Mekor Chaim is a southern Jerusalem neighborhood that is surrounded by Baka to the east, Katamon to the west, the Greek Colony to the north and Talpiot to the south. It is known as a one-street neighborhood, as over 90% of its residents live on Mekor Chaim Street. I always wanted to write about this charming neighborhood, but after what happened last month, I felt compelled to finally put pen to paper.
My clients Sarah and David came to Israel to visit their son in yeshiva, attend a wedding and start hunting for a Jerusalem apartment. We showed them a dozen apartments, and they found two superb yet very different opportunities particularly attractive. One was an apartment under construction in the highly successful Ramat Baka project that will be completed within the year. The second apartment was a spacious three-bedroom unit at 18 Mekor Chaim Street, boasting lovely Park Hamesila views. After analyzing the relative merits of both opportunities and agonizing over this decision for a couple of days, they decided to put this matter on hold and enjoy the wedding they were about to enter.
Sarah and David picked up their place card and noticed that they were seated at Table 18. One minute later, a friend ran over to David and said, “I’m sorry that I couldn’t talk the other day when we bumped into each other. I was late to pick up my son at Mekor Chaim.” (Yeshivat Mekor Chaim was founded over 30 years ago by the renowned educator and writer Rav Adin Steinsaltz; its first home was on this street.)
David looked at Sarah and exclaimed, “18 Mekor Chaim. I guess we got a sign!” They immediately submitted an offer and, before the wedding ended, Sarah and David had a handshake on the purchase of an apartment at 18 Mekor Chaim Street.
Mekor Chaim, which means “Source of Life,” is a truly marvelous name. The neighborhood was named in memory of the philanthropist Haim Cohen who, in the early 20th century, donated money to the Hovevei Zion movement to purchase the land. Parenthetically, the name Mekor Chaim was the title of a philosophical work written by the 11th-century poet and philosopher Shlomo Ben Yehuda ibn Gabirol.
After World War I, Hovevei Zion disbanded and transferred its properties to Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael, or the Jewish National Fund. The JNF bestowed the 30 acres of land to the religious Mizrachi movement, which in 1926 established Mekor Chaim as a village of 20 small farmsteads built along the main street that ran parallel to the neighboring Jaffa-Jerusalem railway line.
During Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, Mekor Chaim was literally at the battlefront, where the Haganah—the precursor to the IDF—was stationed, together with the young residents who remained in the village throughout the war. The youths’ participation helped the Haganah to successfully withstand enemy attacks, and Mekor Chaim became a symbol of the steadfastness and bravery of the Jewish community under siege. Although Mekor Chaim remained under Jewish sovereignty, it was isolated until 1967 due to its proximity to the Jordanian border. After the Six Day War, southern Jerusalem was liberated and the entire area experienced tremendous residential and commercial growth. More recently, the abandoned train tracks to the west were renovated into the iconic Park Hamesila, replete with a boardwalk on the old tracks, a bike path and open spaces with benches and playgrounds.
Between the gentrifying surrounding areas, its central location and the fact that Jerusalem’s next light-rail line will provide excellent transportation access, it is understandable why Mekor Chaim has become a sought-after destination.
By Gedaliah Borvick