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The President's Room on Mount Zion

On the roof of Mount Zion, one of the tourist spots in Jerusalem, there is a room called The President's Room. This room was built for the first president Chaim Weizmann, who eventually served President Yitzhak Ben Zvi.

VISIT THE PRESIDENT'S ROOM ON MOUNT ZION

 

the president's room on mount zion

 

Not many people know that on the roof of one of the most visited places in Jerusalem - David's Tomb and Mount Zion there is a domed structure inside a room that was officially named "The President's Room".

Narrow and tight stairs that come out of the courtyard of King David's Tomb, lead to a wide white roof, from which there is a surprising panoramic view of the Old City, the Judean Desert, and the Dead Sea. At the edge of the roof, rises a building with a white dome and a door next to it with an inscription painted in black, leading to "the room of the President of Israel". There is also an official sign on behalf of the President's House, which tells the story of the "President's Room" in three languages.

It was reasonable to assume that here it would be told about the President of the Sanhedrin or a large Knesset - but this is a room intended for the first president of the State of Israel, Chaim Weizmann. Weizmann, who held the office between 1949 to 1952, was in poor health and did not visit this room even once. In honor of his 75th birthday in 1950, two Torah scrolls were written - one of which was deposited in his home in Rehovot, and the other was placed in his "second room" on Mount Zion. A Rabbi from a synagogue in his hometown, Mutala in Russia, was also brought to the place.

In contrast to Weizmann, the second president Yitzhak Ben Zvi, who was known to be a Jerusalemite and connected to the culture and heritage of Israel, began to visit the room frequently after his election to the presidency. Between the years 1948 to 1967, the rooftop observatory was the closest place to the walls of the Old City, and from there you could see part of the Western Wall and the roofs of the houses of the Jewish Quarter, the Mount of Olives and the Jewish cemetery spread over it. President Ben Zvi chose the 'President's Room' as a place of solitude, study, and writing, and during the Three Pilgrimages holidays, he welcomed the multitudes of Beit Yisrael and greeted them with the "Blessing of the President" on the roof terrace.

 

Rabbi Shmuel Kahana

The initiator of establishing the "President's Room" at the site was the director general of the Ministry of Religion at the time, Rabbi Shmuel Zanvil Kahane - who worked to strengthen holy places. In the absence of the possibility of reaching the Western Wall, although according to the armistice agreements with Jordan, an agreement was reached regarding Jewish access to the site, Kahane decided to do a lot to give sanctity to Mount Zion. He worked for the sanctification of David's tomb, for the construction of the Holocaust basement, and for the conversion of the hut on the roof of the Mitzvah, which during the War of Independence was a fortified military position with shooting windows to the President's Room.

 

mount zion jewish quarter

 

The association of the chamber with the President of the country gave the site a state dimension so that it also charmed secular visitors and not only the religious public, who came to David's Tomb and went up to the rooftop watchtower to look mainly towards the Western Wall. We note that today, due to the tops of the trees that have been raised since 1967 and the roofs of buildings, synagogues, and yeshivas that have since been erected in front of the Western Wall, it is no longer possible to see the stones of the Western Wall from the roof, but only the buildings of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Despite this fact, the place is a center of attraction for curious visitors who know about it, and it is also included in the tours of the educational series of heritage-deepening lessons, held by the IDF.

The soldiers receive explanations and illustrations of the situation in Jerusalem during the 19 years of the division of the city.

 

The Legacy of the Israeli Presidents on Mount Zion

 

During his ten years in office, President Yitzhak Ben Zvi loved the hours he was there and was seen standing for long periods on the roof terrace - watching with sadness and longing at the Western Wall, and weeping the destruction of the two magnificent synagogues - the ruin and the glory of Israel.

The story of the "President's Room" does not only boil down to the magic that Yitzchak Ben-Zvi found in the isolated room but also the emotional bond that was formed between him and Rabbi Eliyahu Kahana - the collector of the Sephardic synagogue near the entrance to David's Tomb.

The President's Room was entrusted to the supervision of Eliyahu Kahana, by the Director General of the Ministry of Religion. Kahana received the keys to the room and added them to the other keys of the Mount Zion sites, which were entrusted to him. For 45 years, Kahana nurtured the President's Room, turning it into a memorial site for the disasters that have befallen the Jewish people, and a commemorative corner for difficult events that have happened in Israel since the establishment of the state.

After Rabbi Eliyahu Kahana died in 1999 (at the age of 89), his son Rabbi Yaakov Kahana, who inherited his father's qualities as a man of kindness and giving, continued his work in holding the "Heder Hanasi" and even holds a mitzvah meal and Torah study every Monday instead. He also serves as the collector of the Spanish synagogue and volunteers in many settings (hospitals, nursing homes, and visiting patients in their homes).

Like his father, Jacob tries to justify the surname "Kahana", to be attentive to people's plight and to help the weak in Jewish society. His father, Rabbi Eliyahu - did not miss a day in reaching Mount Zion - and was sometimes the only person on the Mount Zion, during shelling and security tension.

 

the israeli presidents room

 

In memory of Yitzhak ben Zvi, there is a stylish chair he used to sit on - above which is a shelf with his portrait, and on it is a file of his books with his signature. The commemorative corners include the heroes of Israel such as Eli Cohen who was hanged in Damascus, the martyrs of the Dakar submarine, Yoni Netanyahu who fell in the Entebbe operation, the martyrs of the Peace of Galilee operation, the martyrs and missing of the Yom Kippur war.

Sigalit, the mother of Hila Bezaleli, the soldier who died in an accident while preparing for the Independence Day ceremony on Mount Herzl, made sure her daughter had a memorial corner there. A candle is always lit in memory of the victims of the holocaust, and a moving display of violins brought from ghettos and extermination camps.

In the President's room, the dimensions are small, sometimes up to 20 people gather for a mitzvah meal in memory of the deceased. Oil candles are lit in the spirit of the verse: "The Lord's candle is the soul of Adam." The popular and humble role model of President Yitzhak Ben Zvi is always addressed and enlightened by Yaakov Kahana. On weekdays as well as on holidays, he often comes to promote the Olim to the roof, civilians, and soldiers, and is full of explanations about the battles in the area in 1948, telling about the secret tunnel that the IDF dug into the mountain under the noses of the legionnaires on the walls (thanks to which it survived) - and about the connection of the President Ben Zvi to the place. He does not forget to tell the story of his father and the genealogy of his family - which is the seventh generation in Jerusalem and traces its origins to the Babylonian exile.

 

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SLAVA BAZARSKY
PHONE: +972 53 4779797