All of the buildings, including the windmill, of Mishkenot Sha’ananim remain standing today. It is a grand testimony to the growth and restoration of Jerusalem.
Think about the city or town that you grew up in. Do you know which was the first neighborhood built in your town? How about the second or third? Do you know why your hometown expanded? Was it merely population growth? Do you know who built each neighborhood? Most people don’t know the answers to these questions nor is the information easily accessible.
Jerusalem, however, is unique in that we know in great detail exactly how the city developed. We know how each neighborhood developed, in what order and who built each one and the information is readily available.
For about 350 years, the city of Jerusalem was defined by what you would find within, what is referred to today as the Old City walls. While the current Old City walls look ancient, they are in fact not that old. The walls were built in the early 16th century under the command of Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire. It is within these walls that the Jewish community lived amongst the Moslem, Christian and Armenian residents of Jerusalem. All of that would change for the Jewish community in 1860.
A young, English Jew named Sir Moses Montefiore made a fortune in the stock market. He retired at the age of 40 and then spent the next 71 years of his life (he died when he was 101!) dedicated to helping the Jews of the Land of Israel. In one of his many visits, Montefiore was disturbed by the difficult conditions under which the Jews of Jerusalem. There was overcrowding, and disease was rampant inside the cramped quarters of the Old City. He decided to do something about it.
At the same time, a wealthy American Jew named Judah Touro bequeathed $60,000 to the Jews of the Holy Land in his will. At the time, it was considered a very large sum of money. Touro chose Montefiore as the executor of his estate.
Using Touro’s money, Montefiore built a small group of lovely row houses outside the walls of the Old City. He hoped to relieve the overcrowding in the Old City and expand Jerusalem to the West. At first, no one was interesting in moving to his new neighborhood. They thought that it was too dangerous to live outside the protective walls of the Old City. In response, Montefiore lowered the rents to zero in order to attract the Jews of the Old City to his new development. That, too, was not enough of an incentive, so Montefiore offered stipends to those who would live outside the Old City. Some people agreed to live in Montefiore’s new project, but still, at night they would retreat back to Old City in order to be within the safety and security of the walls. Eventually people moved in – full time – to the new area, which was named Mishkenot Sha’anim (Peaceful Habitation).
The name was taken from the Book of Isaiah (32:18). The verse reads, “My people will abide in peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings and in quiet resting places.”
The cornerstone for this new neighborhood was laid in 1857 and was finally completed in 1860. The first building contained 28 apartments, and a revolutionary water pump was installed to serve the community. A communal oven and a mikvah (Jewish ritual bath) were built as well. In 1866, a smaller, second building was added.
In addition to the dwellings, Montefiore also built a windmill, which was ultra-modern at the time, in order to grind grain into flour. He needed to provide food and industry for those who would move out of the confines of the Old City.
After the 1948 War of Independence, Mishkenot Sha’ananim was sitting on the border between Jordan and Israel. This no-man’s land was very dangerous due to sniper fire and the area turned into a slum.
In 1967, after the Six Day War, once again Jerusalem became the united capital of the Jewish People. In 1973 a project to restore Mishkenot Sha’ananim began. The area was transformed into an upscale guesthouse for internationally acclaimed authors, artists and musicians visiting Israel. In addition to the guesthouse, it also became the home of the Jerusalem Music Center.
All of the buildings, including the windmill, of Mishkenot Sha’ananim remain standing today. It is a grand testimony to the growth and restoration of Jerusalem that was established as the capital of the Jewish People some 3000 years ago by King David when he moved the capital from Hebron to Jerusalem during his reign.
By: Moshe Rothchild, Licensed Tour Guide