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Walls in Rehavia

June 6, 2011

Some Rehavia residents have won a six-year struggle against a high wall. It’s a small story, with some largish strands.

First, it’s nice that the residents of Rehavia are vibrant enough to fight about anything. Their neighborhood was created in the 1920s and 1930s, on land that was mostly purchased or leased from the Greek Orthodox church; at the time the hill was to the east of town. It was planned in pleasing geometric symmetry, with the Gymnasium school at the top of the hill, and a heirarchic network of roads and paths sloping down, surrounding a central park. All very European, not Levantine at all, and indeed the neighborhood became famous as the bastion of a new cultural elite such as hadn’t lived in the city at all until then: well-educated immigrants from Europe, especially the Yekkes, the Germans. The faculty of the Hebrew University, the first modern university in the country, lived in Rehavia. (Well, not all of them. But most, if you believe the urban legends). For a while the graduates of the Rehavia Gymnasium were one of the political elites that ran the country; even today leading figures such as Dan Meridor (minster of something) and the Speaker of the Knesset, Rubi Rivlin, count among the alumni. So does Bibi Netanyahu, sort of.

(Here’s a think-tank analysis of the neighborhood from 2007. In Hebrew).

Yet the local populace didn’t rejuvenate itself. All those well-educated and very-well connected children went off to live elsewhere. This may have been connected to the fact that for all the hi-falutin appearances, the flats in Rehavia were mostly of the sort built for professors or bureaucrats in those days: very modest by today’s standards. When I shared a rented student apartment there in the early 1980s most of the locals seemed to be either old German-speaking ladies, or pushy youngish lawyers opening offices in what at the time still seemed to be near the center of town. (This was before the center of town died, and long before it may now be poised to return to life). It was way too expensive for normal people, but strangely, also not very appealing to those who could afford it.

In recent years there was an unlikely influx of young Haredi families from rich non-Israeli families, where the American or British parents were paying the rent. There were however also some new construction projects that resulted in expensive apartments; the grandchildren of the original settlers have long since forgotten their connection and won’t come back, but various other wealthy folks do. One of the main stories of Jerusalem in the 20th century is how it was transformed from a city with literally no wealthy Jews, to a town of great diversity of wealth, and recently, to a magnet for the very wealthy Jews of the world.

The place in the story I linked to above is an example. The Stern family bought the building a few years ago, and used their significant wealth to turn it into a very luxurious single-family home – which they probably don’t live in most of the year. They surrounded the lot with a high stone wall, and then discovered, probably to everyone’s surprise, that the locals still had some life in them. They disapproved of the high wall, and after six years of kvetching through all the relevant legal layers, yesterday the owners had to knock off the top two rows of the stone wall. I walked by earlier today and the wall is still higher than usual, but less so.

So the strands of the story are the slow bouncing back to civic life of what was once the city’s top neighborhood; the tension between the well-off locals and the extremely well-off absentee foreigners; and of course the fundamental question of privacy versus public esthetics; that, and how the city manages all these tensions.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Silke permalink
    June 6, 2011 3:34 pm

    are you trying to tell me that your courts restrict the freedoms of Jewish home-owners also?

    I love the idea.

  2. Geoffrey permalink
    June 6, 2011 4:14 pm

    Yaacov, maybe you can explain the fading of attraction to many Israelis nowadays of Jerusalem. It once had plenty of charm. Now its a mess,in my humble opinion.
    And this has something to do with it: ” or pushy youngish lawyers opening offices in what at the time still seemed to be near the center of town. (This was before the center of town died, and long before it may now be poised to return to life).”
    The first glimpse as one exits the Central Bus station, the unpleasant bus station itself, the route to Binyanei Haumma, once simple and easy, the approaches to the Kotel on foot, the types begging and trying to sell stuff, and all the other changes… Maybe I am too sensitive… And those wealthy Jews in the hi rises and others. Are they part of the present fabric?
    Or just fair weather visitors?
    Thanks for your opinions,

  3. June 6, 2011 11:15 pm


    You’re right – and also wrong, I think. The city is decrepit and above all, poor. Our new(ish) mayor, however, would tell you things are improving, and perhaps they are. Tourism is sky-high, and I’m not talking only about the millions of foreigners from the world over. There are large numbers of Israeli tourists, too.

    Anyway, right now I”m merely collecting materials, reading, and beginning tothink. Once I begin to create an outline of things to write, the issues you raise will have to be in there, somehow. So thanks,


  4. T34 permalink
    June 7, 2011 2:55 pm

    Any favourites amongst the various atlases and illustrated histories of Jerusalem?

    Btw, the letter from Brzezinsky et all, that Silke found yesterday, appears to assume that it’s possible to neatly divide the holy places in the old city. There also seems to be an unstated assumption that the Christian holy sites would be under the PA. It would be interesting to know what the Christians in the city really think, given how quickly they are being driven out of areas under Palestinain control.

  5. June 7, 2011 4:25 pm

    T –

    The atlases by Dan Bahat are probablythe best since he’s one of the most knoweldgable experts around. Tho the most recent isn’t all that recent, alas.

    The Christians in Jerusalem, one needs to keep in mind, are rather unrepresentative of the Christian world: they include the entire gamut of Christian sects and denominations, but skewered demographically. And of course, lke all Christian groups in the Middle East, they seem to be getting smaller. But I’ll have to do more research on this before I can begin talking with authority.

    The idea that Israel is their problem is, well, just what you’d expect from ideologically-motivated outsiders who are free of any knowledge of facts.

    • Silke permalink
      June 7, 2011 6:06 pm

      misunderstanding –
      the Christians in the radio piece transcript who say Israel is their problem are living in and around Jerusalem, some behind the security fence. They are Lutherans who vow at least in German that they have cleansed their faith from all that wasn’t good in Luther.

      So they may qualify of ideologically-motivated outsiders but they can hardly be free of any knowledge of facts.

      • Barry Meislin permalink
        June 16, 2011 6:46 pm

        The criticism of Israel may well spring form sincere theological and/or ideological motivatations (ah, sincerity!!

        However, one must absolutely keep in mind the survival mechanism involved here:
        – Criticize Israel and you will be allowed to continue to live well and practice your faith without interruption or threat.
        – Criticize the Muslims (or the Arab regime) and your existence is endangered.

        It’s a similar story if you are a Christian say in Bethlehem or Jerusalem, or a Druze on the Golan: you keep your heads down and you make the right noises.

        It’s actually quite simple.

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