There is a house on David Yellin St. that’s earned quite a reputation. Three stories of solid white Jerusalem limestone sit behind a small white gate out front and a garden above. It’s a narrow street, just a single lane. This little street sits at the intersection of worlds.
A half-kilometer to the south is the famous Jerusalem market, the “shuk”. All manner of shops and restaurants and bars push their fruits and sweets on the countless tourists streaming by. Even the Jerusalem folk navigate through the performers, and the visitors, and crowds, every Friday to make Shabbat happen. A little farther north is another big market street. Black hats, and white shirts, and wigs, and heads scarves, distract from the fact that the people here need to purchase food and clothes and support their families, as well. Sandwiched between the fast pace of the modern world and fast pace of the timeless world, are the people that are running about doing their errands and living their lives.
There are a number of houses on this little one-way road, some small, some grand, some loud, some quiet, but none are quite like the white stone house with the rooftop garden. This little house sits at the intersection of worlds. Teachers in black and white, students in colored plaid, men with great beards, boys with some or none, devoted chassidim and young adults from the Western world, all together to learn a shared past and create their future. A place where the old world gives birth to the new.
The house is full to overflowing, feet running up and down and all around all day long. There are classes and prayers and meals and late night conversations. A place where people want to learn and grow and get in touch with who they are. A place where success isn’t measured in fashion or fitness or scholarliess, where proving yourself simply means showing up, both in body and soul. A place that’s right here, in a time that’s right now, with a host of souls all making real bonds.
The house on David Yellin St. is a place where those who woke up one day and realized they didn’t have to be like everyone else soon find themselves. It’s a place run by people who serve others without submitting to them, who demonstrate how to serve something other than yourself. The house is a boiler room of sound, of passion, of fire. It’s a place hot enough to keep warm those in distant lands.
It’s also more than just pretty words. It’s a place where Jews come to learn about being Jews. And where else will you find a yeshiva where Jews can sing ancient melodies with all their heart in the basement one night and wake up for morning yoga on the rooftop, the next? Where else will you learn the mystical insights of simple Bible stories with black-coated chassidim with your fellow Western-born and raised American or South African or Venezuelan Jews?
Many a traveler has found their feet hitting the hard stone floors of the white stone house with suitcases always arriving or heading out. Hardly a week goes by without a new suitcase arriving upstairs. By plan or by providence. Those who connect find themselves surprised how they even arrived, plucked out of their daily expectations to a place that shockingly resonates.
The house on David Yellin St. is rather unassuming on first glance. The first thing a first-time visitor might notice would be the extensive library in every room. Every available space has become a place to hold classes and store books. From early morning till late evening, books are opened and learned and the sound of discussion echoes through the short halls. The main library is unlike most others in the Western world. If it’s quiet here, then something’s deeply wrong. The sounds here are certainly not silence. They’re sharp and alive all throughout the waking hours and often deep into the night.
The voices in this house are warm, personal, and uplifting. It’s an education in living, in being, in understanding identity and learning for the sake of learning. A bad educational system would be an academic rat race where success is measured by the student’s distance from his classmates. A good educational system would be where more knowledge equals a higher degree of responsibility to teach. The main program is meant for those who want to learn regardless of affiliation. No one is turned away for lack of knowledge, only for a lack of professed desire.
So what makes a house a home? The place you hang your hat? The place you legally own? Or is a home something more than a list of qualities, a poem of pretty words, rather a place where real relationships begin? The place where real connections take place, where you feel comfortable expressing more and more of who you are. The place where you are needed, the choice you don’t need to justify.
Not every place that people live is a home, but the house on David Yellin certainly is! This white stone house, only a few stories high with a little garden on top, with a white fence out front, sitting among the tan and winding streets of the growing City of Jerusalem, is a home to countless souls, and I am so grateful I am one of them.
Written By: Jonathan Stebbins, Current Mayanot Student