Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Venezuelan Embassy

In 1958 Israel and Venezuela established diplomatic ties. The first record we found of a Venezuelan office in Jerusalem showed that they worked out of a suite in the King David Hotel. However, by 1960 the Venezuelan mission was located in the house at 28 Rachel Imenu. In 1962, ties were upgraded and it became an official embassy. (Davar, Dec 28, 1962) The Venezuelans stayed in the building until 1980, when the Jerusalem Law was passed and they, along with many other embassies, left Jerusalem in protest.
A number of officials/ambassadors lived in the building during this twenty-year period:
Vicente Gerbasi, a famous Venezuelan poet. 1960-1964
Pedro Abreu, 1965-1969
Napoleon Gimenez, 1969-1979
Luis Lad Corte, 1980
Gerbasi wrote poetry while he lived in the house, and some of his poems were translated into Hebrew for a 1963 edition of his work, printed in Jerusalem with a foreword by Golda Meir. Among these poems is one called Rachel Imenu Street, which is about the house at 28 Rachel Imenu.
We also have located in the State Archives a number of official letters either from or to the Venezuelan Embassy that bear the address "28 Rachel Imenu."

The picture at the top is Gerbasi presenting his credentials to the President of Israel.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


28 Rachel Imenu is not an architecturally elaborate building. Many details that are embellished in nearby buildings from the same period are not emphasized here. For example, many building have elaborate arches at openings, interesting stone patterns at corners fancy railings, decorated keystones, complicated stair profiles, double- or triple-windows, etc. 28 Rachel Imenu has none of these:
* Openings are simple rectangles, in both portrait and landscape orientation. At the bottom there is a sloped sill and above there is always a flat arch with an odd number of stones. The edge stone protrudes slightly. The jambs are unremarkable and do not stand out. None of the stones are raised above the regular plane of the wall.
* There are four separate types of window bars, presumably each from a different stage of the building. None are particularly decorative and most are just simple arrangements of rectangular and circular profiles.
* The corners of the building have no fancy patterns and do not stand out at all. They simply turn the corner and continue.
* There are no stones with special engravings on them, no initials or insignias.
* The stairs are all straight-edged, with no nose or notches where they meet.
* Windows are always single, stand alone openings. No windows are paired or adjacent.
* Hardware in the building appears to be off-the-shelf, standard hardware. It may or may not be original.

Overall, it seems that this simple design was deliberate. Based on the style and the time period, one can assume that this was the influence of the Modern movement, and that the simple, clean lines were done for this reason.

Sketches show typical window detail, a door jamb detail, a stone table in the garden, the entrance door (with seats), four types of window bars, a fireplace and a railing in the stair core.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Polish Consulate

To the best of our knowledge, the first organization to use the Husheimi house after the Husheimis left was the Consulate of Poland. There had been a Polish Consulate in Jerusalem for a couple decades at least. Previously, the consulate had been located near Derech Beit Lechem. However, in October 1947 there was a bombing at the backdoor of the Consulate, where the Consul, Dr. Olgierd Gorka, lived. (Gorka is pictured above.) From the Palestine Post (Oct 13, 1947):
" A violent explosion damaged the entrance to the Polish Consulate-General in Talpioth in Jerusalem at 7.37 last night when a bomb which had been placed in a doorway went off.

This was part of a series of Arab nationalist bombings, that also targeted the American and Swedish consulates.
"Polish Consular officials told The Palestine Post that the "exceptionally strong" bomb had been placed in the doorway of the house of Professor O. Gorka, the Consul-General, whose private residence is at the rear of the Consulate...Prof. Gorka commented that his cocker spaniel had been frightened, but he himself had been in much worse explosions in London during the Blitz."

Shortly thereafter, the Polish Consulate moved from Talpioth to Katamon, where it was located at 28 Rachel Imenu. This move occurred at the end of 1947 and by Jan. 5, 1948, the doors of the new consulate were opened:
"The offices of the Polish Consulate in Jerusalme will be closed from December 29 till January 5, as they are being moved to Katamon (Zone A)." (Palestine Post, Dec 26, 1947)

While we cannot prove that this move was a direct result of the bombing, it is possible that the two are related. Furthermore, we know that the Palestine Police investigated the bombing. Though we have no direct proof of this, it is possible that at this point Abdin Husheimi came in contact with Polish officials and mentioned that his house was available for rental. And beyond this, we also know that Kroyanker writes that the 3rd floor of the building was added in 1947. It is conceivable that this expansion was done by the Husheimis to prepare the building for rental by the Polish Consulate.

Apparently even in the new location there was crime, as an article in the Palestine Post from March 14, 1948 explains that the car of the Polish Consulate (along with those of the Iranian and Ethiopian Consulates) were stolen by armed Arabs in Jerusalem.

As mentioned the first Consul to live in the building was Prof. Dr. Olgierd Gorka. He had been a member of the Polish Government-in-Exile during World War II. He had been a member of the Liga do Walki z Rasizmem (League for the Struggle Against Racism) in Poland and fought against anti-Semitism. He was a historian and later taught at University of Lwow (or Warsaw, according to another source), until his death in 1955.

During the Independence War in 1948, the Polish Consulate apparently remained neutral. In his book Kuzari B'Yerushalayim, Yair Goren writes
"In the building opposite us, on the northeastern corner of the plaza next to us, life in the Polish Consulate continued as normal. People walked around in the house and courtyard. Women sat in the garden, and the sounds of speaking and songs were audible from the radio. When I approached there and tried to speak with them, they refused kindly but unmistakeably: "We are neutral," they said. "We do not support any side, and aren't in contact with either side of those fighting." (translation by J. Skarf)

Despite this neutrality, it didn't take long for Poland to recognize the State of Israel. On May 18, 1948, the Foreign Minister sent a letter to Moshe Sharett to this end. Gorka sent a similar letter on June 6, 1948, from his office in 28 Rachel Imenu. Nonetheless, Poland did not upgrade relations with Israel until 1954, two years after Gorka had gone back to Poland and was replaced by Marian Drawniak. (Nili Oren, "The Israeli Mission in Warsaw from 1948-1951" in Shvut 2004-5, pp.83-103) 1954 is also the last year in which we find mention of a Polish Consulate at 28 Rachel Imenu. Diplomatic relations between Poland and Israel continued until June 1967, when they stopped and were only resumed in 1989. In any case, in 1952 the Polish Consulate in Jerusalem was downgraded to a branch of the Tel Aviv branch. (Davar, Apr. 29, 1952)

It should be noted that the Polish mission played an important role in Israel's relationship to Eastern Europe:
"Since the Polish consulates were the first missions representing any East European country in Palestine/Israel, its consuls gained invaluable first-hand experience that could be shared with Soviet representatives who arrived later." (Albert Stankowski, "Poland and Israel: Bilateral Relations 1947-1953" in Jews in Eastern Europe, pp. 5-23)

We have no other direct testimony or pictures regarding the Polish Consulate in this building. Nonetheless, the various stories do paint a picture of what life was like in the building. We do not know if they altered the building at all, though it is possible that they were responsible for the addition of a flag pole to the front elevation.

One other event surrounding the Polish Consulate and its employees can be attested by two sources. In a letter from May 22, 1948, Gorka wrote to thank the Hagana regarding an incident that occurred on May 14. He writes:
"On the 14th inst. at noon, I went on duty on my way to the Belgian and Polish Consulates-General, in the car of the Consul-General of Belgium, Mr. Nuverhuis, the Chairman of the Consular Trace Commission of UNO. I was accompanied by the Belgian uniformed kavas, as driver and an Arab messenger of the Polish Consulate. According to relationship received a safe passage was assured, the care running under the Belgian flag and the accompanying staff wearing C.C. armbands. But suddenly passing nearby the David's Bldg, inside the Security Zone B, the care was received with unexpected heavy fire from near distance, machine-gun and rifle fire coming from Arabs. The car hit by a score of bullets was immediately put out of action and the Belgian kavas-driver seriously wounded...
"For more than four hours we stayed outstretched on the pavement under constant heavy firing from Arab positions. The fire was obviously directed on the car, on the people hidden behind the car and partially behind a low fence,notwithstanding the Belgian flag, which was oustandingly visible.

Gorka managed to relay his position through the Jewish Agency to the Hagana, who came to his rescue:
"By few leaps amidst whistling bullets, we had succeeded to enter the cars, which retreated steadily from the line of fire, taking us to safety. The two Arab members of the Consular staff have later been delivere by Haganah soldiers to the respective Consulates...I take the libery to repeat now in writing my warm feelings of gratitude, previously expressed orally, for the help rendered and the gallant rescue executed from such a critical situation. At the same time I beg to express my sincere words of thankfulness to the Jewish Agency for the ears extended to the members of the Consular Staff. I declare my gratitude and respect to the soldiers of the two Hanagah armoured cars for their gallant behaviour and firmness in action, distinctly displayed in the chivalierous [sic] rescue of non-belligerent members of the Consular Service."

The letter is signed Prof. Dr. Olgierd Gorka, Consul General of Poland.

Amazingly, a parallel testimony of the aforementioned Arab messenger is also available. Though anonymous in Gorka's letter, his name is Rashid Irsheid, and he too writes about this event in the context of the general Arab-Israeli conflict. He was born in 1928 in Walajha, a small vilalge outside of Jerusalem and currently lives in Chicago. During World War II, his family sheltered a Polish diplomat, from the Nazis. After the war the diplomat wanted to thank Mr. Irsheid, and arranged for Rashid to work as a telephone operator and messenger in the Polish Consulate in Jerusalem. Irsheid writes that
"On May 14th, I was working in the Polish Consulate. on that day, I went with a driver to the post office at around 11:00 in the morning. In order to go to the post office, we had to go near the Jewish Agency, where Ben Gurion was. And across from there, across Mamila Road, were the Arab [forces].
"While we were driving, our car was shot at by the Arab side. I opened the door of the car, and I jumped out and ran to the sandbags near the Haganah.
"The consul told the driver: "Wait here, I have to get Rashid", because otherwise they would take me as a prisoner or something like that. So he told the Haganah I was his employee and they said "OK." While we were gone, the driver took off with our car and went to the old city!
"We went to the Belgian Consulate for lunch. At around 2:30 the Belgian consul told his driver to take us back to the Polish Consulate - about a mile and a half away. I sat next to the diver, and the consul was in the back.
"The British were supposed to leave at 12 midnight, but they left at 12 noon. They gave [certain buildings] to the Haganah, They were shooting at the Arabs in the hills. A bullet came through the door and burned my shirt. Then the driver was shot in the arm. We stopped, and we went down on the ground. We stayed there for three and a half hours.
"The Polish consul took his shirt and gave first aid to the driver. He started calling: "I am the Polish consul general! Please send some help!" He was calling to the Haganah, in the windows of a building, where they were shooting. "We need help, we need help!"
"Finally they took us to the Jewish area. And they gave us first aid, and then it was back to the Belgian Consulate where we stayed the night."

Irsheid also relates how the next morning, during a meeting in the Belgian consulate, all the foreign diplomats and Ben Gurion attended. The consuls told Ben Gurion to call the Arab headquarters, but someone who spoke Arabic was needed.
"So the Polish Consul said "I have my employee Rashid. He speaks Arabic, and English, and Hebrew, and Polish." And Ben Gurion said" Ok.. Call them and tell them we request a ceasefire."
I called and said "We are here, the consular dean and the all these consul generals, including Ben Gurion. And they are asking for a ceasefire. Stop shooting, and we are ready to make ceasefire."
"And the guy who answered me, he was reckless. He said "Tell them fa'at." In Arabic, that means, that's it. It's all over. I said to myself, my God, such a word, it's hard to explain. So I told Ben Gurion, "They mean, it's all over, no discussion." And I remember he said: "Let it be."And that's it. A state!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Abdin Husheimi

The first owner of the house at 28 Rachel Imenu, who was responsible for its construction, was a Christian Arab named Abdin Husheimi. The information we have about him comes from three sources: old newspaper articles, his niece, and the Palestine Police Old Comrades Association. We are indebted to the latter two for their assistance.

Abdin was an officer in the Palestine Police Force that operated in Mandate Palestine. He was born in 1892, possibly in Lebanon, and served in the Turkish Army from 1914-17, followed by service in the British Army from 1917-18. After his army service he was a member of the Palestine Police, working in various locations and rising through the ranks. In an email from the Old Comrades Association, we learned that
On 1st November 1920 he was appointed Assistant District Commandant in Nazareth.
On 8th March 1921 he transferred to Jaffa.
On 8th July 1923 transferred to Nablus.
On 1st April 1926 with the official formation of the Palestine Police he assumed the rank of Assistant Superintendent of Police.
On 20th May 1926 he was transferred to Haifa.
On 1st April 1927 he was transferred to Jerusalem.
On 15th November 1930 he transferred to Ramleh.
On 28th October 1931 he was transferred to Jerusalem again.
On 1st April 1937 he became a Deputy District Superintendent.

We also know that in 1938 the Jerusalem District Branch of the Criminal Investigation Department was reorganized and moved to St. Louis Way. As part of this reorganization Abdin was put in charge of the branch. (Palestine Post, Aug. 3, 1938) Interestingly, a branch of the CID was apparently built right next door to his house in Katamon.

While in Jerusalem the second time around, Abdin was hospitalized. At the hospital he met a Jewish nurse, Ida Ostinsky, who had moved to Palestine with her siblings from Odessa. The two fell in love and were married in 1932. The following year they decided to build a house and bought a plot of land in the Katamon neighborhood. The parcel they purchased was located on a circular plaza, the only such plaza that is visible on early maps of Jerusalem. By 1935 the house was completed and the couple moved in.

In 1945, Abdin received another promotion, but this one required that he move to Syria. From The Palestine Post, Feb 7, 1945:
"Selim eff. Hanna, Assistant Superintendent of Police in Jerusalem, gave a farewell party on Saturday to Major Abdin Bey Husheimi who is shortly leaving for Syria to take up his new appointment of Deputy Supervisor-General of the Syrian Police. Several heads of Departments, including the Inspector-General and Senior Police Officers were among the guests present."

However, the Husheimis' stay in Syria was short-lived. In a ledger from the Palestine Police for 1947-48 in the Ginzach HaMedina, we found a record (apparently of pensions) that stated that for Deputy Superintendents, the number of pensions being paid out was reduced by one "on the return of Abdin Bey Husheimi to the force." However, it is unclear whether the Husheimis moved back into their house. We know that on January 5, 1948 the Polish Consulate was already located at 28 Rachel Imenu. It therefore seems that they did not. Nonetheless, according to David Kroyanker, a third floor was added to the building in 1947, perhaps to prepare the building for rental by the Polish Consulate.

In 1948, the Husheimis again left Palestine and moved to Egypt. In 1957, Abdin died in Egypt. A few years later, in 1960, his wife Ida returned to Israel and reclaimed ownership of the land and the house. She remained the owner until her death in 1991, renting the building out to various institutions.

There are two pictures above, courtesy of the Old Comrades Association. One was taken in Ramleh in 1934 and shows, from left to right, British Inspector Higgins, Assistant Superintendent Robert Worsley and Abdin Bey Husseimi. The other shows Husheimi and an unknown person.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Hartman Institute

The Hartman institute was founded by David Hartman (who taught my father Jewish philosophy in 7th grade in Montreal) in 1976 as
a place where Judaic studies scholars would address the critical contemporary challenges facing the Jewish people. More than three decades later, the Shalom Hartman Institute is an international force influencing global Jewry and broadening the horizons of Jewish thought and education.

As the Institute expanded in the early 1980s, they moved to the roomy confines of 28 Rachel Imeinu.
By 1982, when the Shalom Hartman Institute moved to larger premises at 28 Rahel Imeinu Street, it was a large organization with a full-time Beit Midrash, a broad roster of educational projects, and a research department that produced a wide variety of in-house publications. With its great range of activities, it was fast becoming a magnet for leading intellectuals and philosophers.

No one who we spoke to was able to tell us when the Hartman Institute left the building. Their new campus was opened in 1996, but we know that by then two other organizations had already inhabited the building.

We found a number of pictures of the building from this period. The fence outside the building was lower. The fence and window mullions were painted beige, and a sign for the Hartman Institute adorned one of gate's pillars. Plants with purple flowers grew along the fence.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Maale Film School

Today, in a discussion with the head of Yeshivat Ner Yaakov, we discovered another piece of the puzzle. The organization Ma'ale, which we weren't sure about, was none other than the Ma'ale Film School, which apparently inhabited our building in the early 1990s. We will contact them and try to confirm this information. In addition, we hope that they will have photos, and perhaps VIDEOS, of the building.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Chabad School

We were aware that at some point in history a Chabad School existed at Rachel Imenu 28. The evidence for this was a photograph in the Municipal Archive that showed a sign above the front door, proclaiming that the building was the home of the "Campus Haya Mouchka." The picture was undated and we did not know which years the Chabad school existed or details about it.

Recently we discovered information about this stage of the building's life. Apparently, the Chabad school was located there from 2001, taking over the building from Reut. It was there at least two years, but possibly it was there until 2006, when One Family moved in. Further clarification is necessary.

In an article on a website called "Chabad Info" the school was for French girls who came to Israel for three years of high school. The girls
"live in an atmosphere of lively Hassidism, in the spirit of the Messiah and Redemption."

Describing the campus, we are told that, in addition to the many pictures of the Rebbe, the school is
"immersed in green vegitation, decorated with flags of the Messiah and with a pastural, gladdening atmosphere.

The school was run by Rabbi Shalom bar Sheshet and his wife Rivka, now of Kfar Chabad. In 2003, 40 girls were learning in the school.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Building Stages

One of the things we are researching is the history of this building. We have tried to learn as much as we can about the different stages of its life. The following is a partial list of tenants in the building:

I. Abdin Husheimi and family. Husheimi bought the land in 1933 and by 1935 the house was standing. He was a Christian Arab who was a member of the British Palestine Police, and was married to a wealthy Jewish immigrant from Poland Russia named Ida Ostinsky. They lived in the house until 1945, when they moved to Syria, then returned in 1947 and left shortly thereafter for Egypt. In 1960 Ida reclaimed ownership of the land, but never lived in the building again.

II. Jan. 1948-1954: Polish Consulate

III. 1960-1980: Venezuelan Embassy

IV. 1982- ? The Hartman Institute

V. 1989/1990-1994: The Maale Film School

VI. 1995-1998 Yeshivat Ner Yaakov

VII. 1999-2001: The Reut School

VIII. 2001-2003 (at least): Campus Haya Mouchka, a Chabad girls school for high schoolers from France.

IX. 2006-present: The One Family Fund

We will post more extensively on each period separately.

Welcome to our blog

This blog will contain some of our research on the building located at 28 Rachel Imenu in Jerusalem. Check back for updates.