On Jerusalem’s Mt. Scopus, stories of tragedy, daring and charity

On December 1, 1982, a new 500 shekel bill was introduced into Israel’s currency. The face on the bill was that of Baron Edmund de Rothschild, or The Known Benefactor (hanadiv hayadua), so called for his immense contribution to the Jewish State-in-the-making.

As far as we can tell, however, another generous early philanthropist has never been similarly honored. Indeed, aside from teachers and tour guides, it is rare to find people who know anything about the man who bears the apt title of The Unknown Benefactor (hanadiv ha lo yadua).

Yet Israel Leib Goldberg was the first to buy land for the newly-formed Jewish National Fund, purchased the largest orchard in the country and hired well-paid Jewish labor to work it (today part of our fantastic Yarkon Park), co-founded the Hebrew newspaper Haaretz a century ago, was instrumental in the establishment of the Carmel Winery, supported Hebrew theater, and left half of his enormous estate to the JNF for the purpose of promoting Hebrew language and Hebrew culture.

Confined by the general lockdown to venturing no more than one kilometer from our home, we decided to write an article about sites on nearby Mount Scopus in Jerusalem. We began with the Founders’ Wall, which features portraits of the men behind the Hebrew University.

Israel Leib Goldberg in an undated photograph. (Public domain)

Inaugurated in 2013, it is located across from the main entrance to the university. And although in 1908 Goldberg was the first to purchase a plot on Mount Scopus to host that stellar institution, he doesn’t even appear on the Founders’ Wall.

On the far left is mathematics professor Zvi Hermann Shapira, who proposed the concept of a Jewish cultural institution in the land of Israel at the first Zionist Congress in 1897. Next are three men who published one of the documents that served as a basis for the university’s establishment: philosopher Prof. Martin Buber, Dr. Berthold Feivel and Dr. Chaim Weizmann. The wild-haired portrait to their left is easily recognizable as Prof. Albert Einstein, who brought both donations and scholars to the university.

The painting at the far end belongs to American-born Dr. Yehuda Leib Magnes; he was president of the university from the time of its inception in 1925 and until his death during the War of Independence in 1948.

The Founders’ Wall on Mount Scopus features portraits of the men behind the Hebrew University and is located across from the university’s main entrance. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

We Israelis take for granted our easy access both to the university, and to the adjacent Hadassah Hospital. Yet on April 13th, 1948, 78 Jewish doctors, nurses and other medical staff were ambushed and killed along the road leading to Mount Scopus. And as soon as the British pulled out of the country in May, Jordan took control of that strategic byway. So keeping things going on the mountain was an impossible task and personnel were evacuated from the hospital and university.

Until the Six Day War in 1967, the mountain enjoyed a dubious special status as a demilitarized zone cut off from the rest of Jerusalem. Israel was not permitted to station soldiers on Mount Scopus, only policemen tasked with guarding its empty institutions. And they were not allowed to bring in any heavy weapons.

A connection between the rest of Jerusalem and Mount Scopus was maintained through a fortnightly convoy that carried soldiers disguised as policemen – and as much artillery as they could manage to bring with them. These were cleverly concealed within the vehicles in unique hiding places, like under a roof that could be raised when there were no strangers around. And after unloading, weapons were cunningly stashed on the mountain. Mortars, for example, found their way into the mountain’s Second Temple burial caves.

Tombs dating back to the Second Temple era below the Glick Observation Plaza on Mount Scopus. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

Obviously, the United Nations observers on Mount Scopus had to be kept in the dark during the entire process. So Israel built them a clubhouse loaded with food and liquor, at the site where Café Hillel stands today.

Across from Founders’ Wall, a second memorial tells the story of a unit that was established in 1952 specifically for duty on isolated Mount Scopus. Each soldier had his own specialty, from the explosives and ammunition experts to the quartermaster.

Cut off from their families for a month at a time, the unit created the Kingdom of Mount Scopus. The unit commander was the king, and his pages the youngest of the soldiers. Also serving the king were a president, a prince, and the commoners (actual policemen). Every week there was a “slave market,” and “commoners” were kept busy in the king’s gardens and cleaning the “castle” (the Mathematics Faculty).

A view of Jerusalem, including the Old City and Temple Mount, seen from Mount Scopus. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

Both memorial walls are located on each side of a square named for one of Israel’s premier poets. It was prizewinning author Avigdor Hameiri who, in 1928, composed the words to the haunting song From the Summit of Mount Scopus (“Peace be unto thee, Jerusalem”). A path dedicated to Hameiri leads from the university entrance to the Botanical Gardens, but for some inexplicable reason his name doesn’t appear anywhere on the square.

Across from the campus, inside the University National Forest and below the road, a tent-like white gate leads to Jerusalem’s first (and only) Jewish family plot since Father Abraham bought the Cave of the Patriarchs and King Herod buried his relatives in what is today Yemin Moshe. Lying there in state are members of the extended Bentwich family, a famous name in Jewish annals.

Even before Theodore Herzl appeared on the international scene, an Englishman named Herbert Bentwich was already a diehard Zionist. Born In 1856, Bentwich began his legal career as an attorney to Sir Moses Montefiore and helped shape the famous 1917 Balfour declaration proclaiming British support for the establishment of a national Jewish homeland in Palestine. The double tombs of Herbert and his wife Susannah, parents to eleven children, are located on a raised platform. Only a few of their offspring, many of whom either committed suicide or converted to Christianity, are buried here.

The burial plot for the Bentwich family, early Zionists from Britain. Many of the family’s children committed suicide or converted to Christianity. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

Son Norman, who served as Attorney General in the Mandate government and helped found the Hebrew University, lies here as well. So do his sister Lillian, and her husband, Ukrainian-born Israel Friedlaender, world-famous scholar and professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.

Friedlaender was active in Jewish affairs, and following World War I, he traveled to Eastern Europe as a representative of the Joint Distribution Committee to offer his help. But the area was in chaos, and while traveling through Poland he and another JDC representative were attacked and killed by members of the Russian Red Army who had assumed the two were Polish soldiers.

One tombstone is adorned with a carved harp. This is the grave of Hebert’s Bentwich’s grandson, Daniel Balfour Bentwich, a musical prodigy who took his own life at the age of 18.

Another small burial plot, a few meters away, holds remains of members of the American Colony, founded in 1881 by a deeply religious Presbyterian couple who hoped to find solace in the Holy Land after suffering an immeasurable loss.

An American Colony burial plot on Mt. Scopus. The colony was founded in 1881 by a deeply religious Presbyterian couple who hoped to find solace in the Holy Land after suffering family tragedy. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

Anna and Horace Spafford lived in a beautiful home in Chicago. One day in 1873, Anna and the four Spafford daughters took a trip to Europe. Their ship collided with another vessel and, although all four girls perished, Anna was miraculously saved. More children were born to the Spaffords after this catastrophe, but one of them died tragically of disease. In 1881 the family, and a few other members of their church, moved to the Holy City of Jerusalem.

Anna took charge of the group after her husband Horace passed away in 1888. Eight years later, during a business trip to Chicago, she was contacted by Olof Larsson. The head of a Swedish religious cult, Larsson had heard about the American Colony in the Holy Land and asked if the Swedes could join. As a result, dozens of new members returned to the Land of Israel with Anna.

Life was hard in the beginning, when the Colony had to struggle to find financing for its modest daily requirements, and for the help proffered to needy Jerusalemites regardless of religion or nationality. Once joined by Swedish farmers, blacksmiths and expert craftsmen, however, the Colony began to prosper, opening, among other enterprises, a bakery, blacksmith shop and dairy.

When Emperor Wilhelm II came to Jerusalem in 1898, Swedish members of the Colony shot some excellent photos of his visit. The photographs were so unique and historic that they were in great demand. Photographs taken by Colony members of Swedish background are among the best documentation we have of the city’s milestone events.

Further along the road, immediately below the Glick Observation Plaza and adjacent to Second Temple era tombs, the City View Restaurant is open seven days a week (barring lockdowns). Offering Middle Eastern fare, it provides diners with a superb sight of the picturesque Old City.

The view of Jerusalem from the Glick Observation Plaza on Mount Scopus. The plaza is home to the City View restaurant, where diners can enjoy the view during meals. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

Inscribed on the Wall of Life, at yet another observation deck, are the names of donors to the Hebrew University. They contributed $100,000 to $999,999 for scholarships and research. And at the roundabout on the next corner, just past the Gerald Halbert Observation Plaza with its stunning view of the Dead Sea (on a good day) is the university amphitheater.

Built especially for the university’s inauguration ceremony in 1925, the amphitheater was partially destroyed during the War of Independence and later restored. It was here that former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, then Commander-in-Chief of the Israel Defense Forces, received an honorary doctorate immediately following the Six-Day War. He accepted it “as the representative of the Israel Defense Forces, and in the name of every one of its soldiers.”

The Hebrew University amphitheater was built especially for the university’s inauguration ceremony in 1925, was partially destroyed during the War of Independence, and later restored. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

Aviva Bar-Am is the author of seven English-language guides to Israel. Shmuel Bar-Am is a licensed tour guide who provides private, customized tours in Israel for individuals, families and small groups.

Source Link: https://www.timesofisrael.com/on-jerusalems-mt-scopus-stories-of-tragedy-daring-and-charity/

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