Jerusalem was a fortified, one square Km, cramped city with about 25,000 people. Danger lurked at every corner and only the brave or bandits tried their luck outside. 

It was in this era that the Sir Moses Montefiore would come up with the idea of building a neighborhood outside the city walls. Space was not an issue.  Together with the money donated by the wealthy Jew from New Orleans, Judah Touro, he built a luxurious neighborhood, with 16 wide apartments, new kitchens, a Sepharad and Ashkenazi synagogue and wide clean streets. Once completed, he proudly announced the real-estate to all and awaited the herds to sign up feverishly, and put the “no vacancy” sign. Montefiore waited in vain since the Jews were reluctant to move in and saw the neighborhood as a suicide attempt!

The Houses of Mishkenot Sha’ananim

Photo: Ron Peled

They were not looking to endanger their families and would not move anywhere that was not fortified. Montefiore, not wanting to leave his investment empty was left with one option; pay off the Jews that were willing to come and live in the neighborhood and build a strong gate for the compound. He even decided to give the neighborhood a name from the Book of Isaiah 32:18: “My people will abide in peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings and in quiet resting places.”

The dwellers in return had rules and regulations like having to recite daily prayers for their benefactor, Judah Touro, and had to keep specific hygiene rules. This would pay off a few years later when a plague would infect the old city, leaving behind many deaths inside the walls but zero in Mishkanot Shenanim. 

Montefiore Windmill in Mishkenot Sha’ananim

Photo: Ron Peled

Montefiore decided on building the dwellers a windmill that could serve the Jews of the city. He sent all the pieces from London, brought over engineers to instruct the workers and left it in their hands to make food and prosper. But the machine soon broke down and no one bothered to fix it since the steam engine arrived in Jerusalem and it was much more productive. 

After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, when the Old City was captured by the Jordanians, Mishkenot Sha’ananim became a no man’s land due to its proximity to the armistice line with Jordan. Many residents left in the wake of sniper attacks by Jordanian Arab Legionnaires leaving only poor inhabitants who couldn’t afford to leave, turning the complex into a slum. However, in 1967, during the 6 day war, Jerusalem was liberated and the boarder with Jordan was pushed east to the Jordan river.

Today Mishkenot Sha’ananim serves as an upscale guesthouse for internationally acclaimed authors, artists and musicians visiting Israel. And its Windmill is being restored to work once again.

Mishkenot Sha’ananim Ice Wind Mill

Photo: Ron Peled