This is "Y"
Trivia question: What do the Jerusalem YMCA and the Empire State building have in common? Both were designed by the same architect - Arthur Loomis Harmon. The Empire State is 10 times taller than the Jerusalem Y (locally known as the “Imka”) but both were the tallest buildings in town when they were built. On top of that, this YMCA – (which stands for Young Men’s Christian Association, in case you’ve forgotten) – is the only “Jewish” Y in the world. Built during the British Mandate, it opened its doors to the public in 1933, catering mainly to Christians. After the establishment of the state, its charter was changed to allow Jews to sit on the board.
The Y is one of those melting-pot buildings that borrow from a bunch of architectural styles. Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic, neo-Moorish – this place has got it all. In the 50-meter (152 ft.) bell-tower, which looks very “mosquey,” are 35 carillion bells imported from Croydon, England. A caretaker I spoke to said they are rung only on Christmas.
On either side of the main entrance are white-domed buildings, connected to the main building by vaulted arcades. One is a 600-seat concert hall with a pipe organ, which was the first home of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, and the other is a sports center, housing Jerusalem’s first swimming pool. In fact, it was the only pool until the 1960s.
The soccer field behind the building was the training field for the city’s local team, Betar Jerusalem, and the venue for all national and international games until 1991 (at the moment, it’s a giant construction site). Soccer games used to be held on Saturday afternoons. When I lived in Jerusalem as a teenager, there wasn’t a treetop in the vicinity without some soccer fan perched in it on Saturday afternoon. And if you lived on a street near the YMCA, everybody wanted to be your friend because your rooftop was the perfect place to watch the game for free.
What the Eye Spies at the “Y”
The first thing you see as you approach the Jerusalem YMCA – apart from the stunning architecture, of course - is a trilingual sign in English, Hebrew and Arabic proclaiming “Here is a place whose atmosphere is peace, where political and religious jealousies can be forgotten, and international unity be fostered and developed.” So said Lord Plumer, the British High Commissioner for Palestine, at the cornerstone-laying ceremony in 1928.
The array of programs offered by the “Imka,” as it is called locally, would seem to bear that out. The Y runs a Jewish and Arab pre-school (separate classes, but joint activities), and a language school where you can study English, Hebrew and Arabic. It also houses the Great Shape Studio and Mind-Body Center to help you relax (yoga classes, etc.) and stay physically fit (exercise machines, basketball and squash courts, swimming pool, sauna). The library and reading room is stocked with books in English, French and German, as well as newspapers in different languages (open Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.). It has a very charming restaurant (not kosher, so I can’t comment on the food) which also has outside tables on a patio surrounded by greenery.
Altogether it is a very pretty place, with atmosphere to match. First look down: Embedded in the floor of the entrance hall is a mosaic replica of the famous 6th century Madaba map, with its schematic representation of Byzantine Jerusalem. Then look up: Above you is a 17th century wooden ceiling from Damascus, reassembled here.
Like many YMCAs around the world, the Jerusalem Y used to be a cheap sleep. Nowadays, it operates a hotel on the premises, the Three Arches. It has 56 rooms that look quite nice (in the brochure, at least), with prices that don’t sound so cheap to me –$85 for a double room, $70 for a single.
Once you’re there, take the elevator up to the bell tower for NIS5 (less than a dollar) for a panoramic view of Jerusalem.
W. Jerusalem YMCA?
I am a 56-year-old woman, moving yo Jerusalem in July. I heard the YMCA in West Jerusalem would be a decent and safe place to start out until I can get situated. Does anyone know more about the Y? Is there a YWCA?
Re: W. Jerusalem YMCA?
Oops, typo: yo = to
Re: W. Jerusalem YMCA?
Well I haven't heard anything bad about it, and the building is charming. I don't know anyone who has stayed there though. It is a good location, walking distance from center of town and the Bell Gardens and lots of restaurants, etc.