From classrooms to theaters: Historic schools host arts, support culture in Jerusalem

Aharon Meir Maisié was born in Russia in 1858. After his ordination as a rabbi at a prestigious seminary in Berlin, he moved to Zurich and studied engineering. He then traveled to Paris, where he met with Baron Edmund de Rothschild and offered to become an engineer in one of the settlements that the baron had established in Palestine. To his surprise and dismay, Rothschild turned him down. What the settlers needed, said the baron, were doctors, not engineers.

Undaunted, the multi-talented Maisié remained in Paris where he studied medicine and eventually qualified as a general physician with a specialty in ophthalmology. In 1888, Rothschild appointed Maisié doctor to a number of new settlements.

Among the anecdotes in “The Bridge Generation,” a fascinating book written by grandson Eliahu Izakson, is the story about the day that Dr. Maisié traveled from his home in Rishon LeZion to Petah Tikva to deliver a baby. Soon after he began his journey, he was attacked by an Arab robber. So Dr. Maisié raised the weapon he carried with him, and shot the would-be thief in the leg.

Although the assailant fled, his wound caused him intense pain and he turned up a few days later at Dr. Maisié’s clinic in Rishon LeZion. After the bullet was removed, the Arab asked the doctor’s fee. But Dr. Maisié — a fair and just man — didn’t feel it would be right to take money for this particular operation.

The Maisiés moved to Jerusalem in 1900, and built a magnificent three-story villa in what would later become the center of the city eleven years later. But Izakson, who lived there with his parents, writes that the atmosphere in the Maisié home was not a happy one. During the First World War, their only son, Elihau – René, joined the pro-British spy-ring Nili. Caught by the Turks who ruled Palestine, he managed to escape. But he reached Jerusalem so ill and broken that he died soon afterwards. Perhaps that’s why the Maisiés opened a school within their house when Izakson turned seven: inside its walls they knew he would be safe.

Beit Mazia, a former school founded by the Maisié family, now hosts local theater groups in Jerusalem. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

Called Torah and Labor, it was one of the most progressive schools in the city. Most of the pupils hailed from families that were traditional but not ultra-religious, and many went on to become famous, like Daniel Oster, Jerusalem’s first mayor, and Judge Gad Frumkin, the…

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