The Historical Jerusalem YMCA building is a long established landmark, and its 152-foot observation tower a constant feature of an ever changing city.
The Jerusalem YMCA building’s history might officially be dated to the late 1920’s, however the organization first took root in Jerusalem nearly half a century earlier. The YMCA made its first appearance in Jerusalem a mere thirty years after the organization was established in London in 1844. For nearly five decades after the first branch opened to the public in 1878, the organization searched for a permanent home in the city. Originally situated near the old city’s Jaffa Gate, it moved from one location to another until the organization purchased a small building near Damascus Gate in 1909. Its first president was George Williams, the original founder of the first YMCA.
During the First World War, the Jerusalem building was closed by Turkish authorities, but it was later reopened by the British, and provided services for soldiers as well as city residents. In 1920, Dr. Archibald C Harte became general secretary of the Jerusalem YMCA. His efforts to make the institution a center for people of all faiths and nationalities inspired the generous support of James Newbegin Jarvie of Montclair, New Jersey, USA enabling the construction of a beautiful new complex.
Decorative elements represent the three monotheistic faiths. The original 12 cypress trees in the garden, for example, signify the 12 tribes of Israel the 12 disciples of Jesus and the 12 followers of Mohammed. This theme is repeated inside the auditorium and gymnasium, with 12 windows lighting the domes and 12 stone arches rising above the balcony. The 40 columns in the courtyard symbolize both the Children of Israel’s 40 years of wandering in the desert and the 40 days that Jesus fasted; their capitals are embellished with images of the flora, fauna and people of the land.