Video: Jerusalem: City of the Book

November 11, 2019
Merav Mack

What might it look like to see Jerusalem, with its cross-hatched encounters between people of diverse faiths and cultures, as a city of the book? Merav Mack and Benjamin Balint share their forays into the city's most inaccessible reaches in the making of their recently published book, Jerusalem: City of the Book.



Here we are. My name's Charles Stang. I am the director here at the center, and it's a pleasure to welcome you to this event this intimate evening with our two authors. And I'd like to thank the center staff for making this event possible. I'd also like to thank the Center for Middle Eastern Studies for cosponsoring the event.

Before we begin, may I just ask that you please silence your phone so we don't have-- and I'll do the same to make sure we don't have uninvited ring tones, although it's always interesting to hear what people choose as their ring tone. I think it really says something about you. So you really might want to silence it now.

It's a particular pleasure for me to welcome two very close friends of mine to the center, Merav Mack and Benjamin Balint, to speak about their new book from Yale University Press entitled Jerusalem-- City of the Book. I've known these two since 2011 when my family and I spent a sabbatical year in Jerusalem and fell in with a really wonderful and diverse crowd of writers, scholars, and activists, of which these two were members. We felt privileged to be welcomed into that scene. It felt like a little bit of a scene there for a while.

So first let me introduce Merav. And we're casual here, so I'll be using first names. Merav Mack received her PhD in medieval history from the University of Cambridge, England. She's a research fellow at the Truman institute for Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is currently living in France. In addition to her work on Jerusalem's libraries and archives, she's known for her research on contemporary Christian communities in the Middle East, which that research she's conducted in Israel, Palestine, and Jordan.

Now for Ben, Ben might be familiar to some of you. If you attended last year's [? list ?] lecture, it was Ben who interviewed Andre Aciman on the theme of, quote, "Exile and Elsewhere." And we just learned that Andre Aciman's latest novel, a sequel to Call Me By Your Name, has been released. So if you're interested in that-- I haven't had a chance to see it yet, but it is apparently out.

In any case, Benjamin Balint is a writer who lives in Jerusalem, and he is the author of most recently Kafka's Last Trial-- The Case of a Literary Forgery. I'm sorry-- Literary Legacy. Forgive me. Whoops.

He's also the author of Running Commentary-- The Contentious Magazine That Transformed the Jewish Left Into the Neoconservative Right. That's a book that won him a lot of friends among the neoconservative right. That came out in 2010. Kafka's Last Trial was just last year in 2018.

And of course, really, his most recent book of course is the book he has co-authored with Merav, Jerusalem-- City of the Book. Ben's essays appear regularly in The Wall Street Journal, Haaretz, and Die Zeit. And his translations from the Hebrew have appeared in The New Yorker and The Atlantic.

So in this new book, Merav and Ben have asked us what it might look like to see Jerusalem with its crossed-hatched encounters between people of diverse faiths and cultures as a city of the book. Is it possible to use libraries and texts to catch the city's tragedy and its magnificence, to tell the story of a place where some of the world's most far-reaching reaching ideas were put into words?

Merav and Ben will share their forays into the city's most inaccessible reaches in the making of this remarkable book, which Moshe Halbertal has called one of the most intimate and beautiful portraits ever written of Jerusalem-- Jerusalem, the city that you call in your preface this metropolis of monotheisms, which was one of my favorite phrases. So please, please join me in welcoming both Merav and Ben to the CSWR.


So despite what you may read on the screen here, we're going to call our talk tonight [INAUDIBLE]. Thank you for hosting us. Charlie, thank you to Ariella Ruth. And thank you most of all to our editor from Yale University Press who is here especially for the evening, Heather Gold, without whom this would not have been possible.

We thought that we would take advantage of the rare fact that we're actually in the same city at the same time to do a sort of tag-team conversation, which will give a taste of our forays into the city and into how Jerusalem has acted as a kind of center of gravity that-- a center of gravity that attracts not just exiles-- is the mic on?

As I was saying, not just as a place-- a center of gravity that attracts exiles but also a place that acts as a center of gravity for material culture, that attracts textual culture. And really this is an essay into a new way of reading a city, of rendering a city legible, which is to say not to look at Jerusalem in the usual way as a series of archaeological layers or in a chronological way of a series of conquests-- many of you may have read Montefiore's biography of Jerusalem-- but to really try to do something new, I think, which is to write a textual history of the layers of Jerusalem with an emphasis on how the diverse communities of Jerusalem have used their libraries, texts, and archives as anchors in the city, not just as anchors but also as a way of getting at the plurality, not just of the existing cultures of Jerusalem but the duality of Jerusalem as a place both real and imagined.

After all, in Hebrew, the very name of Jerusalem inscribes. [HEBREW] is a plural noun. It's a dual noun. The plurality is inscribed in the very name. That's a plurality not just of communities but of a city both real and imagined. And we look at sort of the libraries and archives of Jerusalem, many of them completely inaccessible, as a way to bridge this distance between what we actually see and what we want to see.

So when we approached our question and approached Jerusalem, we were very conscious that we were going to try and do something that was really different than the way most people write about the city. I had the great privilege to visit-- to get to know places in Jerusalem that few people were able to access. And when Ben and I first met, I remember our conversations about it, all those amazing parts of the city that people rarely even know about.

And he kept saying, we should really write this story and have the opportunity to tell-- to turn it into something bigger. So this project really started as a-- it started as a survey. I thought, we need to know what exists in Jerusalem. It's s very old city very rich literature that is not accessible to people.

Let's find out what exists in the libraries of Jerusalem, see if we need to preserve it, to digitize it, learn everything we can do about it. So I thought, yeah, it's something I can probably do with a small team of people within three to six months. So 10 years later or 15 years later, it turned out to be much, much, much harder than I expected or anyone else.

And the first question was why? But why is it so difficult? Why is it impossible to visit those libraries? And what's the meaning of a library if you can't enter it? Having all those books and if nobody can use them, what are they for?

So I think at some point we realized that those libraries are actually telling the story of the psychology of a city, and perhaps this is what we're going to try and do today. So why are all those places closed? There are different answers to this. And I think we would try to take you into the various places and give a few different answers to this question.

So our first example comes from the Armenian community of Jerusalem. This is a portrait-- so this book is actually a collaboration of three people-- the lead author, Merav. Me, I'm responsible mostly for the errors. And we have a wonderful photographer-- Frederic Brenner.

And this is Frederic's photograph of the current Armenian patriarch of Jerusalem, Manougian. This happens to be on a day once a year when they bring out the relics from the treasury and process around the Armenian church of St. James, and perhaps I'll let you introduce the textual culture of the Armenians.

So the Armenians have the largest library in Jerusalem. This is a library of about 4,000 manuscripts. And it's a slightly different collection than what you would imagine, because it accumulated into the city, especially when people who escaped the genocide came and brought it into the city. Some of the collection existed before, and some of it grew and was brought into the library.

So in the next photograph you would see, this is the library. Now, you can almost immediately see that it's not really a library but a chapel and, in fact, a church. The Church of St. Toros was constructed in the Middle Ages for the first time, and it was converted into a library much later on.

And it's closed. It always closed. It's never open to the public.

Which is why it took months of negotiation for us to be able to enter on this particular day. You'll notice also that there is no electricity in this library. If a scholar wants to use it, they have to sort of, first of all, get special permission from the patriarch and, second of all, have the librarian take in a long extension cord.

Yes. And it opens only on St. Toros day. St. Toros day is-- you probably remember that. No. It is on the third weekend of Lent.

So there is no fixed date for it. You have to know when Lent is in the Orthodox tradition, and on the third weekend of Lent it opens to people who come to pray. That's the only opening day of the year.

And this library-- the main collection is the first 1,700 books were the first ones to be cataloged. And the person who did this catalog arranged them by size so it goes from the small to the big-- didn't really expect the library to grow. But everything that came later just was added one by one. So that's how it grew.

And about 180 of these books are not even there because they were deemed too precious to be inside the library. So when you have really precious books, you put them in the treasury. Now, the Armenian treasury, that was a picture that I just-- I dreamed of getting to one day make that photograph because in order to get into the treasury, it's not just that you need to get the permission of the patriarch.

But you need the patriarch to come with a key. But with him, he needs to bring another person from the Brotherhood of the St. James to bring another key. And the third person has to be a lay person from the community who would come. And only when the three of them come together, they can open the treasury to let you in and check the manuscripts.

Sort of like the nuclear codes of Jerusalem.

And you ask yourself, is that all necessary? So they treat their books like treasure. And there's a good reason for it because it is a treasure, and it's worth a lot of money.

One example which we have not yet been able to photograph-- one day we'll be able to do that-- is the Gospel of Queen Keran, which was drawn by a 13th-century painter, Toros Roslin, the most famous of all Armenian [INAUDIBLE]. We have five of his manuscripts in Jerusalem, so the largest collection of his work. And in that particular one, he has the oldest portrait of the royal family, the Armenian royal family, that he took that he made in the book.

But the cover of the book is made of gold-- sorry, silver. And they decided to put it in the treasury. Despite being the treasury, sometime at the beginning of the 20th century, despite needing three keys to get in, someone managed to get in and cut off two pages from-- two illustrations from that gospel and sell them. So they disappeared from Jerusalem.

So first reason is clearly that-- its wealth, its temptation. And it happens. Thieves come to Jerusalem and get it.

And you might ask yourself, who might have been able to do that? In this particular case, it might not have been even strangers who walked into the library. So that's quite painful. And all communities-- there is not a single community that had not suffered such loss.

I can also add that it's worth remembering there's not a single community-- there is not a single archive or library that doesn't have secrets. So the first line that I would say to the librarians is, I'm not after secrets. I want you to show me the best and most wonderful things. I don't want to hear dirty secrets about the library, because the truth is everyone has them. There is no archive without secrets.

The custodians of the written word in Jerusalem are not about democratization of knowledge as they might be in the West. They're about keeping people out. And we were often I think treated with suspicion. And in many cases, it took months of negotiation to get some of these photographs.

Before we leave the Armenians, I thought we would show you what's probably the oldest illuminated codex in Jerusalem, which could even go back to the 8th century, decorated as you see with these fantastical birds, a gospel on parchment in the St. Toros Armenian library, which really points to one of the functions of libraries and archives in Jerusalem, which is-- it has to do with rivalries, not of territory, as we're accustomed to thinking about it, but rivalries as to which community can prove their antiquity and continuity.

If I can prove that I've been here longer than you, maybe I have more authentic claim than you do. So it's not just about, I have this piece of property. I have East Jerusalem. You have West Jerusalem. It's also about, how deep is my anchor?

Before we move away from thieves, and forgers, and the people who made Jerusalem a little bit paranoid, I'd like to introduce two characters. So here you see portraits of-- probably the portrait of the most famous thief in Jerusalem, the colorful portrait of Bishop Uspensky, [? Professor ?] Uspensky.

The story goes that I was once sitting with one of the Greek Orthodox monks and a scholar and a very interesting figure who is also in charge of the choir of the Greek Orthodox patriarchate, Father Aristopoulos. And I asked him exactly the question that we started with. What's the point of having a library if you don't let scholars in? And it's such an important thing. You really need to open it up, and you as a scholar know that.

And he looked at me. He said one word. He said, Uspensky. And Uspensky? I thought I knew the community quite well, and is that someone I'm supposed to know?

And then quickly realized that we were actually talking about someone who died ages ago. Bishop Uspensky visited Jerusalem, was the first Russian-- was sent by the tsar to Jerusalem to find out what was going on with the Greek community and the Arab community and to assess the situation. So he was on sort of a diplomatic mission as well as a religious mission.

And he came to the city. He traveled all over and went to visit communities. He wrote fascinating reports. Some of them were actually very valuable and changed a lot of what happened about the education in the area. And so there are many good things to say about what he did.

He made it to St. Catherine and saw the Sinaiticus, which he declared heretical possibly. So he didn't appreciate-- he didn't realize, actually, the importance of what he saw over there. The biggest story about him in Jerusalem and the reason that the Greek Orthodox patriarchate is so angry with him is, as the patriarch would say, it's not so much that he stole one of our most precious manuscripts, the oldest-dated manuscript that they had of a gospel from the 9th century, but that the Russians are so proud of it.

He said, we have manuscripts named after patrons of the books. We have manuscripts named after the authors. But there are very few manuscripts in the world that are known after the thief who had stolen them.

And Uspensky has two. There is one called Gospel Uspensky and the other one, Porphyrius-- Porphyry. And he wrote a little poem about himself, which I'd like to quote to you.

He said, "Why do I walk the Earth so long? To bring, like a bee, beautiful honey to my hive. I am God's bee, and Russia is my hive."

So he was a proud collector. He also paid for some of the stuff that he collected. But when he couldn't get it with money, then he found other ways. It's a bit unfair what we did here to put him next to another person who was not at all a thief.

But Abraham Firkovich of the same period-- and I just love those two portraits so much-- and a great manuscript collector. He became famous as one of the key persons to identify genizahs around the world. He would go around Crimea and walk into synagogues tapping on the walls, walk into cemeteries, finding genizahs over there. He collected a lot of manuscripts.

Can you say what a genizah is?

Yes, so Jewish tradition and Islamic tradition, do not throw away books if there's name of God written-- in the name of God is enough to keep the page sacred. So instead of throwing it away, the custom is to bury it. But until it's buried, you get a big enough collection. And then you take it all together and create a tomb for it.

So the most famous genizah that people might have heard of is the Cairo Genizah, where inside the synagogue itself, there was an additional room and a hole through the wall. And you'd just throw away all the books that fell apart and that you didn't need. And over there, Schechter, who came from Cambridge, found this unbelievable amount of manuscripts, including handwriting letters by Maimonides and all sorts of other things.

Firkovich found it before Schechter. He was not terribly interested in it because he also found a Karaite genizah in Cairo, which he was more interested in, being a Karaite. And so he left Schechter to work on the genizah, and he took the other one. He came to Jerusalem, and he collected and bought a lot of manuscripts.

By the way, the, Germans have a term for the dust left on your clothing after you've gone genizah diving for manuscripts in these repositories. And that term is genizah schmutz.

Firkovich wrote about his collection. He wrote, "And I removed from Jerusalem without regard to the great anathema, as I relied on the verse, 'For out of Zion shall go forth the law.' For the sake of heaven, I removed them from the darkness of the storeroom in order to enlighten the land and benefit the many."

So perhaps an answer to what we were saying earlier, a reason to work against those closed libraries is actually to bring them out to light. He really believed-- they both believed that they were doing something that was necessary. Uspensky in particular thought that some of the manuscripts he found were kept in the hands of people who were not worthy of them, so he wanted to save them.

And at least in the case of Firkovich, that's absolutely the case. All the manuscripts that he saved from Jerusalem that's the only thing that saved-- that actually lasted from the Jewish community in Jerusalem, because everything else-- all the libraries, the yeshivas, the synagogues-- were destroyed in 1948, except one. And we'll come to it in the end.

So just to sort of give a taste of the behind-the-scenes making of this book, a 19th-century theft was invoked in keeping us out in the year 2015, as if it were yesterday. The word Uspensky barred our way. But because of our persistence, not for long.

And at some times we actually took advantage of the rivalries between communities. For example, the moment we got permission finally to enter into the Armenian library, of course we told the Greeks that we had had that permission. And wouldn't it be a shame if you weren't also included, if your manuscript library, which is of course even more glorious than the Armenians' and perhaps even more and antique, would also not be included? Yeah.

Very different to the two characters that we just saw. Another thing they had in common was not just their passion for their manuscripts but also their great arrogance. And very much unlike them is the next person we are meeting here, Abuna Shimon Can, one of the dearest and most amazing people we met in Jerusalem. And here we learned an entirely different reason for not letting people into the library.

The Syriac Library of St. Mark-- I heard about it for so many years. And I was told, this is the one place you'll never be able to go in, because they don't let anyone into it.

And when I approached Abuna Shimon the first time to talk about, how can we preserve your manuscript library? Do you need help? I asked him. And he looked at me. I don't think anyone ever asked him if they need help before.

And he said, yes. And then he said, we have this problem with the books. And he said, I don't know the word in English for it. In Syriac, it's called [SYRIAC].

And I said, you don't mean woodworms, do you? I don't know Syriac. But in Hebrew, it's exactly the same word. And I was like, you don't mean you have woodworms? He said, yes, that's exactly what we have in the library.

And it turned out that he was just embarrassed. He was ashamed of the state of the library. And it was the first time that I realized that that's one of the major reasons for people not to let us into their libraries.

What a big moment it was to realize that there is no big secret. It's just shame. And if that is the case, it's even more tragic. We need to be able to help [INAUDIBLE].

So the Syriac community is a community within the Christian quarter of the Old City. It's a compound within a compound within a compound. And we visited Abuna Shimon several times. He told us his life story, how he was born in Tur Abdin in southeastern Turkey, the heartland of Syriac culture. He's been in Jerusalem since 1980.

One time we went to visit him with two curators from the Met Museum in New York, who were putting on, several years ago, an exhibition about Jerusalem. And he was so embarrassed by the state of the library he refused even then to let us into the library of 400 manuscripts. When we finally did go in, the hinges were falling off of the bookcases.

And then he also mentioned that there are some texts that he venerates to such a degree that he kneels when he reads them. And so we captured him-- we decided to capture him in the book in that pose with a 15th-century manuscript, one of his favorite manuscripts.

Yeah, a homily on humility and love. And this is so him. These stories he tells are so moving.

Abuna Shimon Can is not the only person who has this quiet and more humble presence in the city. You know, sometimes-- Jerusalem is such a small place, and you get those encounters between-- you just move from one street, and you take a little turn, and you find yourself in an entirely different place. So the Armenians to the Syrians is a few minutes walk.

But right next to him, on another occasion, we went to visit one of the rabbis of Jerusalem, Daniel Sperber. We heard about his library, and we heard that-- we didn't include many private really personal libraries in the book. And actually, on Daniel Sperber, we wanted to write about it. Somehow, he was left out.

But this is something we would love to one day do, because it turned out that Daniel Sperber, who happens to be one of the greatest scholars of Syriac and Aramaic, who took us into his library and opened those wooden drawers with just cards full of encyclopedic little words, you know tracing words from Aramaic, from Greek, from Latin, into-- what was it-- Greek words in the Talmud. So he published a book about that, but also about Syriac and Aramaic.

And he walked us into his library. We climbed to the roof of his house, and we suddenly realized that we were literally next door to a [NON-ENGLISH]. Like it was-- the city is so complex. And you walked around and around in little narrow alleyways. But it turned out we were actually physically in the same space where those two amazing libraries, both with amazing Syriac text, right next to each other. So we thought that was a good combination to bring them together.

And this is the interior of Sperber's library. And I think we have this dream of these two men, who both live and breathe Aramaic in their own ways, to bring them together one day. These two men who have been neighbors for decades, who have never met.


One of the poorest communities of Jerusalem-- and you probably realize by now that we are actually focusing, first of all, on the old city and perhaps on the smaller communities, and rather than the big national [INAUDIBLE]-- is the Ethiopian community. There are many ways of saying no, as we have learned over the years, but none of them is as irritating as when someone tells you, yes, of course you're welcome to my library. You say, how fantastic. And say, but tomorrow.

And I think it was for two long months I was very pregnant. It was very hot in Jerusalem. And then I decided we're not giving up this time. We kept coming every day. So we'll try tomorrow. We'll try tomorrow.

And it comes the next day, and the person with the key is not there today. No, he had to go to Tel Aviv. And on, and on, and on it went from one day to another. And finally, they admitted that they were not allowed to allow us into the library. We had to request a meeting with the archbishop. Archbishop then told us, you actually need to get a permission. I'm not allowed to give you permission to get into the library. You need to get it from the patriarch in Addis Ababa.

And I think that was definitely the longest trip we made in order to get permission to enter a library, flying in and out of Addis Ababa, meet the patriarch, ask for permission. And you know what? The patriarch, he looked at me, he was very happy to see me because he was the archbishop in Jerusalem many years ago. And he looked, and he said quietly to his secretary, what's wrong with Jerusalem? [LAUGHS]

And that was it. It was-- you know? He said, wait. The synod will issue you a permission. And I remember I said to him, can you please just write it down? Because I cannot come back home and say that I don't have a permission. I need to have it in writing. So he signed it and gave it to me.

And then I went to the archbishop and showed him, yes, we have a permission. [INAUDIBLE] That's fine. But now, the synod needs to meet. You know? It will take a few more months before you'd be able to enter.

This is an example of a text that was brought, as many of the texts in the Ethiopian community were, on the backs of monks and pilgrims who brought these texts by foot from Ethiopia to Jerusalem. Quite an amazing-- I don't know if any of you have seen the movie Exodus with Paul Newman, but there is a famous chase scene that happens exactly here, next to the Ethiopian library, which is next to the circular Ethiopian church of Jerusalem. It's a fantastic place, but the fact that it's circular is very relevant to how Paul Newman gets away from British arrest.

We're moving on away from the Christian community for a bit. This is Khader Salameh, a former sheikh, director of the al-Aqsa mosque library and currently the Librarian of the Khalidi Library in Jerusalem. And here, we ask ourself another question. This is another thing we wanted to understand.

You see what happened to us? We were at the beginning so angry with the people who didn't allow us into their libraries. And after, it didn't take very long, but we ended up actually falling in love with them and realizing that our book is actually about them. It's also about the libraries, but it's ultimately about the people, the guardians of those places.

And Khader is a particular case of someone who had a terrible story. He was born just before '48. Family lived through the [NON-ENGLISH]. They were kicked out of their home. He grew up in a refugee camp. And we wanted to understand how someone who grows up in a refugee camp decides to become a librarian.

So we asked him to take us through the whole journey. We went with him to the place where he was born. We went to visit the archaeological site of [NON-ENGLISH]. And he has a great passion. He's also a scholar. And one of the things that he's famous for is piecing stone inscriptions together. And that's why [? Frederik ?] chose to take this photograph of him surrounded by all those stone inscriptions from the al-Aqsa mosque.

And Khader Salameh became very-- he can be very cynical sometimes about how difficult it is to convince people of the importance of the libraries, the collections, the inscriptions. When the new generation comes in and say, we need new marble in the mosque, and they decide to just cover all the inscriptions with something new, plastic and neon lights, instead of the old books and archaeological artifacts.

Well, we learned a lot from him. And he really opened the door to understanding the city and allowed us into those amazing treasures, just a few of the treasures that he showed us. Do you want to add something?

Just that there are several libraries on the Temple Mount Haram al-Sharif that we were able to visit, with the special permission of the Waqf, this is a whole another process of negotiation. We met with the head of the Waqf, which is the Islamic endowment, which answers not to any Israeli authorities but to Jordan, ultimately to King Hussein.

And [INAUDIBLE] was able to give us permission to visit several sites. One is a library underneath al-Aqsa mosque in the old Herodian part of the second temple era part of that mosque. A second is steps away from the Dome of the Rock is a UNESCO funded library of manuscript restoration where they restore medieval manuscripts on light tables imported from Italy, including a manuscript on the day that we visited by none other than [INAUDIBLE], who himself lived in Jerusalem for 10 years and wrote one of his works there. And we got to see that being restored in real time at this UNESCO restoration library.

And then the third is the one that we're seeing now, which is in the al-Aqsa museum, which has basically been closed since 2001. But due to [INAUDIBLE] persuasive powers, we were able to visit.

So what you see here is a [INAUDIBLE] box that contains just a copy of the Quran. But it's not just any copy of the Quran, it was written in the handwriting of the sultan of the Maghreb in the 14th century. He did, himself, three copies of the entire Quran-- sent one to Mecca, one to Medina, and one to Jerusalem. Only this one in Jerusalem survived. And it's such a great, great to treasure. Here you can see--

This is the interior.

Yeah. Here, you can see one of the examples. When he finished doing it, he asked other scholars to proof it, and correct, and edit all the punctuations, and make sure he didn't make any mistakes. What a rare and wonderful manuscript. Was recently asked back by the Moroccans. They requested it. And had to be turned down.

This is why it's so many volumes. If you can only write five lines a page--

[LAUGHS] Another beautiful manuscript, just not-- I'm beginning to be worried about our time. But you can see here a manuscript that was sent from [INAUDIBLE], was written by [INAUDIBLE] from Spain. And it was there he has all those amazing writing. You can actually read it in various ways. You can read it-- you start from here, and you can read to the right, or to the left. And you climb up, and it rhymes whichever way you go. And this is a manuscript that was dedicated to Saladin as the hero of Islam and is at the Khalidi Library today.

It turns out that you don't stop imagining Jerusalem once you're in Jerusalem. And you don't stop longing for Jerusalem, even when you're in Jerusalem itself. And we thought, what else could explain the paradoxical abundance of copies of Jerusalem and models of Jerusalem in Jerusalem itself in many of the archives that we visited?

This is one that, I think, reflects the duality of Jerusalem, which was a wooden model built by Conrad Schick in the 19th century, who is a German-born missionary, and architect, and archaeologist, who wasn't just renowned for his craftsmanship, but he was also one of the very few people who was allowed into the cisterns underneath the Temple Mount and did very, very precise measurements. And many of these pieces on his model you can actually lift up and see.

Or changed them so you can actually-- this is really part of the imagination, that you can remove the mosque and put the first temple on the top, or the second temple, or play with all the parts like a little jigsaw puzzle.

And this is sort of a segue way our next section, because very few people who live in the ultra-orthodox section of Jerusalem today, which is called Mea She 'arim, know that the urban design of that neighborhood was designed by none other than the Lutheran missionary, Conrad Schick.

He himself built his own house around the corner of the Ethiopian church compound, which we'll talk about later. But before we do, one of the places in Mea She 'arm that Merav and I got to visit was called [INAUDIBLE] Galicia. Maybe you can take us there.

Yeah, it's quite rare that people call themself after a place that doesn't exist anymore. When we walked into [INAUDIBLE] Galicia, I was struck by a few things, but mostly by a big map on the wall. And having known quite a few ultra-orthodox places, it was the first time I saw a map on the wall in [INAUDIBLE].

And I asked the archivist, why do you have this map on the wall? And he said, well, it's because we are obliged to-- we are a charity, and our charity is dedicated to everyone who comes from Galicia. But we don't really know where Galicia is, and we have to trace it down to the dots on this map. So if someone who comes to us and says that he is from Galicia, we look up at where the village that they came from, and we check that it's actually from the area that is included in our mandate of support.

Now, this is just a real introduction, a very simple introduction to the entire big world of the ultra-orthodox community. And I have to make a little confession here. For a long time, we just presumed that it would be very hard to get into Mea She 'arim and to visit the archives there. And therefore, we just delayed it.

But once we did-- you know, dressed up nicely and knocked on the door-- we found the most welcoming world. And it was very humbling and very important to realize it that it was just really simply our own mistake of not doing it earlier.

But the problem we encountered there is that there's very little historical consciousness-- so the communities that are dedicated, truly dedicated, to charity work, but are not as obsessed as other people would be with writing their own histories. So the archives are not important for their own sake. They are important for other reasons, mainly as a database, a big database to know who you could apply to to get support from for donations.

One of the communities explains that if they made a promise 100 years ago to someone who gave them money, that they would pray on the day [INAUDIBLE], the day of their death. And they are committed to it, so they have to digitize it to keep their promise. So that would be a reason for them to keep the archive, just so they know what they have to do.

But what they do have-- and after explaining earlier that everything in Jerusalem in the old city vanished in '48-- so the communities that left the old city before '48, like the Galicia community that moved out of the old city at the turn of the 20th century, they took their then material with them.

Their archives are really important. And they are very much overlooked, because they tend to be non-Zionists. And therefore, they don't cooperate with the National Library or with any of the national institutions to do things together and make sure that their archives are--

Palestinian anti-Zionism is nothing compared to these guys. I'll just say that these images are not altered in any way. These are the multi-exposure glass negatives as we found them in this community. And this is the archivist that hosted us, Fruchthandler.

And we had this idea that we were going to help them by putting Fruchthandler in touch with the eminent expert on 19th century glass negatives in Jerusalem, who's name is Father Jean-Michel de Tarragon, who happens to be a Dominican father at the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem. Which brings us to another very brief story. Which is that Merav and I are visiting the Ecole Biblique Library, which as I said, begins in the 19th century. This is the heart of Dominican Jerusalem outside of the old city.

And of course, Fruchthandler, in the end, refuses his cooperation. But in the meantime, we got to see this library. And the librarian, who was a Polish monk, takes us down to the basement of the library, which specializes in Semitic grammars, and lexical books, and dictionaries. And he says, I want to show you one of our treasurers. It's a shelf that the founder of modern Hebrew in the 19th century, who's name was Eliezer Ben Yehuda, used to come from his house on Ethiopia street.

He lived across from the Ethiopian monastery. Everything comes together in the end. And he walked down the hill to the Ecole Biblique. And he consulted our dictionaries as he was recreating and resurrecting the language, as he was creating the first modern Hebrew dictionary. We were the only place that had these grammars and dictionaries. And we still preserve the shelf that he consulted.

And sure enough, there was the Eliezer Ben Yehuda shelf in the Ecole Biblique. And the librarian says thus, we like to say here in the Dominican community that modern Hebrew was resurrected here among the Dominicans.


Eliezer Ben Yehuda was a great friend of the founder of the Dominican community, Father La Grange.

The last thing we want to really talk to is in yet another instance of surprising acts that transcend the usual boundaries of Jerusalem and that involve preserving the memories not just of one's own community, but preserving the memories of others. Just like in the Eliezer Ben Yehuda Dominican case, here's another divide that we discovered for the first time in our researches for the book.

Yes. So I told you a few times that the Jewish libraries in the old city were destroyed, except one. And this is just a story of this woman and her family. The Vinograd family had a yeshiva, called Yeshiva [INAUDIBLE], in the old city. And that yeshiva had been through a lot of trouble during the riots at the beginning of the 20th century. In the '30s, it was basically evacuated.

But it remains there. And it had its library there. And in 1948 when everything else was looted and destroyed, the [? Basha ?] family took over this place and concealed the library.

Behind a false wall.

They built up a false wall, and they closed this place.

In 1967, Yeshayahu Vinograd, who is a--

Israeli Jews were not allowed into the Old City at all between '48 and '67. So the Vinograd family did not know the fate of their library.

And when the bibliophile and a great man on his own account decided to go and see, the first thing he did in '67 was to go back to see what happened to the yeshiva. And he knocked on the door, and was let in. And they opened the only library that survived.

It's also a tragic story. Because today, the family continues to live right next to that yeshiva. The yeshiva was now handed over to a group of settlers who don't know the story and don't care about it and make her life very miserable. And we went to talk to her and asked her--

Well, Merav and I interviewed-- Vinograd told us the story. We said, what's the name of the Palestinian family that saved your library? And he said he couldn't recall. He hadn't been in touch since the Six Day War in '67. So we do what we always do. And this is our method of research in Jerusalem-- we knock on doors, cold calls. We go to that place in the corner, we start asking shopkeepers, one of whom says this it's just an urban legend.

Finally, we found someone who says, no, I know the family. Took us there. We knocked on Dina's door. And five minutes later, we're sitting in her living room. And she says, yes, that was my late father who did this. And she takes out a portrait of him and puts it next to her on the couch. That's him next to her.

And so, just like we have this dream of introducing [INAUDIBLE] to the Talmudic scholar, Sperber, we have a dream that one day also of bringing Vinograd together with [INAUDIBLE], the daughter of the man who saved the Vinograd Yeshiva library.

I remember how moved you were when you asked [INAUDIBLE], and why did you do that? Why did you save the books when everyone else didn't? And he said, it was the right thing to do. It was just so simple and so normal.

We want to leave some time for questions. So maybe we'll just conclude on this note. After a couple of years of negotiation extortion on our part and playing on the rivalries, we were finally allowed into the heart of the Greek Orthodox community of Jerusalem. And that is their manuscript library, which is almost never visited, I think it's fair to say. Right, Merav?

It was closed for a long time for renovations. And so that was the official line. Some scholars who had good contact were able to get a single book here and there. But they're really sensitive and really prefer not to let anyone in. They sometimes would digitize something for you, if you asked for a specific page. But it's not easy to.

However, yeah, we were allowed in. And I think that this is one of the most wonderful and intimate photographs. This is Theophilos III, patriarch of Jerusalem. And Father [INAUDIBLE], who is a real scholar, and a lover of books, and a keeper of them, he's really-- you know, when I told him that we wanted to do this book, he said, but we don't want to encourage tourism. Our library is not for tourists. That's not what it's about. Serious scholars know about our library, and they can always write to us. That was one of his lines.

But one day-- you know, I asked specifically to see some of their treasures. And we'll finish with the last image of one of their amazing treasures. And I asked to see just a couple of their beautiful manuscripts. And we had the permission to come and take photographs.

And the evening before, he calls and said, would you mind if we have the meeting not in the patriarchate just with those books, but let's do it in the library. And so then we finally had the permission to come in, to bring the camera, for Frederick to come and also take this exceptional photograph.

I didn't tell you, but I took a page when you weren't looking.


Two of the most famous and well-known manuscripts that the Greek Orthodox Library has are palimpsests. Maybe. We'll just conclude by saying that we finally, after years of working on this book, realized retroactively what we had been doing. And that is that we had read Jerusalem itself as a kind of a palimpsest in which text has been written over a text, in which the upper text doesn't eradicate the lower text, doesn't eradicate or overwrite memory as much as it really preserves, even unwittingly, the earlier memories, the earlier texts. And so we started to realize that what we've been doing actually all along is to look at Jerusalem as a series of texts, sometimes in very different languages, that have been reaching for each other across the centuries, somehow speaking to each other, somehow preserving each other, even when they weren't intending to.

These are the concluding notes, but I'll just tell you what you're actually looking at. And what you see here is a palimpsest, which means that this is parchment which was erased and a new text written over it. But with the use of the simplest technology of infrared, nowadays you can actually take a photograph and find the old text. And in this particular one, you can see that there is a lost play by [INAUDIBLE] that was discovered below the text.

Four centuries separate the upper and lower texts, in this case. So I think with that, we will conclude our little tour of Jerusalem's archives. And we would welcome any comments and questions.