Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Jerusalem International YMCA- History by Aviva Bar Am

No other site in Jerusalem is as laden with symbols as the Jerusalem Young Men's Christian Association. Reflected on its walls, ceilings, stones and pillars are manifestations of the world's three greatest faiths, a statement of unity that remains stable in a city too often shattered by war. The international YMCA theme in which a triangle represents the body, the mind and the soul is repeated throughout the building.

In front of the building stand 12 cypress trees, a symbolic number representing Jesus' disciples, the Israelite tribes and the followers of Mohammed. Forty pillars in its courtyard and portico symbolize the Jews' 40 years in the desert and Jesus' 40 days of temptation. Each column is topped by an ornamental capital sculpted to illustrate biblical fauna and flora.

The archangel, in bas relief, on the carillon tower was designed by the Bezalel artist Ze'ev Raban. The capitals along the loggia are carved with representations of local flora and fauna, as are the capitals along the arcades leading to each of the two domed extensions, one of which contains the Byzantine-ornamented auditorium, the other the gymnasium.

On the floor of the outer entrance is a copy of the mosaic Madeba Map (another is on display at the Roman Cardo in the Jewish Quarter). Over the door which leads into the building is a glass window decorated with an olive branch. In order to keep this symbol of peace from shattering during the War of Independence, the window was removed each time there was violence in the city. One day, in 1948, a shell flew through the hole where the window had been and hit the ceiling. Fortunately it didn't explode and the ceiling was later repaired.

At the end of World War I the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate began selling some of its Jerusalem property. Land was sold to the Jews - who built in Rehavia; land was sold to the Arabs, who built in Talbieh; and land was sold to the YMCA, so that the organization could build a monument to peace. So impressed with the idea were the Jews of Manchester, England, that they contributed to its construction!

Dr. Archibald C. Harte, General Secretary of the International YMCA, had the vision. He wanted to serve people of all faiths and nationalities in the Holy Land, and impressed millionaire James Jarvie of New Jersey with his ideas. On Christmas Eve of 1924, Harte found $400,000 in his Christmas stocking - a gift from Jarvie. Jarvie was eventually to add another $600,000 to this sum, dying before he saw the end result of this largess. The architect was Arthur Louis Harmon, whose firm designed New York's world-famous Empire State Building.

Far more modern than other contemporary Jerusalem buildings, the YMCA had the city's first heated swimming pool and its first real gymnasium - complete with a wooden floor. The first concerts broadcast from the Jewish radio station (the Voice of Israel) were transmitted from its stunning auditorium.

Dr. Archibald C. Harte had envisioned a monument to peace that would serve people of all faiths and nationalities in the Holy Land. His dream came true with a vengeance: besides a famous swim team and outstanding fitness programs, the YMCA sponsors a leaders' club for youth with a mixed inter-religious membership. Most unusual is the organization's preschool. From the days only a decade or so ago when it operated one classroom with about 13 Jewish toddlers, the preschool now includes at least half a dozen classrooms, a plethora of adult staff and 135 Christian, Jewish and Moslem children.

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