Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Golden Gate -- Sha'ar Harachamim on the Temple Mount

The Golden Gate (Sha'ar Harachamim, Gate of Mercy) of Jerusalem's Old City wall has special significance on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.  If the gate were opened, it would lead directly onto the Temple Plaza.  The outside of the gate would open to the Kidron Valley and the Mount of Olives beyond.  In Talmudic literature the gate was also known as the Shushan Gate because of its eastern direction (toward the Persian city of Shushan) and perhaps because of the role played by the Persian leader Cyrus in the Jews' return to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile.

The Golden Gate viewed from within the Temple Plaza (1860)
According to Jewish tradition, on Yom Kippur a messenger (usually a priest) took the sacrificial lamb from the Temple through the gate to the desert.  The Red Heifer purification ceremony also involved taking the sacrifice through the eastern gate to the Mount of Olives.
Interior chamber of the Golden Gate. Are the columns from the Temple structure? (1900)
Unlike most of Jerusalem's other gates, the Golden Gate was originally built at least a millennium before Suleiman the Magnificent rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in 1540.  Indeed, some archeologists believe that the original gate, dating back to Herod's construction or even Nehemiah's period (440 BCE), still exists beneath the current gate.  Perhaps because of the great religious significance of the gate to Jews and Christians as the Messiah's route into Jerusalem, it is believed Suleiman sealed the gate and permitted the construction of a Muslim cemetery in front of the gate.
 
Hebrew writing - graffiti - on the internal walls of the gate's chamber is believed to have been left by Jewish pilgrims at least 1,000 years ago. (See study by Shulamit Gera, Catedra, in Hebrew.)
 
The graffiti scratched into the wall by "Avraham"

Diagram of the two levels of the Golden Gate (with permission of the
Biblical Archaeology Review)
 


The ancient subterranean arch and the pit  of bones. (James Fleming)
 
 
 
 
The theory of an ancient gate received support in 1969 when an archeological student named James Fleming was inspecting the current gate. Suddenly the rain-soaked ground beneath him opened and he found himself in a pit of bones looking at the top of another gate eight feet beneath the surface.  Fleming photographed his discovery. When he returned the next day, the tomb had been sealed with a cement slab by the Islamic custodians of the cemetery.
 
Perhaps the bones date back to 625 CE when a Jewish revolt supported the Persians vs the Byzantines. Led by Benjamin of Tiberias and his army, the Jews controlled the city for several years, possibly even restoring religious practices on the Temple ruins. The period was marked with slaughters committed by all sides.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Gates of Jerusalem Then and Now, Part II
The Damascus Gate

 
Updating first postings in Israel Daily Picture in preparation for Book 3, Jews and Holy Sites in the Holy Land, Revealed in Early Photographs.
Damascus Gate (circa 1860)
The Jerusalem Old City's Damascus Gate, also known as the Nablus Gate (Sha'ar Schem), faces north toward those two cities.  It is part of the wall of the Old City built in 1540 during the reign of the Ottoman ruler, Suleiman the Magnificent.


Archeologists found a Roman gate built by Hadrian in the second century, probably on the foundations of an even earlier gate. Heaps of ashes, believed to be remains of Jewish Temple sacrifices, were found a few hundred meters from the Gate and remained until the early 20th century when they were cleared for buildings.


This photo is labeled "Damascus Gate."
Actually, it is the city wall just to the
right of and above the Gate.
The earliest photo of Damascus Gate dates back to 1844, taken by a French photographer, Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey (1804 - 1898), believed to be a student of Louis Daguerre who is credited with inventing photography in 1839.
 
The daguerreotype photos were found in a storeroom in Girault de Prangey's estate in the 1920s. In recent years, the Biblioteque Nationale de France digitized them. 














This Damascus Gate photo dates back to circa 1859. It was
taken by the first Jewish photographer in Jerusalem, Mendel
Diness. After converting to Christianity, Diness moved to
the United States where he became a preacher named John
Mendenhall Dennis.






   
The photo below, from the Library of Congress collection, was colorized with an early process, "photochrome," by the Detroit Photographic Company. The photo is dated 1890-1900.

Damascus Gate, circa 1890.
 

Photographs over the last 180 years indicate that the Damascus Gate was the primary entrance to the Old City. The gate is adjacent to the Old City's Muslim and Christian Quarters. 

 

The buildings on the right and left of the gate were shops built by a Jewish Jerusalem banker, Chaim Aharon Volero, at the turn of the century, Picture shows the construction of the row of Valeros' shops outside Damascus Gate  (circa 1900). The domes of the Hurva and Tifferet Yisrael  synagogues are on the horizon in the center-left of the picture. The shops were demolished by British city planners in 1937
 
Photographs also show how Damascus Gate was a center for nationalist and military activity in the 20th century after World War I.  

Arab Anti-Zionist demonstration, March 8, 1920, less than three years after the Balfour
Declaration and the British capture of Jerusalem. Many demonstrators declared
that they were Syrians. 

 
Old City held by insurgents, 1938. Damascus Gate locked


 
 
In 1938 local Arab terrorist gangs  took control of the Old City.  In October 1938, the British recaptured the city, described in the British Mandate report below: 

During the month [October 1938], the arrival of strong military reinforcements brought about an improvement of the security position. The Old City of Jerusalem, which had become the rallying point of a large number of bandits and from which acts of violence, murder and intimidation were being organized and perpetrated freely and with impunity, was fully re-occupied by the troops on the 19th of the month. This was a successful, organized operation of considerable magnitude.



Search for arms en masse outside Damascus Gate, September 9, 1938

 
Damascus Gate. Troops retaking the Old City, October, 1938




Damascus Gate today
 Click on the photos to enlarge. Click on the captions to see the originals.

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Gates of Jerusalem Then and Now, Part I
Zion Gate

Updating first posting in Israel Daily Picture in preparation for Book 3, Jews and Holy Sites in the Holy Land, Revealed in Early Photographs.

The walls of Jerusalem's Old City that we see today were built in 1540 during the days of the Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent.  

The location and name "Zion Gate" appear on maps dating back to the 12th century.  It is one of eight gates in the Old City Wall.  

Zion Gate, picture by Bergheim, circa 1867.  Today, the walls are pock-marked from
bullets and artillery shells fired during the1948 war in the Jews' attempt to resupply and 
relieve the Jewish Quarter besieged by the Jordanian Legion.
Zion Gate (circa 1898)  The photo was captioned "Jerusalem" 
with no further detail. While the American Colony photographic
 department was established in 1898, its founder, Elijah
 Meyer, was an active photographer prior to that date.



Zion Gate circa 1900























Camels leaving "David's Portal" (circa 1910)


Expulsion of Jews from the Jewish Quarter in the 1948 War
through the Zion Gate (John Philips for Life Magazine)
Located between Mt. Zion and the Jewish and Armenian Quarters, the gate was the setting for fierce fighting during the 1948 war.  A small Palmach force, commanded by David "Dado" Elazar (later IDF chief of staff in 1973), attempted to break through the gate on May 1948 to relieve the besieged Jewish Quarter.  They were met with stiff resistance by the Jordanian Legion and were forced to withdraw.

On May 28, 1948 the Jewish Quarter surrendered.  Jews were expelled through Zion Gate and didn't return until the city of Jerusalem was reunited 19 years later in the June 1967 war.






Sunday, July 22, 2018

Tisha B'Av, the Day of Jewish Mourning


Jewish men sitting on the ground at the "Wailing Wall" (circa  1935).
From the Library of Congress collection.

Tisha B'Av is commemorated today (on the 10th of Av), Sunday July 22, 2018.

The ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av -- Tisha B'Av -- is the day in the Hebrew calendar when great calamities befell the Jewish people, including the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem, the fall of the fortress Beitar in the Jewish rebellion against Rome in 136 CE, and the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492.  The day is commemorated with fasting, prayers and the reading of Lamentations.  In Jerusalem, thousands pray at the Kotel, the Western Wall.

"Devout Jewish women" at the Wall (circa
1900). View another photo of devout women here

The American Colony photographers frequently focused their cameras on the worshipers at the "Wailing Place of the Jews."  The Colony founders who came to Jerusalem in 1881 were devout Christians who saw the return of the Jews to the Holy Land as a sign of messianic times. 

Of the dozens of pictures at the Kotel there are several of elderly men and women sitting on the ground or on low stools, customs of mourning practiced on Tisha B'Av.

"A Jewish beggar reading at the Wailing Wall" (circa 1920).
Note others sitting on the ground. The day is almost
certainly Tisha B'Av and he is probably reading the
book of Lamentations.


Jews straining to see the Western Wall (circa 1929)


Other pictures presented here show the very narrow and confined area of the Kotel over the ages until Israel's army captured the Old City in 1967 and enlarged the Kotel plaza. 

The tragedies that occurred to the Jewish nation are also evident in the pictures of the deserted plaza after Arab pogroms in 1929.  The area was deserted, of course, during the 19 years of Jordanian rule of the Old City when Jews were forbidden to pray at the site.

A story is told of Napoleon passing a synagogue and hearing congregants inside mourning.  To his question who they are mourning, he was told they were weeping over the destruction of the Jewish Temple 1,800 years earlier.  Napoleon responded, according to the legend, "If the Jews are still crying after so many hundreds of years, then I am certain the Temple will one day be rebuilt."


Western Wall deserted in 1929. View looking south.



"Jews' wailing place without mourners.
Deserted during 1929 riots." View looking north.
A Jordanian soldier (and policeman in the background) at the Western Wall
one month after Jews were expelled from the Old City's Jewish Quarter
in May 1948.

Dedicated in memory of 
Chaim Menachem ben Levi

Monday, April 30, 2018

Lag B'Omer Festival 100 Years Ago -- April 30, 1918

The Enigmatic Photograph from the Library of Congress:
Lag B'Omer & Jewish Children’s Parade exactly 100 years Ago

Jewish children's procession -- where, why, when?

Among the thousands of very old and recently digitalized pictures from a Library of Congress collection of photos from Palestine, there is this captivating picture.
All the original Library of Congress caption explained was that the picture was taken between 1910 and 1930 and that it is  a “Group of children and adults in procession in street, some holding a banner with a Star of David.”

Today, the caption reads: Procession may have taken place on April 30, 1918, on Lag Ba'Omer, when visits were traditionally made to the tomb. British army tents in background, indicate year of 1918. (Source: L. Ben-David, Israel's History - A Picture a Day website, August 19, 2011) 
Title devised by Library staff. (Source: L. Ben-David, Israel's History - A Picture a Day website, August 19, 2011)

Who are the hundreds of children?  Why are the boys and girls separated?  Where are they marching to? Where is this picture taken? And why is there a tent compound on the left horizon?

Photo analysis and comparison to an aerial photograph from 1931 and contemporary pictures indicate that the children are walking south on the Nablus Road (Derech Shchem) in the direction of the Damascus Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem. Behind them is the road that veers to the right toward Mt. Scopus.  The road leads to a neighborhood built around the grave of a High Priest named Shimon the Righteous  (Hatzadik) who lived in the days of the Second Temple. 


The boys and girls come from ultra-Orthodox schools, evidenced by the boys’ hats and frocks. The girls are wearing ultra-Orthodox fashion: shapeless, modest smocks. But wait, the second batch of girls, those behind the Star of David banner (might they be from a “Zionist” school?) are wearing more stylish dresses and hats.
Enlargement of the army camp. Note the permanent
structure surrounded by tents.
The tents belong to a British army camp after they defeated the Turks in 1917 and were deployed along the northern ridges stretching from Nebi Samuel to the Mount of Olives. The compound appears similar to other British army compounds in Library of Congress photographs.  
The day started off cool, and the girls have shed their sweaters.  It’s a warm Spring day, and from the shadows it’s probably around 2 PM. 

Shimon Hatzadik's tomb today (Israel
In fact, the day was Tuesday, April 30, 1918.  The procession is almost certainly an organized outing of several Jerusalem schools taking place on Lag Ba’Omer, four weeks after Passover.  Traditionally, on Lag Ba’Omer Jews flock to the Galilee mountaintop of Meiron to the grave of Shimon Bar Yochai, one of the most famous scholars in the Talmud.  But some 100 years ago, travel to Meiron would have taken days.  Instead, the children took a hike to Shimon Hatzadik’s grave, a known custom 100 years ago in Jerusalem.

The picture was taken just four months after the British forces captured the city of Jerusalem. The city's Jewish residents received the soldiers as their saviors -- saving them from severe hunger and deadly diseases. The children had much to celebrate.
The parade route today (picture taken from the 8th floor
of the Olive Hotel) (IDP)
Veteran Jerusalemite Shmulik Huminer wrote in his memoirs:
“Anyone who could travel to Meiron on Lag Ba’Omer would go, and there take place miracles and wonders.  But the residents of Jerusalem who couldn’t afford to travel to Meiron have as compensation the cave of Shimo Hatzadik located at the edge of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood north of the Old City.”
Today, Lag Ba’Omer is a day when Jewish children still go out to parks and forests to celebrate.  In Jerusalem, many traditional Jews still visit Shimon’s grave.

Comparison of buildings from 1918 and today. Second stories
were added to the buildings over the years. (IDP)
The houses around the tomb where Jews lived 100 years ago were abandoned under threat of Arab pogroms in the 1920s and 1930s.  The Hadassah convoy massacre in 1948, in which almost 80 Jews were killed, took place on the road beneath the building with the very prominent arches.
 In recent years, however, Jewish families have returned to the Shimon Hatzadik neighborhood.

Friday, February 9, 2018

World War I in the Middle East Included Major Campaigns in "Mesopotamia" --
Researching the Battles of Kut Reveals Jewish Community

During World War I, the British Army and their Indian allies suffered a devastating defeat in Kut, south of Baghdad.  The Ottoman army laid siege to the British force from December 7, 1915 to April 29, 1916. Thousands of soldiers died in combat and from disease. and after the British surrender, more soldiers died in captivity as they were marched to Aleppo in Syria.  The British recaptured Kut in February 1917. 

"Jewish and Mohammedan refugees of Baghdad are furnished with employment (sewing) at the Base ordnance
Depot by the Military Authorities." (IWM, Q24539,1917)
That is the historical background to a series of photos of Jews in Amarah found in the British Imperial War Museum. "Amara" in the IWM photographs is "Kut al Amara" or just "Kut" of World War I battle reports.

"Jewish refugees on the foreshore at Amarah, 1917." (IWM, Q56907) 

"Jewish and Christian refugees disembarking from steamers and returning to their homes at Basra, 1917."  (IWM Q2230) 

"Jewish women on New Street, Baghdad" (IWM, Q24465)

"Jewish woman and child of poor class" (IWM, Q24472)

Veiled girl on left is a betrothed Jewess, then mother, younger daughter and child (IWM, Q24476)
Click here to see previous postings on the Jews of Baghdad, Iraq.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Remembering the Indian Soldiers Who Helped Liberate Jerusalem 100 Years Ago

A version of this article appeared in the Jerusalem Post on July 5, 2017

Indian Lancers guarding Turkish prisoners in Jerusalem in December 1917

Welcome Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and thank you for the sacrifices made by your country’s soldiers who saved the Jews of the Land of Israel 100 years ago and eventually led to the Jewish state’s creation.

An idyllic fenced park is located in the middle of the Talpiot neighborhood in Jerusalem, just a four-minute Waze-directed detour from Hebron Road. This cemetery, which I visited for the first time last week, is the burial site for 79 Indian soldiers who died here fighting for the liberation of Jerusalem in 1917. Another cemetery for the Indian soldiers is in Haifa.

Cemetery in the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem for fallen Indian soldiers (photo credit: Lenny Ben-David)
Cemetery in the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem for fallen Indian soldiers 

More than one million Indian troops fought with the British Army in WWI, at the Western front in Europe, in Africa, Mesopotamia, and the Middle East. On the Sinai-Palestine front, 95,000 Indian combatants served; approximately 10 percent were killed. In the 1914-1918 period, they fought the Turkish-German armies at Gallipoli, the Suez Canal, through the Sinai and Palestine and finally Damascus, with crucial battles in Gaza, Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa, Nablus and Megiddo.

The Indian soldiers joined other troops in the Sinai-Palestine campaign from Australia, New Zealand, the West Indies, as well as the Jewish Legion. These auxiliary forces relieved British troops badly needed on the Western front in Europe.

The Indian troops served in the cavalry, camel corps, infantry and logistics units. A large number were Muslims, and the Turks attempted to weaken their resolve with religious appeals. Except for a few cases, the Turkish propaganda failed. The importance of Muslim soldiers was understood by the British commander Edmund Allenby. After capturing Jerusalem, he cabled to London, “The Mosque of Omar and the area round it has been placed under Moslem control, and a Military cordon, composed of Indian Mahomedan officers and soldiers, has been established round the Mosque. Guards have been established at Bethlehem and on Rachel’s Tomb. The Tomb of Hebron has been placed under exclusive Moslem control.”

Allenby’s respect for the Indian soldiers can be seen in his receiving their salute as they marched past him outside of Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem on December 11, 1917, when Allenby entered the city.

General Allenby on his horse saluting the Indian troops outside of Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate on December 11, 1917 (photo credit: Library of Congress)
General Allenby on his horse saluting the Indian troops outside of Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate on December 11, 1917 (Library of Congress)
The war ended in 1918, but British and Indian troops remained to police the British Mandate and put down Arab disturbances. Their photographs can be found in the Library of Congress’ American Colony collection, the British Imperial War Museum and other archives.

Muslim Indian soldiers (on the right) guarding the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount. On the left is 
believed to be a contingent of Algerian soldiers from the French army. (Library of Congress, 1917)
After capturing Jerusalem and Gaza, the British Army, supported by Indian and ANZAC troops, advanced to the north, eventually taking Damascus on October 1, 1918. A key battle was at Megiddo in September 1918, in what may have been the last great cavalry charge in military history.

Indian lancers charging Turkish lines in the Megiddo Valley, September 20, 1918. Painting by Thomas
Cantrell Dugwell. (UK Imperial War Museums)
Later this year, a large Australian delegation will visit Israel to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the gallant ANZAC capture of Beersheba, which opened the way for the liberation of Jerusalem weeks later.

The author is a former Israeli diplomat.  He is author of American Interests in the Holy Land Viewed in Early Photographs and the forthcoming World War I in the Holy Land Viewed in Early Photographs. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Ottoman Imperial Archives' Rare Pictures of the Trains of the Holy Land. Vital to the Armies of World War I

The official opening of the railroad to Be'er Sheva,  October 1915.

I have been researching in the Ottoman Imperial Archives for photographs for my next book, World War I in the Holy Land, specifically on the vital logistical role played by the extensive railroad network built by the Turks throughout the region. Without giving away too much now, I focused on the Be'er Sheva station, the hub for moving Turkish supplies and men for the combat along the Suez Canal, in the Sinai, and southern Palestine between 1915 and 1917.

More than 100 Jews worked for the railroad system, and on January 15, 1917, 16 Jews were killed in a British air raid on the rail yard. Other Jewish workers died of disease and flash floods.

All photographs are from my collection of Ottoman Imperial Archives photographs, unless otherwise noted.  Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Aerial photograph of the Turkish base in Be'er Sheva, 1917. Note the railroad yard and warehouses in the foreground. (Australian Light Horse Studies Centre)

 Ottoman train and troops in the Be'er Sheva railroad station

The building of the railroads throughout Palestine began in 1890.  The Jerusalem station was inaugurated on September 26, 1892.  The Ottoman Archives contains the following pictures of the stations in Jerusalem, Haifa, Battir, Lod, and Ramla. The quality and resolution of many of the photographs are remarkable.


Preparations for the Jerusalem station inauguration, 1892.  Note the Yemin Moshe windmill in the background.

Dignitaries at the dedication of the Jerusalem train station, 1892

A view of the station from the front of the building. 1890s
Another vantage point of the Jerusalem station, 1900. (Library of Congress

An illustration of the opening of the Jerusalem train station, 1892. 

Railroad construction on the way to Jerusalem, 1891

As the British and ANZAC forces moved north after capturing Be'er Sheva and Jerusalem, they switched the narrow gauge Ottoman rail system to a wider gauge in order to carry heavier loads. The next picture from the Australian New South Wales State Library shows the rail conversion at the Jerusalem railway station. 

Laying the wider-gauge rails in the Jerusalem station, circa 1918. (NSW State Library)

Other Stations


The station in Haifa, 1900.

The Ramla train station between Jaffa and Jerusalem, 1894. Another caption of this picture is dated 1904,

Construction of a railroad bridge near Battir on the approaches to Jerusalem, 1891

Railroad station in Lydda (Lod), 1891

The station at Tzemach on the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee and on a key approach to Damascus.
As the British and ANZAC forces pushed the German and Turks northward out of Palestine, they were met with
fierce resistance here at the train station on September 25, 1918.