Thursday, June 27, 2013

"We Must Rebuild the Hurva!"

Before the destruction of the ancient Jewish Quarter in the Old City in 1948, the most impressive of its many synagogues went by the odd name of the Hurva, which means The Ruin. The reason for this went back to the early 19th century, when construction was begun and then abandoned; in the 19th century, however, a very fine building was constructed, but the traditional name stuck.

In the battle for the Jewish Quarter in May 1948, the dome of the building was damaged, but when the Jews surrendered to the Arab Legion and left, it was still standing. When Israel took the city in June 1967, the Hurva looked like - well, a hurva.
In late 1968, a Haifa architect named Yaacov Salomon began a frustrating correspondence with the office of Levi Eshkol, the prime minister. Salomon was representing the famous American-Jewish architect Louis Kahn, who had apparently drawn up a proposal to rebuild the Hurva. Correctly or not, Salomon assumed that the only way to make this happen was by convincing the prime minister. To his growing frustration, he wasn't able to reach the prime minster, and certainly not to convince him. In today's documents we can follow his repeated letters to Eshkol - there are at least five of them - between September and November 1968. In response to one of the first letters Eshkol had written that his opinion was that rebuilding the Jewish quarter - the apartments - was more urgent than rebuilding the synagogue, but Salomon disagreed, and wrote ever more exasperated letters. Eshkol's aides, meanwhile, kept putting off the date for a meeting, and this, of course, made Salomon even angrier.

There was the small matter that Eshkol was dying of cancer, but this wasn't public knowledge. It was known, even to Salomon, that he was ill, but this didn't register. In November, he announced that he was washing his hands of the matter. In February 1969, Eshkol passed away, and if the subject was brought to the next prime minster, Golda Meir, the file from Eshkol's office doesn't say.

The synagogue itself was only rebuilt in the early 21st century, and now looks like this:
(The pictures are all from Wikipedia commons. The file with the letters is ×’-6423/9)

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