It’s early on a Friday morning, and a crystal clear, blue sky fills the heavens over Yerushalayim.
The buildings on the Har Habayis reflect the sun’s rays in all directions. In the background, the tens of thousands of gravestones on Har Hazeisim, the resting place of myriad holy souls, resemble thousands of white doves patiently awaiting the new day. Here, from the rooftop terrace of the Siebenberg family’s house, you can see the most spectacular panorama of Yerushalayim, the view that every Jew dreams of during the long years of galus. “Every time I look out and see this sight,” says Mrs. Miriam Siebenberg, “I get emotional all over again. All our lives, my late husband and I dreamed of this.”
We are standing on the terrace of a modern and spacious house. The interior staircases are designed to function as interior balconies; the double-height spaces have painted concrete ceilings finished in wood-grain patterns. Skylights bring daylight into the interior spaces, adding a beautiful shine to the polished stone floors. The architectural style and interior design of this house in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City are new, but this house is very different from what it appears to be. While we may be enjoying the view from a balcony designed by an architect of the 1970s, we are in fact standing above 3,000 years of history. To understand what I mean, all you need to do is descend from the terrace, proceed through Miriam Siebenberg’s living quarters and continue down another level. You will enter the period of the Bayis Sheini, the era of the Chashmona’im. Descend yet another level and you will find yourself standing in the days of Dovid Hamelech and in the days of the First Beis Hamikdash!
The Siebenberg House Museum is a residence above and a museum below. Mrs. Siebenberg doesn’t like using the word “museum” to describe the building. “It makes it sound so old and lifeless,” she remarks. “I see life being an intrinsic part of this house, connecting the chain of generations. We live here, continuing the days of our forefathers who lived here during the times of the First and Second Beis Hamikdash. They lived here and we still live here. It’s not a forgotten museum.
“The house was designed by architects Yaakov Yaar and Ami Shenar, in a modern and minimalist way, known as ‘less is more.’ They combined white walls and modern furniture as well as period-appropriate additional pieces that integrate nicely into the old environment. We feel the house realizes a dream in which there is an unbroken connection between a Jewish home of today and a Jewish home from 2,000 years ago, which apparently served as a palace for the Chashmona’im—and there are even more ancient remains that were found.
The story of the house, like the story of its owners, is fascinating, as it travels through time from the eve of the Churban to the present day. Miriam still finds it hard to believe that she is the owner/caretaker of this unique place, as she takes us through the many levels of the museum. There is no stone without a story and there is no story that she does not know. Since her husband Theo passed away a few years ago, she has been ably assisted by a student named Meir Jermi from Yeshivat Hakotel, who is also enthusiastic about the uniqueness of the Siebenberg House Museum. “There is no such house in the entire Jewish Quarter, and, you realize of course, that this is a place where every home has its own uniqueness,” he says.