The Remarkable Story of the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus

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A view of Jerusalem and the Old City from Mount Scopus – October 2015

 

By Gideon

October 11, 2015

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, founded in 1918 and opened officially in 1925, It is ranked internationally among the best universities in the world and first among Israeli universities. Its early sponsors and supporters include visionaries like Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Martin Buber and Chaim Weizmann. These days it serves 23,000 students from 70 countries, it produces a third of Israel’s civilian research and is ranked 12th worldwide in biotechnology patent filings and commercial development.  Between 2002 and 2010, Nobel prizes were awarded to seven of its faculty and students. However, the road leading to such accomplishments was as difficult as the history of the State of Israel.

The Israeli institute for statistics recently published data showing that there were more Jews in the world on the eve of the Holocaust in 1939 than today. Worldwide, there were 16,000 million Jews  in 1939 compared to 14.3 million Jews in 2015.  In 1939, only 449,00 (3% of the Jewish people) lived in Israel. 6.2 million ( 43% of the Jewish people) live in Israel in 2015. The transformation of Eretz Israel from a remote and forgotten corner of  the world into a vibrant technologically and intellectually advanced country could be explained through the story of the Hebrew University: Determination, vision, and talent overcame obstacles that at the time seemed impossible to negotiate.

Mount Scopus, (834 meters above sea level), is overlooking Jerusalem. Its Hebrew name means “mount of the spectators” as it is one of the few places from which both the Dead Sea and the Dome of the Rock can be seen.  It derives its Latin name from its use as a vantage point for the Roman Army during its suppression of the Jewish Great Revolt, from which Titus’ legions planned their final attack on the city in 70 CE. It has consequently always been seen in terms of military importance; Titus, the First Crusade, and General Allenby all used the mountain as a military camp.

About 85,000 lived in Eretz Israel in 1914 (about 1% of the Jewish people). On November 2, 1917, Britain’s Lord Balfour announced that “His Majesty’s Government views with favor the establishment of a national home in Palestine for the Jewish people.” Shortly after that announcement, the Hebrew university was built by  the Zionist movement in its quest to give a practical meaning to Balfour’s  announcement. In 1918, there weren’t many more important things for the “People Of The Book”  than opening a higher education institute in Jerusalem as a symbol of renewal of Jewish life in the Promised Land .

The cornerstone for the university was laid on July 24, 1918. In 1923 Albert Einstein visited Eretz Israel, which at the time was under British occupation.The highlight of Einstein’s tour came atop Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus, where he gave the inaugural lecture at the Hebrew University. For several years, Einstein had fundraised around the world to help establish the Jewish university, and to generate support for Zionism in general.

On April 1, 1925, Mount Scopus became the site of the Hebrew University. It was opened at a gala ceremony attended by the leaders of the Jewish world, distinguished scholars and public figures, and British dignitaries, including the Earl of Balfour, Viscount Allenby, Sir Herbert Samuel, Dr. Chaim Weizmann, Chief Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook, and Haim Nahman Bialik. The Hebrew University was joined soon afterwards by Hadassah Hospital, the most modern and well‑equipped medical facility in the entire Middle East. 

The classes were small and students few in number. Classes were conducted in the late afternoons so that students who were working  could come. Many of them worked as laborers in the construction of the campus. In the early days, the university’s character was molded by the chancellor, Dr. Yehuda Leib Magnes. In order to establish itself as the country’s leading scientific institution, the university sought outstanding academic figures in the world, who would be willing to work under pioneering circumstances. Students, too, were sought locally and abroad. For them, the university was not only a place to learn but also a place to attain a Zionist foothold. By 1947, the University had become a large research and teaching institution.

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There was a serious drawback to the Mount Scopus location; the single road to both hospital and university was surrounded by hostile Arab neighborhoods. During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, attacks were carried out against convoys moving between the Israeli-controlled section of Jerusalem and the University. The leader of the Arab forces in Jerusalem, Abdul Kader Husseini, threatened military action against the university Hadassah Hospital “if the Jews continued to use them as bases for attacks.” 

To reach Mount Scopus vehicles had to pass through the Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, a constant hazard despite the British unit stationed there to prevent attacks on vehicles travelling to and from Mount Scopus. The Haganah took additional precautions and hospital staff was transported to Mount Scopus in armor-plated buses, which were escorted by an armed Haganah force in armored cars. Even ambulances were covered with metal sheeting.

In 1948, following the UN Partition Plan and anticipating Israel’s declaration of independence, Arab troops blocked access to Hadassah Hospital and the Hebrew University campus on Mount Scopus, Jerusalem. The Haganah had used Mount Scopus as an outpost and a base for a raid on the village of Wadi al-Joz on February 26, as part of the struggle to defend convoys and transportation in north Jerusalem. The area covered by the Hadassah hospital had great strategic importance, since it allowed one to take the Arab lines from their rear.

At a press conference on March 17, the leader of the Arab forces in Jerusalem, Abdul Kader Husseini, threatened that Hadassah Hospital and Hebrew University would be captured or destroyed. Abdul Kader Husseini was subsequently killed, on April 8, by Meir Carmiel, a mobilized Hadassah worker. Arab snipers’ fire on vehicles moving along the access route had become a regular occurrence, and road mines had been laid. The British Colonial Secretary and the High Commissioner had given assurances that the relief convoys would be given British protection.

When food and supplies at the hospital begun to dwindle, a large convoy carrying doctors and supplies set out for the besieged hospital, marked by a “red shield”, which should have guaranteed its neutrality. The British commander of Jerusalem assured the Jews that the road was safe. For the preceding month, a tacit truce had been in place and the passage of convoys had taken place without serious incident. 

The Hadassah convoy massacre took place on April 13, 1948, when a convoy, escorted by Haganah militia, bringing medical and military supplies and personnel to Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus was ambushed by Arab forces. British soldiers who witnessed the slaughter prevented Haganah defenders from reaching the site in order to assist those being attacked. British soldiers nearby watched the scene without doing a thing to help the passengers in the convoy. Seventy-eight Jewish doctors, nurses, students, patients, faculty members and Haganah fighters, and one British soldier were killed in the attack. Dozens of unidentified bodies, burned beyond recognition, were buried in a mass grave in the Sanhedria Cemetery. From that point on, Mt. Scopus was cut off from Jerusalem and the university’s campus became an Israeli enclave within the territory controlled by Jordan. One month later, Jordanian Legion soldiers attacked Mt. Scopus, but were beaten off.

In August 1948, the provisionary Israeli government headed by David Ben-Gurion dedicated a special session to the Hebrew University. In a letter sent by Ben-Gurion to the directorate of the university, he urged the university to continue serving in Jerusalem as “the central scientific institution of the State of Israel,” and called upon the Jews of the world to assist the university in fulfilling that task.

In the spring of 1949, following the signing of an Israeli-Arab cease-fire, studies were resumed – far from Mt. Scopus. Even though the Jordanians had agreed to allow access to Mt. Scopus, they violated the agreement and blocked that access. In 1958, a new campus was dedicated at Givat Ram, becoming part of the ten-year anniversary celebrations of the State of Israel. The campus became a focus for intellectual stimulation, and the expanding number of students brought to Jerusalem a night life that it had never before known. In 1960, a new medical center was dedicated at Ein Kerem in Jerusalem, serving as an alternative to the hospital that functioned on Mt. Scopus.

In 1948, to preserve the Hebrew University campus, the National Jewish Library and the Hadassah Hospital, Israel agreed to the demilitarisation of Mount Scopus. The existence as the isolated enclave, which was cut off from the State of Israel, was held for 19 years by 120 policemen (IDF soldiers in Israeli police uniforms). Under the agreement, Israeli policemen supervised the major part of Mount Scopus, and until 1967 it remained an Israeli enclave surrounded by Jordanian-held territory. 

After the Old City of Jerusalem was liberated during the Six Day war in 1967, efforts to return the university to Mt. Scopus began immediately, but the full restoration and building of the campus took many years. In 1973, before the work on the Mt. Scopus campus was completed, the Yom Kipur War broke out. More than 100 teachers, students and workers of the university were killed in that war and many hundreds wounded. The academic year was extended into the following year, and all new construction work on the campus was halted for the time being. In 1981, the renewed campus on Mt. Scopus was dedicated.

Nobel Prize Winners associated with the Hebrew University:

  • The 2002 Nobel Prize in economics to Prof. Daniel Kahneman
  • The 2004 Nobel Prize in physics to Prof. David Gross
  • The 2004 Nobel Prize in chemistry to Prof. Abraham Hershko and to Prof. Aaron Ciechanover
  • The 2005 Nobel Prize in economics to Prof. Yisrael Aumann
  • The 2006 Nobel Prize in chemistry to Prof. Roger D. Kornberg
  • The 2009 Nobel Prize in chemistry to Prof. Ada Yonath
  • The 2010 Fields Medal in Mathematics to Prof. Elon Lindenstrauss.

Interesting facts about the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus:

  • Albert Einstein gave the Hebrew University the rights to his name. By doing so, he ensured continued funding to the university. Royalties are paid to the university by organizations who use his name.

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  • All around the world synagogues are oriented toward Jerusalem, The synagogue on  Mount Scopus is the only place where the Old City can be actually seen during prayer. 

 

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Accomplishments:

  • On October 6, 2015, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was ranked the top Israeli university and 178th best out of the top 800 institutions in the 2015-16 Times Higher Education World University Rankings. The #178 ranking represents a major increase over the university’s position in the top 201-250 group last year.
  •  On August 16, 2015, the Hebrew University was ranked #1 in Israel, #3 in Asia, and moved up three spots to #67 among more than 1,200 universities surveyed, in the 2015 Academic Ranking of World Universities. The Hebrew University was also ranked #33 in the world in Mathematics in this objective and important ranking, also known as the Shanghai Ranking. Since its origins in 2003, the Shanghai Ranking has included the Hebrew University among the world’s 100 leading universities every year, consolidating the Israeli institution’s status as a world leader in academia and research. 
  •  On September 15, 2015, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was ranked first in Israel, first in the Middle East, and 148th globally in the 2015/16 QS World University Rankings, a list of the best universities published by British higher education data provider Quacquarelli Symonds. In those rankings the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Humanities was named Israel’s top-ranked faculty globally, placing 128th best among the world’s arts and humanities faculties.
  • On July 17, 2015, the Center for World University Rankings, a Saudi Arabia-based think tank, ranked the Hebrew University as the #1 university in Israel and the Middle East, #3 in Asia, and #23 among the world’s top 100 universities.

 

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The picture of the Pomegranate tree was taken on Mount Scopus’ HU campus in October 2015. To read about the special qualities of pomegranates, click on this link: The Significance of the Pomegranate in Judaism and its Health Benefits

 

To read more click on the following links:

Jerusalem – A City Under Siege

How Jerusalem became the capital of Israel

 

 

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