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July 14, 1989 - Image 25

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-07-14

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the family decided to stand on prin-
ciple rather than practicality. "They
didn't know about lying," Meir Stern
says. Holding foreign passports, the
family declared that they were protec-
ting Herzl under what now would be
considered diplomatic immunity.
Herzl left in any case, leaving
behind an empty valise, the first of
the artifacts that Meir's father
Mordechai — a year old at the time
of the visit — later collected into the
family's Herzl museum.

Jerusalemites, or has the danger of
marauders and bandits in those days
been exaggerated?
"First of all, my great-grandpar-
ents came from a fearless country,"
Stern says. "Jews were well treated
in Germany. Plus, a gun can do
wonders." The family also built a
fence around the property and kept a
great dane for additional security.

heodor Herzl grew up in an
assimilated Hungarian-Jewish
family. It was while covering
for a Viennese newspaper the trial of
Alfred Dreyfuss — the French Jew ac-
cused of treason — that Herzl became
convinced Jews needed a homeland of
their own.
While not the first modern Jew to
reach this conclusion, Herzl was able
to popularize the idea. In 1896, he
wrote a pamphlet called "The Jewish
State." The next year he convened
the first Zionist Congress. From then
until his death in 1904 at age 44,
Herzl worked feverishly to convince
world leaders — principally the land
of Israel's Turkish overlords — that
the removal of Europe's poor Jewish
masses to a Jewish state would be in
everyone's best interest.
So, in 1898, when Germany's
Kaiser Wilhelm II paid a visit to the
land of Israel on his way to Constan-
tinople, Herzl sought an audience.
He arrived at Jerusalem's
Kaminitz Hotel on the eve of Shabbat
with a delegation of seven Zionist
leaders to find all the rooms occupied
by the kaiser's entourage. The Jews
spent the night in the hotel's recep-
tion room, Meir Stern says.
Stern's grandfather, Michael, was
told about Herzl's plight and invited
the eight to stay in his house. Herzl
slept in a room on the first floor, the
others on the floor above.
The following days were nervous
ones for Herzl as he prepared to meet
the German emperor. He was suffer-
ing from a fever brought on by
malaria. Lacking proper clothing, he
had to borrow a suit and top hat from
Michael Stern.
When the day of the audience ar-
rived, Herzl was so nervous that he
forgot to put on his tie. Michael
Stern's wife Yachat tied it for him.
Herzl refused food that day, Meir
Stern says, despite Yachat's urging.
"He was afraid that if the kaiser
smelled garlic on his breath he would
be convinced that Herzl was another
stinking Jew."
Herzl's meeting with the kaiser
achieved no results other than a war-
rant for his arrest issued by the
A detective named Mendel
Kramer, a friend of the Sterns, was
dispatched by the authorities to ar-
rest Herzl. But Kramer told the
c) Sterns that he would look the other
way and let Herzl leave.
But being punctilious Germans,


Meir Stern stands before the entrance.

Demolition begins in the Mamila quarter.

The family has
erected a shrine and
defied authorities for
19 years.

he Mamila neighborhood flour-
ished under the British rule
during the 1920s and '30s.
Meir Stern describes a district of
elegance and sophistication. There
were four barber shops on Mamila
Street. At the Picadilly Coffee House,
male members were not permitted to
enter unless they were wearing a tie.
"One couldn't purchase a Cadillac in
Palestine except in Mamila Road," he
Most of the area survived
Jerusalem's division in 1948. In 1970,
the state confiscated the land in the
neighborhood, intending to build a
new commercial district. Buildings
were demolished. But the Sterns
refused to sell.
The Mamila project was besot by
problems and delays and Mamila
Street today is lined by boarded-up
shops and abandoned apartment
buildings. The still-functioning con-
vent looms over the shells of the
former neighborhood. On one
building, someone has spraypainted
the name of _the heavy-metal band
Iron Maiden. A building owned by the
Education Ministry is still in
And there is the Stern House.
Michael Stern's name hangs over
the front door. The front room, which
used to be his textile shop, is now an
antique store. Meir, Chana and Ruth
open the store for two hours each mor-
ning and offer customers and curious
visitors a free tour of their museum.
The three derive little income from
the shop; they each have other jobs.
Meir enters the shop from a back
room, pipe in hand. He neither lets go
of the pipe nor smokes from it as he
tells the story of his family.
Three rooms follow the first, one
behind the other. In the second room
a block of plaster is missing, exposing
the brick wall, a reminder to pious
great-grandfather Judah of the
destruction of the Temple. The fourth
room belonged to grandparents
Michael and Yachat.
The third room is where Herzl
stayed. A visitor for eight days, the
room has belonged to him ever since.
His majestic black beard stares down
from portraits all over the room. The
hat he wore to meet the kaiser is pro-
tected in a glass cabinet.
Other memorabilia, lining walls
and shelves, are meant to be touched



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