Gray Hill House and the Mount Scopus Earthquake, 1927
This photograph shows Gray Hill House after it destruction in the Jerusalem earthquake of 1927. Next to the house is a large crack in the earth, caused by the substantial movement of land. Scaffolding is supporting the building, and workers can be seen attempting to shore up the building with planks of wood. Interestingly, the buildings next to Gray Hill House seem to have passed unscathed, possibly due to different standards of construction between the old and new buildings.
On July 11, 1927, Israel and the whole Transjordan region was struck by a powerful earthquake. The earthquake, measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale, was not only the most significant natural disaster to strike the region for many years but has become a landmark in seismology research, as it was one of the first to be recorded by scientific instruments. The earthquake killed 285 people, injured a further 940, and caused substantial damage to buildings in Jerusalem, Nablus, Ramla, and Lod. According to sources, the Yishuv (the pre-state Jewish community in Palestine) made many efforts to raise money and help the Arab communities affected by the disaster. There is a record of one Arab journalist who remarked that, out of gratitude, he would desist from making negative comments about the Jews on that day.
The story of the building in the photograph is very interesting. A British couple from Liverpool called Emily and John Edward Gray Hill spent a month in Israel in 1887. They subsequently returned to Israel every year and established a home on Mount Scopus. Before his death in 1914, Sir John Hill signed an agreement with Chaim Weizmann and other Zionist leaders to transfer his land and estate to them for the construction of the Hebrew University. After his death, Emily Gray Hill honoured the agreement. The university’s cornerstone was laid on July 24, 1918 and the university opened in 1925, with Gray Hill House serving as the Institute of Jewish Studies and the Department of Chemistry.
Emily Gray Hill painted and photographed numerous scenes of the Land of Israel, and an exhibition of her work was held in Jerusalem in 2002.
Connection to Parashat Korach
Parashat Korach focuses on the interaction between Korach and Moses and Aharon, as the leaders of the Jewish People. Korach led a rebellion against their leadership, which, in confirmation of their status, ended in a plague which killed thousands of people. Korach himself was swallowed by the earth, in what was presumably an earthquake.. The Talmud in Bava Batra explains that Korach and his sons were doomed to spend the rest of time under the earth repeating the phrase “משה אמת ותורתו אמת” – “Moses is true and his Torah is true.”
Geography teachers can use this photograph when teaching about earthquakes, fault lines, and the destruction wrought by such natural disasters.
Jewish History teachers can use this photo to explore the interwar period in Mandate Palestine and the rapid advance in infrastructure undertaken by the Yishuv.
Social Studies lessons can explore how communities often come together as a result of natural disasters.
In Jewish Studies lessons this photograph can be used when discussing the biblical story of Korach and the first mention of an earthquake.
When was this photograph taken?
What buildings can be seen in this photograph?
Which famous natural disaster caused the damage shown here?
How badly damaged are the buildings? Explain your answer.
What are the people trying to do?
Reading Between the Lines
Why was this earthquake such a disaster for the Yishuv?
Why were buildings propped up rather than knocked down and rebuilt?
Why was the Yishuv so generous towards the Arab communities?
Why do earthquakes promote such panic when they strike?
Who built Gray Hill House, and what was their connection to Israel and the Hebrew University?
Has Israel experienced other natural disasters since 1927?
Have you ever experienced a natural disaster? What was your reaction?
Create a fundraising appeal for a country currently suffering the effects of a natural disaster. Work together as a class to promote the cause.
Write a letter from the leaders of the Yishuv to a wealthy benefactor in Germany, requesting funds to rebuild a city damaged in the earthquake.