The Hekdesh (Consecration) Houses in the Village of Shiloach
The hardships of the Yemenite immigrants slowly gained the interest of the Jews of Jerusalem. Their suffering was reported and chronicled in newspapers of the time, "Halevanon", "Hatzfirah", "Ha'asif' and especially in the newspaper of Rabbi Israel Dov Fromkin, "Hachavatzelet".
In Heshvan 1884, Rabbi Israel Dov Fromkin established the Ezrat Nidachim, (Help to the Remoted), society. This society was created in London and titled “Ezrat Nidachim Society, in honor of Moses and Judith” (Montefiore). Other members were Jews from both Palestine and abroad. The goal of the society was "to assist our poor brothers in finding housing and occupation and to prevent their falling into the hands of missionaries". The first to be helped by the society were the immigrants from Yemen. The society called out to their fellow Jews for donations to build houses for their brothers the Yemenites. Various leaders of the society traveled to meet the most prominent wealthy Jews of the time, to collect donations. Among the donors and active fund raisers were: Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimmer from Berlin, Rabbi Ya'akov Arieh Salphandi from Duckheim, Germany, Baron Morris Hirsch, Clonimus Kalman Halreich from London, Yoseph Kokia, head of the Georgian community in Jerusalem, Yoseph Navon, builder of the train tracks from Jaffa to Jerusalem (and
grandfather of Mr. Yitzchak Navon, later to be president of the State of Israel) and many others.
The society needed a donation of land as well, and from several offers they chose the land of Rabbi Boaz son of Rabbi (במוהרר) Yonatan Mizrachi of the Sephardi community (סט), the Babylonian (originating from Babylon, today’s Iraq). Rabbi Boaz was not wealthy, but was an honest man and a true lover of the Land of Israel in all his might, and his good heart made him donate his land to set up a neighborhood next to the waters of Shiloach, with spring waters and gardens surrounding it.
Therefore he donated to the sephardi Kollel half of the land of sixteen thousand cubits he owned on the slope of the Mount of Olives, in order to build homes “for the families of our Yemenite brothers”. As the funds were raised and the land donated, the society moved directly to commence the construction. On the 10th of Heshvan 5645 (1885) the cornerstone was laid for three houses, and by the second candle of Chanukah of the same year, the first three houses of the Shiloach village were inaugurated.
The 26th of Kislev 5645 was a day of great celebration in Jerusalem, a day of double joy: not only was the land redeemed in one of the most important sites of Jerusalem, but in addition, those immigrants who were so tormented and humiliated before, living on the edge of total despair, finally found their own place in Jerusalem. It was overcrowded and sunken in poverty, but it was a home in the heart of Jerusalem. Thus, for the Yemenite immigrants did the prophecy from the book of Zechariah finally come true : “Old men and old women shall yet again dwell in the streets of Yerushalayim, everyone of the elderley holding his cane in his hand, and the streets of the City shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets” (Zechariah, 8 : 4-5).
“On that same day the crowd went out through the Lions gate: the Rabbis of Jerusalem accompanied by the leaders of Ezrat Nidachim society, the philanthropist Rabbi Boaz the Babylonian, heads of the Sephardi Kollel, joined by many
of the people of Jerusalem, and all climbed their way up the mountain and through the rocks towards the village of Shiloach. Upon their arrival at the site, the three houses revealed in front of their eyes, standing in glory and all of them as one recited, in the name of G-d and with great excitement, the blessing, for seeing a destroyed place in the Holy Land restored to its previous grandeur.”
“The Yemenite immigrants who were to live in the houses made the blessing “to affix the Mezuzah” and the whole crowd answered “Amen” and praise to the Lord. Afterwards, the Yemenites gathered and sang one of their hymns, like they used to do in Yemen on similar occasions. The feelings of all those gathered were awakened so greatly, that many eyes shed tears” (HaChavatzelet,Kislev 1885).
Additional houses of Ezrat Nidachim were built. Each group of houses built, was inaugurated with great joy by the people of Jerusalem and the Rabbis. “Whoever saw this place only several months ago, when it was completely desolate, and whoever sees now the houses built there, will say with a joyful heart: “:G-d, the builder of Jerusalem” (HaChavatzelet, 25 Adar 1886).
In 1891 there were already 45 houses of the Ezrat Nidachim society standing. The houses were consecrated “to the Jewish poor of Jerusalem” and named “the Hekdesh (consecration) houses”.
The poor families who were given the right to settle in the houses, used to live in them three years and afterwards moved out to make room for other needy families. The first residents of the houses were the immigrant families from Yemen, followed by the poor of other communities of Jerusalem. Sections of the Hekdesh houses were used as community structures of the village of Shiloach: synagogue, Talmud Torah, etc. The Hekdesh houses, named also the houses of the Sephardi Kollel, were run for years by the Sephardi Community Council of Jerusalem and not the Ezrat Nidachim society, since the society completed its pioneering mission in building the houses and settling the homeless.