The Jerusalem YMCA during Christmas, 2022 (Photo: The Judean)

On April 18th, 1933, the magnificent YMCA building in Jerusalem which has become an iconic part of the city’s skyline is opened to the public. The first YMCA was founded in 1844 in London by a group of men who according to their statements at the time were seeking “improvement of the spiritual condition of the young men engaged in houses of business, by the formation of Bible classes, family and social prayer meetings, mutual improvement societies, or any other spiritual agency.”  

Branches were established in many parts of England and within less than a decade, there were YMCAs in a number of other countries as well. The rapid spread of the YMCA (The Young Men's Christian Association) concept led to a global conference and the creation of an international headquarters in Geneva in 1855.

In 1878, the first Jerusalem branch began with a small set-up inside an old bookstore and eventually relocated to its own facility near the Damascus Gate in 1909. During World War I, the Jerusalem YMCA was shut down by the ruling Ottomans, who were naturally suspicious that it is being used to assist the Allies in the war. 

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire and subsequent British Mandate period, In 1920, the Jerusalem YMCA was reopened in order to provide various services for their troops as well as the city’s residents. That same year, Dr. Archibald C. Harte, the YMCA International Secretary for War Aid was appointed in tandem as the General Secretary of the Jerusalem branch.

Harte has a vision for a grand building that would overlook the entire holy city which would enable the Jerusalem YMCA to expand its services.  In 1924, he received a financial commitment of $1 million towards the project from his close friend James Newbegin Jarvie, an American financier from New Jersey who was known as the “Coffee King.” 

The Land for the new building was purchased on what was known as St. Julian’s Way from the Greek Orthodox Church. St. Julian's Way would eventually become King David Street.  Construction began in 1928 with the building being designed by Arthur Loomis Harmon, a New York City architect whose firm, Shreve Lamb & Harmon, also designed the Empire State Building.

The dedication of the new buildings was held on April 18th in front of an overflow crowd.  General Edmund Allenby, whose forces defeated the Ottoman Empire in Palestine in World War I, delivered a lengthy speech.  Allenby stated that the new building “is a gesture of friendship by British and American citizens towards Muslims, Jews, and their own Palestinian co-religionists; intended to and calculated to promote a better understanding of each other; in the city which is holy to all three faiths.”

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