the 1920's were marked by a period of rapid development in jerusalem, mainly jewish. initially building was some distance from the city centre and to its west. beit hakerem was the third of six 'garden neighborhoods' built in jerusalem following a design by richard kauffmann (1887-1958). beit hakerem was built in an isolated spot surrounded by arab villages.
the neighborhood's name was based on the verse in nehemiah 3:14 ''the dung gate was repaired by malchiah the son of rehab the ruler of part of beit hakerem, he undertook to build it and set up the doors, locks and bars thereof.''
the neighborhood's founders established a co-operative 'bonei bayit' in 1920. in march 1921 the co-op purchased 282 dunams of land from the greek orthodox church. the 148 members of the co-op included teachers, writers and clerks. according to kauffmann's design the neighborhood was sub-divided into 148 plots. between the houses, public institutions were built. according to the rules of the co-op the land was purchased with the private capital of its members and not public funds from the jnf in order to guarantee that this would be urban and not agricultural land; each plot was between one and one-and-a-half dunams in size to allow gardens between the houses and low density building; the work would be carried out by jewish labor only and where possible by the members themselves; the building would be of stone; materials would be purchased only from jewish suppliers.
the public institutions included a school and kindergarten. at the first general assembly of the co-op the members voted to allocate 14 dunams for a teacher training seminary. the founder of the seminary, david yellin, raised funds in the usa and the building was completed in 1929. in 1930 the day school became an adjunct of the seminary which provided trainee teachers. also in 1930 a six-year secondary school was opened, 30 years before the state of israel officially adopted the system.
of the 148 registered co-op members only 105 built their homes during the period of the british mandate. the building was done in stages. by may 1924 29 houses had been erected and by december this had increased to 69. 51 houses were built by the solel boneh construction company, its first major project, 14 were built by private contractors and only 4 by the owners themselves. the majority were single-storey homes, only five had two floors. each house had 2-4 rooms plus a kitchen and bathroom.
in the southern part of beit hakerem, prior to the establishment of the state of israel, was a separate neighborhood called the ''worker's neighborhood'', between hehalutz and banai streets. in 1925 the 'shomer' mordechai yigal purchased the land and sub-divided it into 30 plots of one and a half dunams each and then sold it to building workers from the jerusalem unit of the 'gedud ha'avodah'.
beit hakerem was the first jewish neighborhood to be built in south-west jerusalem and until additional neighborhoods went up it remained isolated causing transport and security problems. in fact, the establishment of a bus service to beit hakerem marks the beginning of public transport in the jerusalem area and the start of the 'hamekasher' company (later incorporated into egged).
security problems commenced with the purchase of the land from the greek orthodox church and rejection of claims of ownership by the muslim wakf accompanied by arab demonstrations. arabs from neighboring villages tried to stop the early building and were dispersed by the police. there were also a spate of robberies and attacks on individuals walking in the street. during the riots of 1936-1939 arabs from malcha, deir yassin and ein kerem regularly attacked beit hakerem. a guard observation post was erected on the roof of the yellin seminary and other guard posts on the outer perimeter of the neighborhood.
today the neighborhood has changed from being an outpost to become a central location between kiryat moshe to the north and bayit vegan to the south. the neighborhood is close to the hebrew university campus at givat ram, the knesset and the supreme court. its population is about 15,000. the original houses are slowly giving way to apartment blocks although the overall layout of the neighborhood has been preserved.
the area consists of three sub-units: beit hakerem, yefe nof and ramat beit hakerem. yefe nof lies to the west of beit hakerem adjacent to the jerusalem forest. it is characterized by 3-storey apartment blocks of 3-5 room apartments and some single storey cottages.
ramat beit hakerem lies south of beit hakerem and its first buildings date from the 1990's. its master plan includes 2,500 apartments of which 75% have been completed so far. the buildings are 3-5 floors high and apartments mainly 4-5 rooms. most have private parking and many have a private garden or balcony. the main street, rehov moshe kol, circles the area with other streets branching off it.