Welcome to Chutzot HaYotzer, where an ancient valley of Hell has been transformed into an artistic haven.
By David Moss
There’s a saying in English, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” If this is true, then the stones you are standing on when you visit Chutzot HaYotzer are probably the most well-intentioned stones in the world. For this place is indeed the entrance to what we call in Hebrew the gai ba’hinnom the Valley of Hinnom. This Hebrew phrase entered many other languages as Gehenna the original word for Hell. It was into this valley that the refuse and garbage from the ancient city of Jerusalem was thrown. It was apparently not only physical garbage that was thrown here, but it is also said to be the place where child sacrifice and other immoral religious rituals were practiced by the ancient inhabitants of the area before the time of the Bible.
These actual buildings, however, were only constructed in the late 19th century. They served as stalls for keeping camels and donkeys overnight when their owners would enter the Old City. But the designers weren’t much more intelligent than the animals they were designing for, and built this lane in the wrong direction. Instead of placing the open central lane in line with the direction of the wind, so the animals’ smells would be carried away, they built it cross wind. The horrible odors that accumulated made it impossible to use for its intended purpose. Every morning, as each of us arrives here, this serves as a reminder for both how important thoughtful design is, and how stinky poor design can be. When it was realized that these structures wouldn”t serve their original purpose, this area became a marketplace where local villagers could offer their wares. Immediately after the Israeli War of Independence, this area was smack in the middle of no man’s land, which extended from the walls of the Old City, which was controlled by Jordan, to the neighborhood of Yemin Moshe, which was under Israeli control. It may seem strange that the swatch of no man”s land was so wide; the border should have been clear and apparently was supposed to go right through these gates. The story is, however, that when Moshe Dayan was drawing the armistice map, the pencil he used was quite dull and left a very wide mark on the map. No one knew exactly what was intended, so this whole area became no man”s land. The story serves as yet another lesson for us artists about how critical a thoughtless mark with an inappropriate tool can sometimes become.
During the period between the 1948 ceasefire and the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, there were constant skirmishes between the two sides. Nevertheless, a number of brave artists came here, squatted in these buildings, and insisted on creating even as bullets were flying overhead. Perhaps the best known was David Palombo, who created the beautiful wrought iron gates for our parliament building, the Knesset. As creative artists, we constantly move beyond the conventional and must be willing to take risks.
In 1967 the city was unified, and during Mayor Teddy Kollek’s tenure, the idea was hatched to turn this ancient valley of hell into a cultural heaven. It includes Mishkenot Shaâananim with its guesthouse for visiting artists and music center, the Cinemateque with its film archives, and the museum of the city in the Tower of David. Our little lane was designated to become a center for creative endeavors in the visual arts. Here, top artists and designers transformed these animal stalls into dynamic studios and galleries, where today they create and display their art, share their artistic vision, and interact personally with visitors
When the area was opened in 1969 it was named Chutzot HaYotzer “the lane of the creators”. To assure the highest standards of quality, each of the 26 artists was especially selected by a committee. Many of the artists hold prestigious prizes in their fields, which include painting, sculpture, weaving, ceramics, jewelry-making, print-making, graphics, calligraphy, and leather work. As befitting to Jerusalem, we are pleased to have the highest concentration of top quality artists in the field of Judaica and Jewish art. Two of our artists have received the Israel Museum’s prize for Judaica. The artists from Chutzot HaYotzer are invited to exhibit at many shows throughout the world, and regularly travel abroad.
So in a way, not that much has changed around here. It’s just that now we artists—the current occupants of these lovely stalls—have sort of ourselves become the camels, carrying our wares to far-off and exotic lands
© 2006 D. Moss
The Sign on My Window
To you who have traveld far to reach this particular place, Welcome!
You may be curious to know what place you have reached. This can be answered in a number of ways:
- In geographic space, you are standing 31 Degrees 46 Minutes and 28.51 Seconds North of the Equator and 35 Degrees 13 Minutes 36.70 Seconds East of the Prime Meridian.
- In historical space you are standing inw hat was called in the Bible Gei B’Himmon, that is the Valley of Hinnon. It is the place where pagan Canaanite parents sacrificed their children to the god Moloch. It came to be transliterated into English as Gehenna, another word for Hell. In more recent historical times, these buildings were constructed to house camels and donkeys of those who arrived at the Old City after the gates were locked.
- In the realm of the spirit, you are standing outside of a the working stable of a little donkey who has spent his life trying to carve out a bit of heaven in hell, a little beauty amidst ugliness, a sense of meaning within chaos. You are standing outside of what I can pretty much promise you will be an aesthetic and cultural highlight of your journey to this part of the universe.
- But for that to happen, you’ll need to relocate yourself to 31 Degrees 46 Minutes and 28.26 Seconds North of the Equator and 35 Degrees 13 Minutes 36.74 Seconds East of the Prime Meridian. In other words, you’ll need to walk through the doorway.
Should the prospect of moving these 54.3 inches seem to daunting to you, you may remove one of the tags below and when you get home—may you reach your destination safely and in good health—you can learn what you have missed.
With blessings from the proprietor to all those who enter and to all those who do not.