What is the relationship between David Flusser and the United States Embassy? David Flusser was born in Vienna, grew up in Czechoslovakia, was educated in Prague and completed his doctorate at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. So far, there’s no apparent connection.
Let’s dig deeper: Flusser was an Orthodox Jew who applied the critical study approach that he honed while learning the Torah and Talmud to the study of ancient Greek, Roman and Arabic texts. As a professor of comparative religions at the Hebrew University, he scrutinized the ancient Jewish and Christian texts for evidence of the Jewish roots of Christianity and saw Jesus as an authentic Jew who was misunderstood by his followers. In 1980, Flusser received the Israel Prize—regarded as the country’s highest cultural honor—for his contributions to the study of Jewish history.
Might the link between Flusser and the United States be that the Judeo-Christian values, which Flusser spent many years researching, has a foundational role in America? Actually, the real connection is much simpler: The new U.S. Embassy, located in Arnona, Jerusalem, is situated on David Flusser Street. If it were my decision, I would have changed the street name to honor the United States; names that come to mind would be Freedom Way, Liberty Drive or Independence Street. Regrettably, no one requested my opinion, so David Flusser Street it is—at least for the time being.
Another famous historian from the Hebrew University, Joseph Klausner, was also honored with a street in Arnona named after him. In fact, Klausner actually lived on the street that was renamed in his memory. Klausner was chief editor of the Hebrew Encyclopedia, a scholar of Hebrew literature and a professor specializing in the history of the Second Temple Period. Klausner also received the Israel Prize in Jewish Studies, 22 years earlier than Flusser. I found it fascinating that two of Klausner’s most influential books were also on the topic of Jesus. Klausner advanced a somewhat different approach than Flusser, painting Jesus as a Jew who tried to reform the religion but died as a devout Jew. Parenthetically, Klausner was the uncle of the recently deceased journalist, professor and writer Amos Oz.
Many other colorful personalities lived in Arnona. For example, down the street from Klausner lived Israel’s first Nobel Prize laureate, writer Shmuel Yosef, or Shai, Agnon. Agnon and Klausner did not see eye to eye on many issues and made it their business to keep their distance from each other. Interestingly, when Klausner passed away and the city renamed the street in his memory, Agnon was asked how he felt about living on Klausner Street. Agnon famously replied, “I would rather live on a street called Klausner than have Klausner live on a street called Agnon.” Agnon’s Bauhaus-style home is now a museum that houses collections of his works, his original library and films about his life.
Next time you’re wandering around Jerusalem with time to spare, pull out your smart phone, Google the street names that you’re walking along, and enjoy your self-guided tour of the neighborhood. You never know what fascinating gems you may discover.
By Gedaliah Borvick