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Favorite thing: Lions are all over the place in Jerusalem. Not real ones, of course (unless you go to the zoo), but images and emblems of lions. There are bronze sculptures of lions in the parks, colorful plaster lions decorated by artists for a municipal art project dotting the city streets (like the cows in Switzerland), stone lions standing on guard at doorways and lion heads on the walls of traffic underpasses. Lions are even engraved on manhole covers.
Lions are a symbol of God’s ever-present guardianship over Jerusalem. Lions are mentioned 150 times in the Bible, and the biblical name of Jerusalem is “Ari-el” – Lion of God.
“Iron Like a Lion in Zion” is a Bob Marley song. I have no idea what he’s talking about, but I happened to hear it on the radio a few days ago, and it does have a catchy ring to it…
Updated Dec 8, 2004
Favorite thing: A Jerusalem Timeline:
2000 BCE - The Period of the Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
1000 BCE - King David conquers the city of
950 BCE - King Solomon builds the Temple
701 BCE - Hezekiah fortifies Jerusalem
586 BCE - Nebuchadnezzer, king of
Babylonia, destroys Jerusalem
516 BCE - Second Temple built
167 BCE - Hasmonean revolt and
purification of Temple
37 BCE - King Herod rules Jerusalem
70 CE - Second Temple destroyed
132 CE - Bar Kochba uprising
324 CE - Byzantine Christians rule
638 CE - Muslims rule Jerusalem
1099 CE - Crusaders rule Jerusalem
1187 CE - Muslims reconquer Jerusalem
1250 CE - Mamluks rule Jerusalem
1516 CE - Turks rule Jerusalem
1860 - First neighborhood built outside
Old City walls
1917 - British conquest of Jerusalem
1948 - State of Israel established
Updated Jun 25, 2006
Favorite thing: This is one of many booths around Jerusalem manned by black-garbed ultra-Orthodox men who urge people (men, that is) to put on tefillin - phylacteries - and say a prayer. They believe that by fulfilling this religious commandment, we can bring the Messiah sooner. You will see them mainly in the downtown areas or near the Central Bus Station.
The big sign on the table says MASHIAH, the Hebrew world for Messiah. Hung around it are posters of what the Temple might look like if it were rebuilt, which is what some religious Jews pray for. Personally, I wonder about that, considering that one of the main features of the Temple was sacrificing animals...
The custom of laying tefillin is based on two verses in the Bible, Deuteronomy 6:8 and Exodus 13:1. Tefillin consist of two black leather boxes fastened with leather straps. One of the boxes is worn on the left arm and the other on the forehead. Inside are pieces of parchment inscribed with the relevant Biblical verses. The writing is done by hand by a scribe using black ink and special lettering. A scribe must undergo long training before he is qualified to do this work. Tefillin are worn at morning prayers, but not on the Sabbath.
This is the first commandment that boys observe when they reach 13 and celebrate their bar-mitzvah. Apart from being called up in the synagogue and reciting a blessing over the Torah, they have to master the art of winding the tefillin around their arm in the proper way. But don?t worry. If you stop at one of these booths in Israel, these obliging fellows will do it for you.
Updated Mar 20, 2006
Favorite thing: If you burned a hole in your pocket to get to Israel, here are a few suggestions for freebies around Jerusalem to keep your budget down:
1) Yad Vashem – Holocaust museum on Mt. Herzl
2) Rockefeller Museum – Archeology museum in East Jerusalem
3) Round-the-clock entertainment on Ben Yehuda Street
4) Knesset tours (8:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.) – Bring your passport; call 02-6753538 in advance)
5) Anna Ticho House on Harav Kook St. – Art exhibit and historic house (downtown Jerusalem)
6) Mormon University on Mt. Scopus: Free concerts & tour (call 02- 6265621 to reserve a seat)
7) Kikar Safra – Free tours of Jerusalem Municipality & scale model of Jerusalem, Kikar Safra, Jaffa Road
8) Jerusalem Theater – Free concerts every Monday at 5 p.m.
9) Guided city tours – Free, Hebrew and English, Saturday
mornings at 10 a.m. (prompt!), leaving from Kikar Safra (for more information, call 02-531460 or 106 - The tour is 3 hours.
10) Mahane Yehuda - Open market
11) Mea Shearim – Ultra-orthodox neighborhood (modest dress!)
12) Yellow Submarine - Free Jazz concerts on Tuesday nights, Talpiot industrial zone
13) Jerusalem Botanical Gardens - Only if you get there before 7:30 in the morning, before the guard comes.
Entrance to the Israel Museum is free on some holidays.
And of course, the Old City of Jerusalem is the biggest freebie of them all.
Updated Jul 8, 2010
Favorite thing: If a city is walled then it must have gates. The Old City walls in Jerusalem have eight gates, seven of them made during the construction and one added in the 19th century. Gates are heavily symbolic and the very act of going through one is of significance. It's a much more exciting way to enter a city than via a motorway or a tunnel and calls to mind all kinds of dramatic scenes from ancient legends.
The Damascus Gate is the entrance into the Muslim Quarter.
The Jaffa Gate is the traditional entrance for pilgrims, next to The Citadel.
The New Gate is indeed the newest of the gates, opened in the 19th century to give access to the Christian Quarter.
Herod's Gate is very close to the Damascus Gate and allows access to the Muslim Quarter also.
St Stephen's Gate/Lion's Gate is on the eastern wall and gives access to the Mount of Olives.
The Dung Gate is on the southern wall and is the smallest of the city gates. It gives access to the Western Wall Plaza.
Zion Gate was added to give access to the Franciscan monastery left outside the walls by Suleyman's architescts.
Golden Gate is perhaps the most interesting of all. The entrance to the Temple Mount, it is sealed and some believe it will only be opened when the Messiah comes.
Before you come to Jerusalem, looking at the location of all these gates and checking which area of the Old City the give access to is a very good way of orientating yourself.
Updated Dec 12, 2008
Favorite thing: A mug of hot chocolate or a steaming glass of tea are your standard warmer-uppers. Less well-known is sahlab, a Middle Eastern cornstarch pudding/drink with a distinctive flowery scent. Once upon a time, sahlab was made from ground up orchids. But orchids are pretty expensive, and I doubt there is very much of the real thing in the sahlab of today.
Even so, nursing a Styrofoam cup of hot sahlab is a fine way to warm up on a cold night in Jerusalem. In the winter, kiosks in downtown Jerusalem have large metal urns with spigots from which the hot creamy liquid is dispensed. The top is traditionally sprinkled with chopped nuts, shredded cocoanut and cinnamon.
Written Dec 13, 2006
Favorite thing: Felafel is classic Israeli street food. There are fads that come and go. Dozens of eateries sprout up offering New York bagels, Thai food, Italian pizza, Dunkin Donuts, frozen yogurt, etc., soon to be replaced by whatever else happens to be the next big thing. But felafel stands never die. In downtown Jerusalem, the same families have been frying felafel balls, chopping vegetable salads and filling pitas for decades. The kids helped out when they were young and now they’re the ones running the business, with their kids at their side.
Felafel is cheap, filling and good for you – if you buy it fresh. Here are a couple of pointers for making sure you get the best felafel.
Fondest memory: First of all, look around and see how clean the place is. Don’t expect hospital standard cleanliness. Felafel is one of the messiest street foods around. It consists of pita stuffed with felafel balls (made of ground chick peas and spices), a variety of fresh salads, pickles and French fries. On top of that you drizzle various sauces, the most popular being tehina, a green hot sauce and a fiery red hot sauce (called harif). When you bite into a packed felafel, even the neatest eaters will end up with tehina on their shirts and shredded vegetables on the floor. But there should be someone cleaning away the mess every once in a while.
Second of all, the best felafel balls are the freshly made hot ones. If just a few are sitting forlornly in the bottom of the bowl, wait until they make up a new batch - or go somewhere else. There are plenty of options. Same goes for the salads. They should be freshly chopped, not sitting around all day. And have a good look at the French fries (called chips). If they are wilted and oily – try another vendor.
Some vendors stuff your pita automatically with whatever salad is cheapest and they have most of, like chopped cabbage. Don’t let them get away with it. Make a point of showing them which salads you want. In some shops, the sauces are in self-service bowls on the counter. In others, the vendor will look up and say: Harif? If you don’t hurry up and say “kzat” (a little) or “lo, lo” (no!), he will dump a whole spoonful of hot sauce in the bottom of the pita, which will burn your mouth off. So keep your wits about you. These guys are very quick.
Felafel is sold in two forms: In a regular round pita that acts as a pocket (in most places, you can also buy a half) or as “eshtanur” – a spongy flat bread that is rolled up with the felafel balls and vegetables inside. Outside of Jerusalem, incidentally, "eshtanur" is called "laffa." A whole felafel costs NIS 10, and an eshtanur/laffa costs NIS 12.
Updated Feb 1, 2005
Favorite thing: Here are some things you should know about Israeli weather:
Technically, there are only two seasons – winter and summer. Spring and fall are very short, if they exist at all. The seasonal changes are quite abrupt. It can be stifling hot one day – a “sharav,” or “hamsin,” as the burst of heat coming from the desert is called - and the next day you are rummaging in the closet to find your winter coat. The most changeable times of the year are September-November and April-May.
Now, there are not too many definite things in this world, but one of them is this: There is no rain in Israel in the summer. By summer, I mean June, July and August. The first rain of the season is usually toward the end of September, but often there is very little until mid-November.
This is when Israelis start worrying. Because no rain means the level of Israel’s major source of water – the Kinneret – starts to drop. Most of the winter season is taken up with hoping and praying that rainfall will be sufficient to fill the lake and aquifers. Water is a precious resource in this part of the world. You don’t leave the tap running when you wash dishes, or when you brush your teeth. You don’t hose down your car. You don’t fill bathtubs to the top.
When it does rain in Israel, it doesn't last for long. It might rain a day here and a day there, rather than days at a time. The rainiest parts of Israel are the Galilee and Haifa in the north. The driest are Eilat and the Negev in the south. Heavy rains do fall occasionally, taxing the sewer systems and turning some cities into a mini-Venice for a few hours, but again, it doesn’t happen often.
Fondest memory: Another bit of weather info that may surprise you is that it SNOWS in Israel. Jerusalem gets snow about once a year or once every two years, and of course, it creates a lot of excitement. The whole city shuts down and people from all over the country jump into their cars and rush to see the white stuff before it melts (which is usually very soon).
Remember that Israel may be a small country, but temperatures fluctuate widely – not only from place to place, but between day and night. In many places, there can be a 10-degree difference between day and night. For Israeli winters, you don't need an Alaskan parka, but you do need a light coat or jacket that is roomy enough for a sweater or sweatshirt underneath. Layers are the way to go. Summers are hot, but the dry heat of Jerusalem and Eilat is much easier to tolerate than the humidity of Tel Aviv and the center of the country.
Written Aug 1, 2006
Favorite thing: When I was 15, my father took us all to Jerusalem for a year. What? A year? I was devastated. Who wants to be dragged away from their friends at that age? Why can't we go on a normal vacation like everyone else, I thought. You know, a couple of weeks in the summer. By the time the year was up, I had changed my mind completely. Now the hard part was leaving Jerusalem. We needed something to take back home that would remind us of the incredible year that had practically flown by. My mother's choice was Armenian pottery. Jerusalem is the only place in the world where the genuine article is still being produced.
For centuries, the Armenians of Kutahya, Turkey were famous for their ceramics and pottery. As devout Christians, the Armenians had a special connection to Jerusalem. They used their skills to produce ceramic tiles to beautify the churches of Jerusalem, among them the Cathedral of St. James in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City, which boasts 6,000 of these distinctive tiles. Armenians began to settle in Jerusalem after adopting Christianity around 300 C.E., making them the first foreign Christians to establish a presence in Jerusalem.
In 1918, three Armenian artisans, natives of Kutahya were brought over to repair the glazed tiles on the Dome of the Rock. David Ohanessian, secretary of the largest pottery shop in Kutahya came to Jerusalem with master potter Neshan Balian, painter Megurditch Karakashian and ten workers to open a workshop for this purpose. For some reason, the project fell through and the tiles were only repaired in the 1960s.
But the Armenian potters remained in Jerusalem with their families and carried on their age-old tradition, producing gorgeous tiles that can still be seen in buildings around Jerusalem today (in the entrance hall of St.Andrew's Scottish Church and Guesthouse, for example, there is a wonderful niche inlaid with these ceramic tiles).
Fondest memory: "Palestine Pottery," owned by the Balian family, is still at its original location at 14 Nablus Road, opposite the American consulate. Another outlet on Shlomzion Hamalka Street in downtown Jerusalem is run by Arman Darian. Here you can buy hand-painted tiles, mirrors, plates, mugs, made-to-order door plaques, vases, bells, candlesticks, lamps - even coffee tables. Don't be fooled into buying the cheap imitations in the Arab market. This is the real stuff.
The charming tiles my mother purchased so many decades ago are still as glossy and beautiful as ever (apart from a little chip or two). Now they are hanging in the bedrooms of her grandchildren.
Updated Oct 23, 2005
Favorite thing: We are so fortunate to be able to enter Israel without so much hassle and bustle because our country have a very good diplomatic ties with Israel. For some others from the Muslim country, They find it so hard to visit Jerusalem... Even seems like impossible because of the visa.
Fondest memory: Al-Aqsa Mosque...To be able to pray in it...Alhamdulillah!
Updated Apr 4, 2007
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