The Source of Life
Updated: May 31
Mekor Chaim is a southern Jerusalem neighborhood which 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 ninety percent 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 (or, more accurately, fingers to keyboard).
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 was still under construction. The second apartment was a spacious 3-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 which 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 thirty years ago by the renowned educator and writer, Rav Adin Steinsaltz zt"l; 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 twentieth 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 eleventh century poet and philosopher Shlomo Ben Yehuda ibn Gabirol.
After World War One, Hovevei Zion disbanded and transferred its properties to Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael, or the Jewish National Fund. The JNF bestowed the thirty acres of land to the religious Mizrachi movement, which in 1926 established Mekor Chaim as a village of twenty 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.
Gedaliah Borvick is the founder of My Israel Home (www.myisraelhome.com), a real estate agency focused on helping people from abroad buy and sell homes in Israel. To sign up for his monthly market updates, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.