Quiet street near bustling Ben Yehuda mall contains house of the Father of Modern Hebrew

FAMOUS RESIDENT: The home of Eliezer Ben Yehuda on Rehov Ethiopia


REHOV Ethiopia is just a hop, skip and jump away from the buzzing Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall in the heart of Jerusalem.

The serenity found in the winding narrow street just off the bustling Rehov HaNevi’im (Street of the Prophets) and the parallel Rehov Yafo, is particularly captivating.

The attractive buildings along Rehov Ethiopia come in all shapes and sizes and boast incredibly diverse histories.

Most of Rehov Ethiopia’s buildings were constructed in the 1880s with one of its most famous residents, the reviver of the modern Hebrew language Eliezer Ben Yehuda (1858-1922), living for a good number of years with his wife and family at No 11.

The front door of the former Ben Yehuda abode opens directly on to the narrow street. It is just a dozen or so steps away from the high-walled and iron gated entrance to a large courtyard and the impressive silver domed, circular Ethiopian church opposite.

Affixed to the wall between the front door and an arched window at No 11 is a relatively small sign in comparison to the legacy left by its former resident Ben Yehuda.

The sign reads: “Born in Lithuania, Ben Yehuda studied in cheder, yeshiva and secular high-school. In 1878, while studying medicine in Paris, he recognised the connection between the revival of the Jewish national identity and that of Hebrew as a spoken language.

“After settling in Jerusalem in 1881, he and his wife Dvorah decided to speak Hebrew only, obliging Ben Yehuda to both reintroduce words from the traditional texts and conceive new ones.

“Ben Yehuda persuaded the High Commissioner that Hebrew should be one of the 3 official Mandate languages. He published a 16 volume dictionary and 3 Hebrew language newspapers.

“In celebration of the 150th anniversary of his birth, Ben Yehuda’s efforts in reviving spoken Hebrew received UNESCO acknowledgement.”

Ben Yehuda’s great pains to revive Hebrew as a spoken language led to many clashes with religious Jews, who considered it a holy language that should only be used for prayer.

Apparently in the past, Ben Yehuda’s home sported a much more impressive official blue and gold commemorative sign as seen on buildings of historical importance throughout the city, but at some point this disappeared and the rather unimpressive, present day plaque affixed.

A number of other buildings at the beginning of the street are of particular interest, but one has to look up to see inscriptions and artwork in the stone such as the Lion of Judah emblem sitting pretty above a top floor balcony.

This is one of a number of buildings constructed by the real estate savvy Ethiopian Emperor Menelik ll who wanted to generate rental revenue for their neighbouring church.

An official blue and gold sign on the gate post of the compound tells us that this walled-in compound was built in stages between 1874 and 1901, at its centre a round church, modelled on churches in Ethiopia, around which are situated the residences of the monks and nuns.

An inscription on the gate, in the Geez language proclaims that “The Lion of the Tribe of Judah has triumphed,” and also commemorates King Menelek II of Ethiopia.

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