When walking down Hagai Street these days, the tension is palpable. Most people see the area as historically Muslim, but Hagai Street running North South to Sha’ar Shechem (Damascus Gate) had bustling Jewish population until the 1929 and 1936 riots.
Unlike the alleyways that shoot off of it, Hagai Street is a main avenue replete with shops as well as Muslim and Jewish communities. The violence in the last few days is nothing new except now it is turning deadly. Jews are being taunted, harassed, and yes stabbed to death.
I asked myself yesterday as I headed to Beit Wittenberg about the significance of why the violence seems to be circling around this specific area. True the Arab population has long been cheered into raging mobs bent on killing Jews, but why on Hagai Street and most specifically the Beit Wittenberg area.
For that a little background on the house is necessary.
Reb Moshe Wittenberg made Aliyah in 1882 at the age of 62, from the town of Wietebsk, in Belorussia. He brought with him 500,000 rubles to buy large property in Jerusalem’s Old City. With the help Eliezer ben Yehuda (the reviver of modern Hebrew) he negotiated with the Latin Church and bought the property. The property housed 20 Chabad families giving the complex renewed Jewish life.
Moshe Wittenberg died in 1899 and bequeathed the property to a communal hekdash (set aside), which was recorded by Turkish authorities. The residents continued to live their, yet were driven out in the riots that would consume Jerusalem and the Land of Israel in the decades that followed.
After being reacquired through the efforts of Ateret Cohanim, Ariel Sharon bought rights to use it as his house in order to fully demonstrate Jewish sovereignty over the Old City.
I have of course left out one exciting fact that I believe is key to understanding the central role this house and complex plays in Jerusalem’s unfolding redemption.
In recent years it has been discovered that Beit Wittenberg is in fact the same Mediterranean Hotel that Mark Twain stayed in during his visit to Israel in 1867. It was that hotel that contributed to the inspiration in the section about Israel in his memoir Innocents Abroad.
So why is this so relevant to a Jewish Jerusalem?
The memoir Innocents Abroad details the truth of the barrenness of the Land of Israel at the time of Mark Twain’s visit. It is a refutation of years of Arab propaganda that the Land of Israel had no Jews in it and was home to an indigenous Arab population. More than this, Mark Twain’s account stands as a memory of a crossroads in Jewish History, just prior to the beginning of the return of the “remnant of Israel.” It is that memory that the Arabs are attacking when they focus on the area around Beit Wittenberg.
Understanding this piece of history is key to understanding the war being raged against Jewish control in Jerusalem. It is a focused and concerted effort to wipe out not only Jewish History, but American historical dynamism in the Land of Israel that has closely united the Judea-Christian culture specific to the West and the rebirth of the Modern State of Israel.
The battleground is more than the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem or the hills of Judea and Samaria, it is in fact a war to protect the truth and facts of the past in order to use them as tools to hold onto our future.