Tour Jerusalem

Mishkenot Sheananim was the first Jewish neighborhood outside the Old City walls, and is home to a lot of Israeli history – and myth

At the Bloomfield Garden, behind the King David Hotel and next to the French consulate, there is a burial cave with an intact rolling stone. The cave belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church, and the entrance is closed off.

Although it is known as Herod’s family tomb, his remains have not been found there (or anywhere else). We will apparently never know the real story of the cave discovered by Conrad Schick, a 19th-century archeologist who worked in Jerusalem and concluded, based on the writings of Josephus, that this was the Herod family tomb.

A short walk southward brings us to the left-hand turn in the direction of Yemin Moshe, a neighborhood built in 1890 and named after Moshe Montefiore. Yemin Moshe should not be confused with nearby Mishkenot She’ananim, which was built at Montefiore’s initiative in 1860.

Housing in Yemin Moshe, like Mishkenot She’ananim, was meant to be divided equally between Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews. Because of its proximity to the Jordanian border, the neighborhood suffered terribly during Israel’s War of Independence, as well as during the 19 years from 1948-1967 when Jerusalem was divided. A Haganah position from the time of the War of Independence can still be seen there.

Let’s walk over to the windmill in Mishkenot She’ananim. The name of the neighborhood comes from Isaiah 32:18: "My people will abide in peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places."

A little history

AMoshe Montefiore decided to build Mishkenot She’ananim during his fourth visit to the Land of Israel. He built the neighborhood using money left by Judah Touro of New Orleans, and not from his own money, as people often think. Montefiore purchased the land from the Turks, and initially planned to build a hospital there. The neighborhood included two buildings with a total of 28 apartments.

One of the buildings today houses a cultural and conference center, as well as a guesthouse for artists. Though the building was designed with a roofline resembling the walls of the Old City to give the residents a feeling of security, many people feared staying outside the Old City walls, and some used to secretly stay overnight in the Old City. Only in 1866, when a plague broke out in the city but did not affect the residents of Mishekenot She’ananim, did Jerusalemites recognize the advantages of living there.

Myths and tales

There are many myths and tales about Mishekenot She’ananim. While it is the first Jewish neighborhood outside the walls of the Old City, it does not contain the first residential buildings outside the walls. It was actually the Christians—such as the Russians who built the Russian Compound in 1858, the Protestants who built the school on Mt. Zion, and the British consul James Finn, who built a summer home in Talbieh—who were the first settlers outside the walls.

Another myth surrounding the neighborhood is about Montefiore’s carriage. While the carriage did in fact belong to him, its pretty wheels were more suited to 19th-century London than to the Land of Israel, and it never actually drove on this country’s roads. The carriage, which was brought to the Land of Israel by Boris Schatz, the founder of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, was destroyed in a fire in 1986, and what you see in the neighborhood today is a replica of the original.

The windmill

Yet another myth has to do with the windmill. Some people say that it never worked because of a technical problem; others say that it was because of a spell cast on it by Old City Arabs who were envious of this new wonder (Eliezer Ben Yehuda reported on the spell in the first Hebrew newspaper).

But the windmill did actually function for at least 18 years. It was operated by British millers, and later leased to Jews. Incidentally, there is an amusing description of the windmill in Shai Agnon’s book The Day Before Yesterday (Tmol Shilshom).

In 1948 the defenders of Yemin Moshe poured cement on the roof of the windmill for defensive purposes. The British High Commissioner, who was out for Sunday morning prayers in the nearby Scottish church, ordered his soldiers to blow up the addition that had been built. Nothing happened as a result of the first explosion. The people of Yemin Moshe asked the British explosives expert to inform the High Commissioner that the mission had been completed, but the sapper feared for his livelihood, and was forced to blow up the dome, which was rebuilt the next day. Today there is a small museum in the windmill dedicated to Montefiore’s works.

The Lost Heart

Several dozen meters south of Mishkenot She’ananim is the lion’s fountain, a gift of former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Across the street from the fountain is the Scottish Church of St. Andrew, named after one of the 12 apostles.

The structure was built in 1927 by the Anglican Church in memory of the Scottish soldiers who fell in the Land of Israel and in Jerusalem during World War I. Next to the steps of the church is a memorial with the words of General Allenby, who attended the church’s dedication. The building’s architecture is reminiscent of the Art Deco style. The church has a guesthouse with a very nice restaurant.

On the floor of the church’s central apse is a tablet that mentions the Scottish king Robert Bruce (who is depicted in Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart.”) Before he died in the 14th-century, the king asked that his heart be buried in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. James Douglas, who was carrying the heart, was killed on the way to Jerusalem, and the king’s heart disappeared.

The new Menachem Begin Heritage Center (02-565-2020), located near the church, overlooks the Old City. In the museum’s courtyard is a First Temple burial site. On one of the graves a silver plate was found with a biblical verse from the priestly blessing. This is one of the world’s most ancient Hebrew inscriptions, and is on display at the Israel Museum.