Zionism before Herzl and the Jewish connection to the capital

Any attempt to deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem is preposterous, says President Reuven Rivlin, a seventh generation Jerusalemite, whose forebears came to the capital of the Jewish people in the first decade of the 19th century at the behest of the Gaon of Vilna.

Many Lithuanian Jews who were part of the Vision of Zion movement established by followers of the Gaon in 1771 came to Jerusalem hoping to greet the Messiah, Rivlin said on Thursday in a Jerusalem Day interview with The Jerusalem Post.

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There were old Sephardi families who had been living in Jerusalem for centuries, he said, listing among others the family of one of his presidential predecessors, Yitzhak Navon. Since 1809, Rivlin added, there has consistently been a Jewish majority in Jerusalem, because the surrounding Arab villages were not actually part of the city, but sat on its periphery.

Rivlin, even before he became the country’s number one citizen, was a walking symbol of Jerusalem, always responding to greetings by radio or television interviewers: “Shalom from Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.”

Born before the establishment of the state, and having grown up in the city, Rivlin knows about its history with the kind of familiarity of the next door neighbor. He was, in fact, the neighbor to some of Jerusalem’s most illustrious personalities – if not next door, then just two or three doors away.

Right at the beginning of the interview, as an outcome of his intimate knowledge of the history of the city, Rivlin put paid to the popular myth that Mishkenot Sha’ananim was the first neighborhood established outside the walls of the old city.

While it is true that Sir Moses Montefiore initiated a project whereby artisans from the old city would come and work in Mishkenot Sha’ananim, he said, they were afraid to stay there overnight, returning to the old city every evening.

Thus the real first neighborhood was really the Mughrabi Quarter in Mamilla which had been set up by Jews from the Old City’s Mughrabi Quarter, where the inhabitants lived; they did not return to the Old City at night.

The Mughrabi Quarter, also known as the Moroccan Quarter, was a 770-year-old neighborhood in the southeast corner of the Old City. It was razed by Israeli forces right after the Six-Day War in order to provide better public access to the Western Wall. That left the current four quarters: Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian.

The full interview with President Rivlin will be published in Sunday’s Post.