Who Was Moshe Wittenberg?
We have been working on a magnificent new project called Wittenberg Hills, located steps from the Brisk Yeshiva and less than ten minutes from the Mir Yeshiva. Situated near Geula, the original property was built in 1885 and was known as Sha’arei Moshe in honor of its benefactor Moshe Wittenberg. The developer had spoken glowingly of Moshe Wittenberg - but in very general terms. I decided it was high time to research this mystery man.
Having made a fortune in business, 60-year-old Moshe Wittenberg arrived in Eretz Yisrael from Vitebsk, Belarus in 1881. Wittenberg spent the next eighteen years leading the Chabad community in Jerusalem and investing much of his fortune building housing and creating endowments for the city’s indigent. Let’s take a look at some of his projects.
The property with the most storied history is Wittenberg’s first Jerusalem project, Beit Wittenberg (Wittenberg House), located near Damascus Gate in the Old City. This building was originally known as the Mediterranean Hotel, where Mark Twain stayed in 1867 and wrote at least one of the fifty letters that became the basis for his famous book "Innocents Abroad."
In 1882, Wittenberg purchased and redeveloped the property with twenty apartments and a synagogue. The Jewish residents left the compound at the beginning of the First World War, due to hardships and severe famine, and returned at the beginning of the British Mandate until the 1929 Arab riots drove them away. In the 1980s, former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon bought an apartment in this building which he used on a part-time basis and, to add a dash of romance, former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s parents first met at Beit Wittenberg in 1920. Beit Wittenberg is now owned by Ateret Kohanim.
In 1886, Moshe Wittenberg and Nissan Bak bought property called Maaleh Hazeitim (Olive Heights) on the Mount of Olives. They transferred the land to the Chabad and Wohlin Kollel communities, who originally planned to build a cemetery there. Following the 1967 liberation of east Jerusalem, the two communities commenced legal action to regain ownership of the property, and in 1984 the Israeli courts ruled in their favor. Today, over one hundred families live in Maaleh Hazeitim and another two dozen families reside on the adjacent property, Ma’alot David.
In 1885, Moshe Wittenberg built Batei Wittenberg (Wittenberg Houses), a complex comprising five residential buildings plus a synagogue, situated in a quiet setting near the hustle and bustle of Geula. In his will, Moshe Wittenberg required that all revenue generated from Batei Wittenberg be distributed among several institutions and charitable organizations.
Utilizing cutting-edge preservation and construction technologies, the upscale Wittenberg Hills residential project is being developed above the original landmarked buildings. The complex’s synagogue was purchased on behalf of the renowned Rav Yaakov Meir Schechter and will be magnificently rebuilt. We expect Wittenberg Hills will be in high demand, as it is centrally located near Geula, in close proximity to the Old City, and minutes from Jaffa Street and the City Center.
Most people who move to Israel upon retirement typically allow themselves to enjoy their golden years at a relaxed pace; Moshe Wittenberg was the opposite. Arriving at the age of sixty, he was focused on his dual mission of creating housing for the expanding Jewish population and raising their quality of life through his numerous civic activities. In the annals of Jerusalem history, there is a place of honor for Moshe Wittenberg, a pious visionary who worked diligently to expand and enhance the city’s Jewish community.
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.