A Neglected Jerusalem Neighborhood Illuminated By Street Art
Fabulous murals and other creative works on walls, poles, balconies, doors and shops have helped transform the streets around the Mahane Yehuda market.
When it was founded in 1877, the Beit Yaakov neighborhood was further from the Old City of Jerusalem than any other community. Indeed, although located only two kilometers west of Jaffa Gate, it was surrounded by wilderness. Wild animals roamed the fields, thieves appeared night and day, and residents lived with the constant threat of an Arab assault.
One day a gang from the Arab village of Lifta attacked the tiny neighborhood. Shouts from the residents and their cries for help were so loud that they reached the nearest settlement: Mazkeret Moshe, established in 1883. One of the settlers went to his cupboard, took out a shofar, and the sounds Jews hear in the synagogue on the High Holidays — tekia, trua, and tekia gedola — reverberated in the air. Never having experienced anything so eerie, the frightened Arabs took to their heels and ran.
On paper, Beit Yaakov was supposed to contain 70 houses, as it is written: all the souls of the house of Jacob that came into Egypt were threescore (60) and ten. But, in the end, the neighborhood grew very slowly, and five years later there were fewer than two dozen dwellings.
These first houses were small, two-story structures that faced Jaffa Road with little gardens on today’s Avissar Street. One complex on Avissar Street holds both synagogue and Torah study center.