A charming mess

Part 4: Welcome to Mahane Yehuda

Yosef Navon - Dealmaker

Yosef Navon – Dealmaker

Like Valero, Yosef Navon is a wealthy banker and entrepreneur and a true heavy weight in the world of property and construction, with contacts in the highest Turkish places. It is a well-known fact that things really start to change whenever Navon enters the scene. I pass the hopeful news to my lemon seller from the Arab village of Lifta. Clearly, he doesn’t share my excitement. ‘Oh, I have seen him before’, he says very much underwhelmed. ‘Some five years ago, in 1882, he already had great plans for this area. It was a total failure, as not a single person liked his plan. I can assure you, the same will happen now. It’s all about his ego.’

As a true businessman Navon knows there is no such thing as failure. The year 1887 feels like the right moment for a retry. He makes a new, more attractive plan and his business friends are as excited as he is. They know that simple truth: Once Navon sees an opportunity; make sure you don’t miss the boat. And how right they are! Already in September the first 50 houses are built: Such a huge difference with midget neighborhood Beit Ya’akov that still struggles since its establishment in 1885.

Even more expanding

Ever more expanding

Navon is familiar with the endless Jewish discussions about names (and many other things). He absolutely can’t stand those endless talks without a clear conclusion. With this in mind he decides to make a short cut to an agreement about the name. ‘Dear friends, I would very much like to name our new place Mahane Yehuda, in honor of my beloved late brother, Yehuda’. This emotional rationale has the desired effect. To disagree simply feels morally inappropriate. Mahane Yehuda is born.

A charming mess

A charming mess

Steadily the upper middle class finds its way to the houses in the brand new neighborhood. For the market across the street this means more wealthy customers. By now, I really love to visit this muddy, but crowded shuk. Young and old, rich and poor find their way here, regardless their religion. It has become a kind of meeting place and it’s very photogenic. I just wish I could get my hands on one of these new cameras to take pictures of daily market life at the turn of the century. A sense of regret comes up. I am afraid that in the future I can’t show what a pleasant mess it really was. As someone recently said: “A picture can say more than a thousand words.”


NEXT: The fleeing Ottomans and the entering British.

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