Old Memories of Jerusalem

In 1928 an inspiring young woman, Rachel Yanait Ben-Zvi who years later became the wife of Israel’s second president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, opened an agricultural training school for women, the first of its kind in Palestine, in a beautiful section of Jerusalem known as Talpiot.

Originally founded to provide agricultural education to young Jewish girls, the school called Havat HaLimud eventually was more useful in Zionist history.

It overlooked Armon HaNatziv, the Palace of the British High Commissioner in Palestine and it was adjacent to nearby Arab villages. This dual location served the Jewish underground in pre-State Israel and provided information on the activities of the British and Arabs.

I do not know in what year the school ceased to be for women only but in 1951 I was a male student among other male and female students.

Rooms were very small and I shared mine with two other young men roughly of my age. Musa Gamchi of Bagdad, Iraq, later became Moshe Netanel who had immigrated to Palestine some years prior to 1948 with his well-to-do and educated parents, Salim and Rala. They were a cultured and wealthy Bagdad family.

The other room-mate was Eli Haddadi, a Tunisian born Jew, who arrived with thousands of other Jews fleeing Arab terrorism in Near East and North African countries.

Our simple meals during the period of the tzena… strictly enforced government food rationing (too unbearable to remember one egg per week)… were served at a communal long table. Unsliced dry bread, cheeses, jams, and hot unsweetened tea was the breakfast daily meal always served with a smile by the Australian-born wife of the school’s director, Baruch Rubenstein. The rationed word “butter” was alien in our vocabulary.

Moshe Netanel had been my closest friend and we remained good friends until his death in 2007. He and his French-born loving wife, Shulamith (Marmur) Netanel were guests at my wedding in Tel-Aviv in 1960.

During our student period, Moshe and I would walk frequently into divided west Jerusalem, showing our paper passes to the military guards at the gate of the school on leaving the campus and upon returning. I still have my 1951 printed paper pass which my daughter keeps in the large notebooks of mementos.

Our walking route barely differed from one day to the next. The first choice of a main road was either Derech Betlechem or Derech Hebron, both which led into the main downtown area of Jewish Jerusalem.

We would marvel as we passed the magnificent King David Hotel then on the street known as Julian’s Way, now more appropriately, King David street (rehov David HaMelech), always trying to view the area of the hotel which had been blown up by the Jewish underground in early 1948. In those days, it was the headquarters of the British Mandatory Police, loved by the Arabs and hated by the Jews.

Across the road is the Jerusalem YMCA, the most magnificent, grand and largest of all the YMCA’s in the world. It was the one-and-only place where Jerusalem Jews and west Jerusalem Arabs could meet. The building superintendent was a Lutheran-Christian Arab, Raffoul Ghawi, and he and his wife Widad often invited me up to their apartment in the building’s tower for tea and sweet Arab pastries.

The hospitality of Arabs is renowned and once invited, they prove to be very gracious hosts.

Moshe and I constantly walked on Mamillah street (now called rehov Agron) until we came across an ice-cream parlor whose delicacies and scoops were within our Pound notes or piasters (grushim).

We could only view east Jerusalem under Jordanian occupation since the 1948 war from the sand-bagged turrets of the Church of the Dormition.

Thinking back to those 68 long-ago years, the things I miss most are not the sites but the people I once knew.

Moshe Gamchi Netanel became an Israeli diplomat serving as Commercial Attache in the Israeli Embassy in London, then as Commercial Attache at Israel’s consulates in Miami, Florida and in New York City. A very long way from the Bagdad of his birth.

All I can say is quite simply… it was a very different Israel . (I think even a better one person-to-person wise).

And as I am fond of quoting “Chinese” proverbs, I will end with one.

“Hayu Zmanim”…. Those Were The Days !!!

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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