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Records of YMCA international work in Palestine and Israel

Identifier: Y.USA.9-2-2


Correspondence, minutes, reports, financial records, architectural data and drawings, audio recordings, printed material, and other records of the work of the American YMCA movement in Palestine and Israel. The bulk of the files concern Jerusalem, with particularly rich documentation on the the construction of the YMCA's landmark West Jerusalem (Jerusalem International YMCA) building, including detailed correspondence files, building and site plans, and specifications for furniture and equipment. There are extensive materials from the 1933 dedication, including correspondence on its planning, transcripts of speeches, and audio recordings of the radio broadcast of the ceremonies. Jerusalem files also include many descriptions of and reflections on political upheavals of the region, including the 1948 war which established the State of Israel, the 1967 Six Day War, and the 1973 Yom Kippur War, as well as the ongoing struggle with racial and religious conflicts. Also included in the records are files concerning YMCA work in other areas of the region, especially East Jerusalem, which was cut off from West Jerusalem in 1948, as well as Peniel-by-Galilee, Nazareth, and other locales.


  • Creation: 1885
  • Creation: 1905-2003
  • Creation: Majority of material found in ( 1920-1999)


Language of Materials


Use of Materials:

This collection is protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright, ownership, and to obtain all the necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials.


The first contact of the American YMCA movement with Palestine was through Luther Wishard during his landmark 1888-1891 tour of YMCA missions worldwide. He found in Jerusalem a small Association with British connections. That Association, organized in 1890 by W. Hind Smith, visiting secretary of the National Council of the English YMCA, had been preceded by short-lived attempts, also British, which appear to date back as far as 1876 or 1878. In 1892, the Arab members withdrew and formed a separate organization with a charter from the London Association. In 1909, the English National Council sent Stuart Donnithorne as the first general secretary.

In 1906, before the arrival of Donnithorne, a request for a secretary came to the American YMCA's International Committee from the committee of the Jerusalem Association. Accounts had already been received by the American Y describing the great need for expansion of YMCA work in the region. In 1907, YMCA General Secretary John Mott and the International Committee planned to send Archibald Clinton Harte to Jerusalem. However, needs in Sri Lanka and India ended up taking precedence, and Mott and Harte agreed to the appointment of Donnithorne by the English YMCA. During his tenure, a site near the Damascus Gate was secured.

With the outbreak of World War I, the Association had to close its doors due to suspicion on the part of the Turkish Government. Following the occupation of Jerusalem by General Edmund Allenby in 1917, however, YMCA work quickly resumed. Branches were set up along the military railroad route. In Jerusalem, YMCA members provided services for men on leave, including tours of the historic sites, educational lectures, and overnight accommodations in tents and huts.

In November 1919, the American and English YMCAs agreed to jointly sponsor Harte to lead YMCA work in Jerusalem. Under Harte's leadership, activities expanded rapidly. From the beginning Harte envisioned the construction of a grand building to provide a range of services and amenities. By 1924, the results of Harte's work were impressive enough to convince his friend, James Newbegin Jarvie, of Montclair, New Jersey, to donate one million dollars towards the construction of a suitable building. A plot of land in the "West Nikephoria" section of Jerusalem was purchased from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate with funds donated by the International Committee of the North American YMCA, the British National Council, and a group of Jewish friends of the YMCA in Manchester, England. Excavation began in 1926 and the cornerstone was laid in 1928. Designed by American architect Arthur Loomis Harmon, the building design incorporated symbolism of the three major western monotheistic faiths, and was intended to embody the YMCA's message of devotion to spirit, mind, body, and harmony between peoples. A commanding feature was the "Jesus Tower" with its carillon, and the building also featured a large library with a collection centering on Jesus. In addition to this building, there was a camp site with a house and athletic field at Peniel on the shores of Lake Galilee, and a camp on the Field of the Shepherds near Bethlehem on which Christmas Eve celebrations were held.

The completed Jerusalem building was dedicated in April 1933 by Field Marshal Edmund Lord Allenby. His address, broadcasted internationally, described the structure as "an international monument of peace and brotherhood." As expressed on the plaque beside the main staircase, the building and the Association it housed were envisaged as "a place whose atmosphere is peace, where political and religious jealousies can be forgotten, and international unity be fostered and developed." The opening of the complex was a major event described in detail in the world press, and the building quickly became a landmark, as well as a cultural, social, athletic, and intellectual center in the city. Its stadium was the only soccer stadium in Jerusalem until 1991. Until the 1960s, it housed the city's only only swimming pool.

By the time the building was completed in 1933, Harte was no longer on the staff. In December 1929 disagreements arose over whether the terms of Jarvie's bequest required that the building project be managed by Harte in Jerusalem or staff from the National Council. Ultimately Harte decided to part ways with the Jerusalem Association, and retired to the house on the property at Peniel-by-Galilee, where he lived until he passed away in 1946. W. B. Smith took over as the next general secretary in Jerusalem until Waldo Heinrichs was appointed in 1931. Racial and religious tensions grew troublesome during his tenure, and were only accentuated by the completion of the building. Its architectural prominence reinforced perceptions among some from the Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish communities that the YMCA was a proselytizing organization. Following a major disagreement between Jewish and Germans members centered around German-language newspapers in the library that promulgated Nazi anti-Semitism, Heinrichs was ultimately forced to resign. Wilbert B. Smith served temporarily as senior secretary for both Palestine and Egypt, until Alvah L. Miller was selected for the post in 1935. Lee Terrill joined the staff soon afterwards as his assistant.

In spite of the tensions and changes in staff leadership, the Jerusalem Association thrived. In 1936 it had nearly 1,500 members and about 800 individuals were participating in the physical education program. Other programs included religious pageants and dramas in the auditorium, Bible study, and weekly lectures on health, travel, and personal problems. The building was a meeting ground of Jews and Arabs and was popular with the soldiers stationed in the region. In 1944, membership rose to 1,927. Activities continued throughout 1946 in spite of the bombing of the King David Hotel just across the street from the building. the Association conducted an open tennis tournament in which British clubs and Jews competed, and was said to be the only organization in the country under which that could have been done. Both Jewish and Arab boys continued to use the swimming pool. In the total membership, 32 nations were represented; two-thirds were Christians (including Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox, and Armenians), a little over a sixth were Jews, and slightly less than a sixth were Muslims.

When hostilities broke out in Jerusalem on the eve of the British departure from Palestine, the YMCA played a significant role. In 1946 it became the headquarters of the Anglo-American Commission of Enquiry, followed by the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine in 1947. In order to escape seizure by one or the other of the combatants during the war that broke out following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the Association turned over the building to the International Red Cross. Provided with funds from the YMCA International Board, the American Friends Service Committee, and the Brethren Service Committee, it became a relief station for both Arab and Jewish refugees. When the Red Cross found it necessary to move, the United States Consulate General took over the building. In June 1948, the YMCA was asked to house the United Nations Mediation Committee headed by Count Folke Bernadotte . In September of that year, Bernadotte and his aide, Colonel Andre Serot, were assassinated, and their bodies were taken to the YMCA where they lay in state before being flown home for burial. The building was returned to the YMCA in 1949, and regular activities resumed.

With the outbreak of the 1948 War, the city was divided into Jordanian-Arab Jerusalem in the east and Israeli-Jewish Jerusalem in the west. The YMCA continued its activities in the western part, serving mainly the Jewish population and a minority of Christians and Muslims, and a new YMCA was established in the eastern part, catering to the Muslim and Christian population on that side of the city. With the great needs in the area, especially for services to the many Palestinian and Jordanian refugees displaced by war, this Association quickly grew and became fully independent in 1954. Headed by Labib Nasir from its inception until Nasir's death in 1979, the East Jerusalem Association's work focused on school education, public health, supplementary feeding for children until these tasks were handed over to the UNRWA for Palestine refugees when that organization was created in 1950. Realizing that something needed to be done for young refugees to help make them self-supporting individuals, raise the self-esteem and stop their dependence on international relief, Nasir led the establishment of a Vocational Training Centre in Jericho for training refugees to be skilled in wood, metal, and leather work. Painting and varnishing courses were later added, along with classes on building maintenance and mechanics and electrical work.

The main building in Jerusalem continued with a membership which was 90 percent Jewish. To relieve Miller, J. Leslie Putnam was sent out as the next General Secretary in 1950, assisted by Herbert L. Minard, who took over in 1959. Minard saw the Association through a major modernization project for the building in the mid-1960s and the 1967 Six Day War. During that conflict, the UN established temporary headquarters for its Jerusalem offices at the YMCA, remaining there over two months. Despite the frequent outbreaks of violence in the region, the Y continued to thrive, running a successful hotel operation, a kindergarten and day camp for Jewish, Christian and Muslim children, an Arab-Jewish youth leaders' club, and numerous sports programs. The membership continued to grow and change as well. By April 2003, the 2,600 members were just under 63% Jewish, almost 20% Muslim, and 18% Christian. In recognition of its efforts in promoting peace, kinship, and the dignity of humankind, the Jerusalem International YMCA (or JIY), as it came to be called, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, and was awarded the first Jerusalem Marta Prize for Tolerance and Democratic Values in 1996.

The East Jerusalem Association also continued to thrive. Construction of a modern headquarters building with hotel facilities was completed in 1965. The facility also included a full physical recreation department, auditorium, and meeting rooms. It ran the Field of Shepherds site in Beit-Sahour, near Bethlehem and started YMCAs in Nazareth, Gaza, and Ramallah. Services to refugees continued to be a focal point with programs including a leadership development program, summer day cam, sport activities, educational and cultural activities, and the Jericho Vocational Training Centre.

The JIY was unique among the many YMCA programs the American Y movement helped to found in that whereas most of these Ys were turned over to autonomous, local leadership within a few decades of their founding, the Jerusalem Association remained under the auspices of the YMCA of the USA. Financial and political challenges continued to keep the West Jerusalem Association from becoming fully independent for the better part of a century. Lifelong JIY staff member Rizek Abusharr became the first indigenous Director General in 1998. After Abusharr's retirment in 2002, however, the role was again filled by an American, Len Wilson. Norris Lineweaver accepted the assignment to follow Wilson in 2005 on condition that Y-USA would support a transition to local board control and selection of his successor. In October 2008, the Y-USA Board of Directors, at the request of the JIY Board of Directors, approved a resolution to move JIY to full independence and local control over the following two years. In May 2009, Forsan Hussein became the JIY's first CEO not appointed by Y-USA.

Foreign Work and World Service Secretaries serving in Palestine/Israel (and their dates of service) include the following:

Adamson, Arthur Quintin (1929-1933) MacDonald, Jan (1932-1939)
Armstrong, J. Bruce (1980-1981) Miclot, Robert W. (1972-1974)
Barwick, John Workman (1923-1926) Miller, Alvah Leslie (Senior Secretary, 1935-1950)
Buswell, Karl Porter (1925-1927) Minard, Herbert Leslie (1950-1973, West Jerusalem Senior Secretary 1959-1973)
Bussey, Michael (1975-1977, JIY Director 1990-1998, 2009) Moffat, Ronald Colin (1969-1971)
Crackel, Mathew David (1932-1936) Ogle, Homer Benton (1944-1945)
Dean, David F. (JIY Director 1987-1990) Pollock, Richard and Kathleen (1978-1980)
Glunkler, Hermann (1925-1933) Putnam, James Leslie (West Jerusalem Senior Secretary 1950-1959)
Harte, Archibald C. (General Secretary 1920-1930) Rhoads, James L. (JIY Director 1976-1981)
Hartman, Paul C. (1946-1930) Rymer, H. Russell (1963-?)
Heinrichs, Waldo Huntley (General Secretary 1932-1934) Schmidt, Clarence Frederic (1960-1976, West Jerusalem Senior Secretary 1973-1976)
Hyde, Richard Wallis (1965-1968) Smith, Robert H. (1968-1969)
Koronakos, John Peter (1953-1955) Smith, Wilbert B. (1934)
Lattof, Nicholas Michael (1928-1936) Terrill, Lee Miller (1936-1949)
Lineweaver, Norris (JIY Director 2005-2009) Thompson, Fred D. (1951-1952)
Lockley, Arthur (1927-1928) Wilson, Len (2002-2005)
Sources of ths historical background sketch include and were largely directly quoted from the following: "In the Heart of the Holy City" (1931); "Perfect Harmony: The Symbolic Design of the Jerusalem International YMCA" (2003); and Kenneth Scott LaTourette, World Service: A History of the Foreign Work and World Service of the Young Men's Christian Associations of the United States and Canada,(New York: Association Press, 1957). Additional information was gleaned from various material in the collection.


21.4 Cubic Feet (28 boxes)


Correspondence, minutes, reports, financial records, architectural data and drawings, audio recordings, printed material, and other records of the work of the American YMCA movement in Palestine and Israel. The bulk of the files concern Jerusalem, with particularly rich documentation on the the construction of the YMCA's landmark West Jerusalem (Jerusalem International YMCA) building. Also included in the records are files concerning YMCA work in other areas of the region, especially East Jerusalem, as well as Peniel-by-Galilee, Nazareth, and other locales.


These documents are organized into the following sections:

  1. Background Information
  2. General Files
  3. Topical Files
  4. Financial, Fundraising, and Property-Related Files
  5. Jerusalem Building Records
  6. Peniel-by-Galilee / Harte House
  7. East Jerusalem YMCA
  8. Printed Material

Physical Location

See Detailed Description section for box listing.


Additional building plans, blueprints, maps, and related materials are separately stored in the flat files.

Tower Views, a bulletin of the Jerusalem International YMCA is separately cataloged in the serials collection.

Processing Information:

Processed by: Lara Friedman-Shedlov , 2010.

Catalog Record ID number: 5676662

An Inventory of Its Records
Finding aid prepared by Lara Friedman-Shedlov.
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Kautz Family YMCA Archives Collecting Area