Jaffa, The Jews, and CMJ: Part II

In today’s Israel, the second largest city is Tel Aviv. A modern city resembling a European metropolis, it came into existence only in 1909 as a small Jewish settlement just up the beach from the historic port of Jaffa. That ancient harbor served as the gateway to Israel/Palestina from ancient times (see last edition) until the 20th Century. For the first decades after CMJ arrived in Israel, both its staff and many of the materials for its projects and buildings came in through Jaffa’s port. 

Dr. George Dalton
Dr. George Dalton

The London Jews Society (now CMJ) made a board decision in 1823, after two years of investigation, to begin a permanent work in Israel. The work was hampered in the first decade by a lack of a permanent station and the death of several prominent workers, including Dr. Dalton, who worked to establish medical aid in Jerusalem. Following the Egyptian-Ottoman war of 1831-33, CMJ, under Nicolayson, was able to purchase a permanent tract of land in Jerusalem just east of the Tower of David and after1833 the work began to expand. Within a decade, in 1842, following the second Egyptian-Ottoman war, the CMJ outpost in Jerusalem sent a staff person to investigate whether there was a need to begin work in Jaffa. At the time, mid-19th century Jaffa had approximately 5,000 residents, a mixed population of Jews and Arabs, both Christians and Arab Muslims.

By 1844, CMJ had made the decision to open a medical clinic and a book depository in Jaffa. The “book depository,” today an outdated term, sold Bibles (in multiple languages) and other religious publications as well as purchasable and free pamphlets. Many religious conversations between Jaffa residents and the CMJ staff happened in the book depository.  The CMJ location, what would soon become known as Christ Church, in Jerusalem also sent Dr. Kiel, a Jewish medical doctor, to serve the community from his clinic. He arrived in 1844 and served some years before circumstances forced him to close the clinic. The depository continued until 1859 before it too finally closed.

Work in Jaffa ceased for some years, but others came to fill the opening the members of CMJ left behind. A group of American Christians from Maine led by a radical preacher began what is now the American Colony. George Adams, an actor turned Methodist preacher turned Mormon and then expelled by the Mormons led a small group of people to build a settlement outside the walls that then surrounded Jaffa. Their purpose was to hasten the return of Jesus by living in historic Israel. They brought with them their houses--prefabricated New England Cape Cod style buildings, four and one half of which survive. Their ability to live in the Middle East did not last long.  The colony soon failed and they sold their buildings.

CMJ's Book Depository in Jaffa
CMJ's Book Depository in Jaffa

The buyers arrived in 1869 from Germany, calling themselves Templars (echoing the reestablishment of the Jerusalem temple). They were a radical group of breakaway German Lutherans. They too came to Israel to hasten the coming of the Messiah promised by Old Testament prophets. In addition to purchasing the existing buildings, they built structures in the neighborhood that the buildings formed. They built or occupied (records are unclear) a two-story stone structure that has now become Emmanuel Lutheran Church–a church that will feature prominently in CMJ’s history in Jaffa, but that is a story for the next installment.

All of this activity, along with a noticeable influx of Jewish immigrants through the port of Jaffa who needed assistance prompted CMJ to reopen a book depository in the early 1880s, send staff, purchase one of the American Colony homes as their headquarters, and begin work in Jaffa again.  Several accounts of conversations between staff and locals survive in journals of that period. Since then CMJ has been active in Jaffa. That period after CMJ’s return to Jaffa will take our account forward in the next installment.


Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.