From Crusaders To Nazis In A Historical Stroll On Jerusalem’s Straus Street
Centuries of war and peace, foreign rulers, religious diversity, shopping, bathing and basketball unfold on a short walk along a single street downtown.
In 1904, the New York-based Christian Missionary Alliance decided to build a church in Jerusalem. Unfortunately for its plans, the Ottoman Turks who ruled Palestine had decided to halt the construction of any new churches.
Undeterred, Alliance members brought the proposed blueprints to the appropriate Turkish bureaucrat. The Turk looked at the plans and asked what the bathtub-like area was for. “This is a baptistery,” explained the Alliance member, who went on to explain its purpose.
“And what is this other bathing area, underneath?” was the next question. “Another baptistery,” was the response.
“So let’s call your new building a Turkish bath,” suggested the bureaucrat. And the plans were approved.
The Evangelical Alliance Church is only one of numerous historical sites along Jerusalem’s Straus Street, which begins where King George Street meets Jaffa Road. Brightly lit Zoya for example, located on one corner of the intersection, recently replaced a shop called Ma’ayan Shtub. Looking very squat in front of a much higher apartment building, the structure dates back to the early 1930s, and like those on the other three corners boasts a red-tiled roof. Known for its ultra-Orthodox female clientele, drab windows and low prices, Ma’ayan Shtub set up shop here in 1940.
The original clothing store was founded in Germany over a hundred years ago by Yehuda Shtub, who moved to Jerusalem when Hitler rose to power. One side of the tall building towering over the shop is covered by a mural a decade or so old, featuring a future Light Train and a bustling downtown. Jerusalemites laughed cynically for years at the idea that one day a Light Train like this one would actually travel through the streets of the city and reawaken what had turned into a deserted town center. Look at it now: The cynics were wrong.