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In The 'Hood
The Hansen Lepers Hospital, Jerusalem
by Judy Lash Balint
Jerusalem Post
July 25, 2005

Every time I'm tempted to consider moving out of Jerusalem to a bucolic moshav somewhere away from the pollution, traffic and intensity of life in the city at the center of the world, some mundane experience makes me realize that it's not going to happen any time soon.

This morning, after a Shabbat heavy with heat, guests, food, cooking and dishes, I decided a refreshing walk around the neighborhood in the cool of the early morning was in order.

Consider the things I saw just within an eight block radius of my apartment. Stepping out of my building, I almost collided with two power-walking observant women. Dressed in T shirts with elbow-length sleeves, baseball caps covering their hair and billowy cotton skirts, the two were engrossed in a discussion of the Torah portion we read yesterday. I followed on for a few yards as they laughed about not completing their usual 2 mile walk to conserve energy for today's fast day--the 17th of Tammuz, (commemorating, amongst other things, the breach of the walls of Jerusalem prior to the destruction of the Second Temple). They were just walking around the block in order not to miss their morning Torah learning time together.

Further down the street, two formidable but very different institutions almost face one another. On one side, sits the Shalom Hartman Institute, founded by Rabbi David Hartman. The elegant modern facility takes up almost a whole block of Gedalya Alon Street, and already at this early hour, the Beit Midrash is open and people are streaming in. It's easy to see that they're mostly participants in the Institute's Center for Rabbinic Enrichment summer program. American rabbis of all stripes sign up for three years of long-distance studies with Hartman, and every winter and summer vacation they show up to rent apartments in the neighborhood, fill our local shuls and hang out at the cafes on nearby Emek Refaim. It's easy to pick them out by their distinctive American-style clothing--the male rabbis favor khaki shorts, polo shirts, fanny packs and solid colored knitted kippot (not the white crocheted ones favored by the Israeli national religious camp), or baseball caps. The female rabbis, in sturdy sandals and lots of linen, catch some stares in the street with their little kippa-style head coverings.

Just across the street from the Hartman Institute is one of Jerusalem's strangest and most beautiful old buildings. It's decrepit now, but the Hansen Government Hospital for Lepers is still operated by the Ministry of Health as an oupatient treatment facility. Built in 1887 by architect Conrad Schick, a German missionary who planned and built many grand Jerusalem buildings, the compound sits on acres of some of the most expensive real estate in the city. The arched windows and elegant balconies look over 2 acres of gardens surrounded by an aging 7 foot high brick wall. Rivka Regev, the daughter of the only permanent residents of the house--a 92 year old doctor and his wife, who once ministered to the patients there--is trying to resurrect the garden behind the locked green gate with the help of local volunteers.

The Hansen Hospital's other claim to fame is that Israeli Nobel laureate S.Y Agnon used the hospital as the setting for his novel 'Shira' as well as a short story entitled 'Forevermore', published in 1954.

Down the hill and around the corner on a quiet street in the German Colony filled with beautiful Arab style houses, I take a peek at the status of the major renovations going on at the home of an associate editor of The Jerusalem Report. They're adding a second floor to their house--hmmm, looks like the payscale at the Report must be a heck of a lot better than for freelancers at the Jerusalem Post!

Further along the street, the steps lead past a high school where a counselor is opening up the school-yard for the first group of kids arriving for day camp. The group makes a bee-line for the little pond where a few bedraggled ducks are just waking up, thanks to two roosters strutting their stuff.

Right next door to the school is the imposing home of Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The three story building is guarded by a bored-looking young woman security officer sipping coffee in her booth. Concrete barricades protect the Prime Minister wannabe from too much contact with the public, as his limo zooms in and out of the shaded parking spot.

Just a few doors down, I notice that the Italian Consulate has followed Olmert's lead and added some parking barricades in front of their non-descript home.

Around the corner past the blazing orange, purple and red bougainvillea, two Hasidim avert their eyes from my direction and hurry past on their way to the yeshiva a few blocks away as the makolet (small grocery) guy mumbles a cursory "Good morning" as he gets his first dairy delivery.

That quiet walk around a moshav with nice scenery will just have to wait....