Posts Tagged ‘German Colony’

A city for all seasons and all people

December 16, 2012
The Baha'i shrine and gardens are said to be the most-visited site in Israel.

The Baha’i shrine and gardens are said to be the most-visited site in Israel.

Haifa is not just Israel’s prettiest city. It also has a major human asset: inhabitants of diverse faiths living side by side. The city’s month-long Holiday of Holidays in December celebrates this diversity through art, theater, dance, music, and food, in a grand mix of both high and low culture.

The festival began nineteen years ago, a year in which Christmas, Chanukah, and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan were said to have coincided.  (In fact, if several on-line calendars are to be believed, Ramadan fell in March that year).It is a joint venture of the municipality and Beit Hagefen, the Arab Jewish Culture Center.

Beit Hagefen uses culture to bridge differences between the city's diverse groups.

Beit Hagefen uses the arts to bridge the differences between the city’s diverse populations.

Concerts, art exhibitions, street theater, and an outdoor market with jewelry, crafts, and ethnic food take place mainly in two adjacent neighborhoods—Wadi Nisnas (Mongoose Gully) and the German Colony—where the population is mostly Arab (Christian and Muslim). An enormous plastic Christmas tree, flanked by large Chanukah menorahs, stands at the foot of Hacarmel Street, the broad main thoroughfare of the German Colony. Oddly missing are Muslim symbols; a lone representative—a crescent—can be found on the walls of Beit Hagefen, in a work of art representing the houses of worship of the three religions.

Each year, some artistic installations remain, so that visitors and residents can continue to enjoy them in subsequent years. Among the most striking works are those by Haya Touma, a Kishinev-born Jewish ceramicist whose art reflects the agony of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The artist was married to the historian Emil Touma, a Christian Arab who was among the proponents of coexistence between Arabs and Jews. One of her works, on an abandoned house, consists of a sculpted door topped by a photograph of a bride and groom, perhaps from the 1930s; to the side of the door is a plaque with the hand-written inscription: “Somebody lived here until 1948.” This is a reference to events in Israel’s War of Independence.

Haya Touma's installation in Wadi Nisnas: "Somebody Lived Here until 1948"

Haya Touma’s installation in Wadi Nisnas: “Somebody Lived Here until 1948”

On the eve of the war, the city had 130,000 residents, half of them Jews and half Arabs. When the British left suddenly, on the night of April 21-22, 1948, fierce fighting ensued. The Haganah captured the Arab quarters and took over the city; all but 3,000 of the terrified Arab residents fled. That summer, by order of the then prime minister David Ben-Gurion, Haifa’s Ottoman-era walled Old City, where many of the Arabs had lived, was razed. Today, 30,000 of Haifa’s 300,000 residents are Arabs.

Oddly, the city’s biggest attractions for tourists were built by neither Arabs nor Jews. The German Colony was a settlement of Templers, Christian visionaries who first came to Palestine in the 1860s and whose Haifa village was to be one of seven in the country.

The German Colony was built by Christian visionaries.

The German Colony was built by Christian visionaries.

Throughout Palestine, the Templers (not to be confused with the Knights Templar) built roads, founded modern industries, and introduced new farming methods, which made them a welcome presence. Until World War II, that is, when some became Nazi sympathizers, giving the British an excuse to deport many of them; some were exchanged for Jews held in Nazi Germany.

The Templers built houses of smoothly finished stone, with thick walls to keep out the heat and humidity of this port city. Today their buildings house restaurants, cafes, boutiques, a museum, and the offices of Arab lawyers, accountants, and physiotherapists.

One building, originally the Templers’ Appinger Hotel, is today the 40-room boutique Colony Hotel, which has retained the colorfully patterned floor tiles and furnishings reminiscent of the period.

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Just above the German Colony rise the magnificent Baha’i gardens and shrine, which city representatives say is the most-visited site in Israel. The golden-domed shrine is one of the two holiest sites for the five million members of the faith. It contains the remains of the Bab, the forerunner of the founder, Baha’ullah. It is this shrine, of a faith that preaches the unity of all humanity, that is a beacon to visitors approaching Haifa by sea.

And to add to the mix, Haifa has some 2,000 Ahmedis, members of an Islamic reformist movement that originated in India in 1889 and today has several million members in 200 countries. Ahmedis say they aim to purify the term jihad, claiming that in the Quran it never appears in a context suggesting war. They believe in disseminating their religion by peaceful means and have translated the Quran into 120 languages, including Yiddish. In Haifa they live in Kababir, a neighborhood that community head Muhammad Sharif says is “truly mixed.”

Of course, not all is idyllic in Haifa. It is still recovering from tensions and unrest that accompanied the second intifada, that began in September 2000. But it is a place where it seems that serious attempts are being made to heal the rift.

And Haifa is not just a place to experience multiculturalism. It is a gateway to the north of the country, where visitors can easily spend several nights and take day tours to Tiberias, Nazareth,  Acco, Rosh Hanikra, and Caesarea. New hotels of all kinds are going up, and plans are afoot to move the port to the north, freeing the old port to be developed for tourism and entertainment, as something similar to the Tel Aviv and Jaffa port areas.

Text and photos copyright 2012 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text or photos may be used without written permission of the author.

Who’s left in the neighborhood?

November 28, 2010

Katamon: 'I’m secular and I’ll be happy if my kids pray in the morning,' the candidate for the community council said at a parlor meeting.

Last night I walked down five stairs in our apartment building and stepped into a twilight zone that could exist only in Jerusalem.

The occasion was a parlor meeting to introduce Yael Weiss Gadish, 36, a candidate for the community council that represents four upscale areas: “Old” Katamon, “The Colonies” (the Greek Colony and the German Colony), Talbiya and Yemin Moshe, and Rehavia and Kiryat Shmuel. The council has no budget but does have a voice in municipal decisions, and this is the first time its members are to be elected by the residents, explained Weiss Gadish, who aims to represent Katamon.

Then she laid out her priorities.

“The largest population sector in the neighborhood is young families, among them many ultra-Orthodox ones,” she began. “I want to bring pluralistic Jewish [elementary-school] education here,” added the educator and mother of three.

To my surprise, every one of the ten other participants—all of them about the same age as the candidate and all but one of them easily passing as “secular” on the basis of outward appearance—thought this was a great idea and launched into a long discussion of exactly what they wanted. Many of them had grown up Orthodox and some are still religiously observant to some degree. Some are in “mixed” marriages, in which one of the partners is religious.

“There are a lot of people who are confused,” said one man, who then offered an example of what this Jerusalem neighborhood needs. “In the Yahad School in Modi’in, everyone—religious and secular—feels comfortable. They coexist.”

“I don’t want to commit myself to a particular category,” said Weiss Gadish. “I’m secular and I’ll be happy if my kids pray in the morning.”

But she and others made it clear that although they want to give their children some kind of Jewish education, they are uncomfortable with the growing ultra-Orthodox presence in the neighborhood. Jewish, yes, but not that kind of Jewish.

It was a discussion that probably could not have taken place among the children of the previous generation of secular residents in the neighborhood. In fact, it certainly could not have taken place because, except for one of our children, almost none of the others still live in Jerusalem. If they haven’t moved abroad, they’re in Tel Aviv, where secular young people go in search of  jobs and to escape feeling under siege by the increasingly religious atmosphere of the capital.

When my husband and I moved to “Old” Katamon in 1964 (the true name is simply Katamon), the neighborhood had a mix of university-educated secular or non-Orthodox residents, educated Orthodox Jews who chose to live in a mixed neighborhood, evacuees from the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, and a sprinkling of ultra-Orthodox Jews. There were plenty of nonreligious nursery schools and kindergartens. No longer.

In recent years many apartments have been bought by well-heeled Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews from abroad, only some of whom live here year-round. The two nonreligious elementary schools can barely fill classes, and it’s doubtful that a pluralistic Jewish elementary school would have a chance.

But a minor miracle revealing the power of the people and the community council ushered in this week in which Hanukka begins: A Jerusalem Magistrates Court judge gave a reprieve to the Jerusalem Pool, in the German Colony, whose owners wanted to replace it with luxury apartments. When the pool opened in 1958, Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox community protested vociferously against the abomination of men and women swimming together. More than 50 years later, the community council protested the plan to close the pool.

Now it remains to be seen whether, in this state that can’t figure out how to be Jewish and democratic, the people can create a neighborhood that is Jewish and pluralistic.

Text and photo copyright 2010 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text or photo may be used without written permission of the author.