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How London Influenced Jerusalem

london-in-jerusalem_mouli-and-edna-azrieli-back-at-fink-lr-1534763548 Edna and Moulli Azrieli and their original Fink’s bar, recreated for the exhibition

If a simple interpretation of the phrase 'tikun olam' is to improve the world, then we must credit the British for their sizeable contribution to this ideal.

Sir Ronald Storrs, the military governor to Palestine, accompanied General Allenby on his entry into the city of Jerusalem in 1917. But as soon as the fanfare of the triumphant parade had disappeared, Storrs found that this 'Jewel in the Middle East' was in fact a dusty, dirty backwater. After his first day's tiring work, he suggested to a colleague that they go out for a drink to relax.

"A drink," scoffed his colleague. "Only in your dreams! There isn't a bar in the whole of Jerusalem nor any fashionable coffee house for that matter. If you want to relax, take a bath and go to bed."

'London in Jerusalem' is a new exhibition in the Tower of David. It sets out to record the British contribution to the cultural life of the city during the thirty years of the Mandate (1917-1948). Although it was a very brief time-span in Jerusalem's 3000-year history, it moved the city out of its years of neglect under Ottoman rule and gave it the cultural, aesthetic, and administrative basis to grow into the vibrant capital that we enjoy today.

The exhibition steers clear of all political and religious divides. It emphasizes the inclusion of the Jewish, Arab and British residents of the time. Storrs was the epitome of an English gentleman. He loved classical music, literature, poetry, art, nature, history and architecture and, of course, sport. He quickly fell in love with Jerusalem and made it his personal mission to bring culture to the city. He founded the Pro-Jerusalem Society and transformed the Tower of David from a military garrison into a museum which became Jerusalem's main social venue. It hosted concerts, ballet, art exhibitions, and even a flower show, where the Lady Chancellor handed out silver trophies to the winners for the most beautiful blooms. (There is a photo showing the locals watching with somewhat bemused looks on their faces.)

The YMCA bazaar in Jerusalem Photo: Matson Collection Library of Congress, Washington

The British effectively cleaned up the city, added street lights and built the new garden neighborhoods of Rehavia, Baka and Talpiot. Under a ruling issued by Storrs, all new buildings had to be faced with Jerusalem Stone. The impressive YMCA building was opened in 1933 as an international conference center which, alongside its social and cultural role, also became a main athletic venue. Until 1991, the YMCA stadium was the only soccer stadium in Jerusalem.

The exhibition uses the Tower of David's Crusader Hall to recreate the atmosphere of the times. One corner features the Palestine Broadcasting Service (PBS) which began airing in British, Hebrew and Arabic in 1936. There are headphones with which you can hear the memorable daily announcement "This is Jerusalem Calling" heard in the three languages and you can also join in the daily recorded exercise class.

Opposite is a delightfully furnished area representing the inside of a private house where musical and poetry-reading soirees were held. Both the homes of Anna Ticho and Annie Landau hosted these popular events.

During the Mandate period as many as ten cinemas were opened in Jerusalem. Those of us who lived in the city until 1995 remember the Edison on Strauss Street and the Smadar on Lloyd George Street. The latter is the only remaining one still in use today. The first films screened were the silent movies. A small cinema replete with black plush velvet curtains and original squeaky wooden chairs has been built at the end of the Crusader Hall, where, every afternoon at 2pm, you can watch Tarzan and his Mate, or the Wizard of Oz, or see a British Forces Parade!

Whilst researching for this exhibition the curators asked Edna and Moulli Azrieli, the former owners of the legendary Fink's Bar and Restaurant, if they had any artifacts left from the establishment which closed its doors in 2005 after being the hub of high society, including politicians, film stars and even spies, for seventy-three years. To their total delight, the Azrielis took Liat Margalit and Inbar Dror Lax to the basement of their home. There, amazingly, was Fink's original wooden bar complete with all its bottles, glasses, the old till, menus and its valuable guest book. The curators were speechless and even more so when the Azrielis agreed to allow them to transport everything to recreate the bar inside the exhibition.

For those who need the technology of the twenty-first century in order to feel fully informed, there are tables with laptops which provide more material than is displayed.

And for those who would like to know about the political history of the era, there is an exhibition about General Allenby's historic entry into the Old City which is running concurrently.

I walked out of The Tower of David, through its ancient archways, down into the modern Mamilla Mall, more than a little nostalgic for the world that was.

Exhibitions run until the end of the year

The two exhibitions, "Allenby at the Gates of Jerusalem" and "London in Jerusalem", are open until the end of December 2018. Admission to both exhibitions is included in the entrance price. There are also guided tours of both exhibitions given in English on Thursdays at 13:00 (also included in entrance price).

For more information:


The YMCA bazaar in Jerusalem (Photo: Matson Collection Library of Congress, Washington)


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