Jerusalem of Old: A Rare Restored Film Captures Life 100 Years Ago in the Holy City

The film, produced for the 11th Zionist Congress in Vienna, shows Bezalel students, the train ride from Jaffa, and much, much more.

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

Passengers traveling from Jaffa to Jerusalem on Passover eve 1913 received a special holiday fare. Footage filmed in 1913 documents the trip.

"On both sides of the stream rise two rocky walls," early Zionist leader Haim Boger (Bograshov) wrote about the journey. "As one ascends the Judean Hills the surroundings become more and more desolate. There is no trace of the forests that were here long ago. On the slope, terraces preserve the earth so that it won't be swept away by the rain."

The film also shows the wires of the single telegraph line between Jaffa and Jerusalem – strung alongside the train tracks.

The film was shot by the company Hamizrah from Odessa ahead of the 11th Zionist Congress in Vienna. The footage was found and restored in 1998 in a joint effort by the Jerusalem Cinematheque and France's National Center of Cinematography and the Moving Image. The cinematheque owns the rights to the film.

The work focuses on Jews and Jewish sites. One can see Hasidic Jews praying at the Western Wall, the burial cave of Simeon the Just, the Emek Refaim neighborhood and the stone-built homes of wealthy Europeans that overlooked the Old City.

We also see students from educational institutions supported by the Ezra organization, officially known as the Hilfsverein der Deutschen Juden. They're dressed in their finest for the camera. We also see young artists at the Bezalel Academy – still Israel's top school for arts and design.

"The perspective on the Arab population in Jerusalem is limited," says Yaakov Gross, a researcher of the history of Hebrew cinema, who restored and preserved the film. Fifteen years have passed since the work was discovered, but funding has yet to be found to finance a translation, distribution and editing in digital form, he says.

The composer Abraham Zevi Idelsohn lived in Jerusalem in 1913 and described the city's atmosphere like this.

"What is east of Jerusalem leaves a tremendous impression on me every time I see it. The Kidron Valley, the Pool of Siloam, the Tomb of Absalom, the Valley of Jehoshaphat– all these bring us back to ancient times.

"It appears to me that the Jerusalem of the past still quivers with the spirit of the ancient Hebrew people, the spirit of the Jewish Bible that was carried here by the wind 3,000 years ago. It caresses my face and rejuvenates my body."

The Bezalel school, founded in 1906 and seen here in 1913, is the first - and still the biggest and most prestigious - art school in Israel.Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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