I came from Holland in 1946 and I survived the Holocaust, although most of my family did not. Even before the war, during my studies in Holland, I dreamed of coming to Palestine, and as soon as I could, I got here on an illegal ship and was detained in Atlit. In 1967 when the quarter was liberated, we were enthralled. Ten years after the rebuilding began we were able to fulfill the dream of living here. And we have been here for the last twenty-eight years." The house, parts of which are 400 years old, was put up for sale through a lottery. They won the draw and set about changing and rebuilding as they did not like what had been done to it up to that point. "The house was half finished when we acquired it," recounts Eyal, who retired 12 years ago from his job as head of Surgery A at Hadassah-University Hospital, Ein Kerem. "It had been planned by Moshe Safdie, the architect who was responsible for rebuilding the whole quarter, and we did not like some of the changes." Eyal's wife Hephzibah, a professor of zoology and head of experimental embryology, took a sabbatical from the Hebrew University to supervise the whole building process, which took another year. The entire ground floor is 400 years old, while the upper floor which contains the bedrooms was added on. The first change was to enlarge the small windows which looked onto the view of the Western Wall and the Mount of Olives and to install two large windows in the lounge and kitchen to be able to watch the continuing pageantry outside. "There's always something going on," says Eyal. "If it's not an IDF swearing-in ceremony, it's a demonstration, a cultural event or just hordes of people praying there. Whatever it is, you can't get bored. It's very stimulating to live here." The house, which has been photographed many times, is considered one of the most beautiful in the quarter, possibly because of the indoor garden which was created from the vaults and archways around what was an inner courtyard. The addition of glass walls to fill in the arches is a striking feature and dominates the whole downstairs area. The entire structure is two stories tall and is furnished with a mosaic-topped table depicting the ancient map of Jerusalem which was specially ordered by the Eyals. Next to this a small dining room is strategically placed so that diners can enjoy both the atrium and the views out of the back window. The kitchen is completely modern as there was nothing there except a pillar between kitchen and living room which they removed to allow an uninterrupted view of the endless goings-on outside. The thick walls needed replastering but not much else was done to them. "The way they built in those days meant that we always have good climate control in the house," says Eyal. "They absorb heat and yet don't let the cold in. It's always very comfortable here in terms of temperature." The living room has a cozy European feel and it is hard to believe one is in an ancient house in the Middle East. Eyal explains how it got to look like it does. "We have been married for over 50 years and accumulated a lot of things. We have also traveled a great deal and many of the objects are souvenirs brought back from distant lands. But mainly we have always acquired paintings. We didn't have a penny when we married, but the first thing we bought was a painting. We were also given many gifts and we knew many painters. Every picture has a story as many Israeli painters used their own background and stories. I think our home can show the development of modern Israel and how it is related to its past." Facing the narrow street at the front is another sitting room, full of colorful rugs and with one wall under the wide windowsill actually covered by a stair runner. To reach the newly built second floor an entrance and staircase were added and upstairs are bedrooms, bathrooms and a large studio which leads onto a garden roof. The garden blooms with fruit trees and flowers in large pots. In spite of some of the problems of living in the Jewish Quarter - especially that of parking which has dogged the residents for years - the Eyals are very happy there. "There are many interesting and beautiful houses in the quarter," he says, "but this house is special - it is the jewel in the crown." Do you feel you own one of Israel's most beautiful homes? Please e-mail: [email protected]