Is all the spirituality and seriousness of being at the navel of the world and the cradle of three religions getting to you? Then head for the Monster Slide in Kiryat Hayovel for proof that Jerusalem does have a sense of humor.
The "Mifletzet," as it is called by one and all, is a giant spotted monster sculpture with three red tongues that serve as slides. The work of French artist Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002), this funny creature, big as a house, is hard to miss. It sits in the middle of a park in western Jerusalem, on the way to Hadassah Hospital - Ein Karem (it's called Rabinovich Park, but don't bet on anyone knowing that - just say "the Mifletzet").
The Kiryat Hayovel monster has been around since 1972. My own children spent many afternoons here in the 1980s (we lived nearby). It was great for tiring them out before bedtime.
Don't be shy - even grown-ups can have a turn.
When I travel to another country, going to the zoo is not usually my top priority. My figure is that zoo animals are usually more or less the same wherever you go, so better to spend my limited time on sites unique to that country.
But the zoo in Jerusalem really is in a class all its own. The Tisch Family Zoological Gardens, as it is officially called – everyone knows it as the “Biblical Zoo” - is a zoo that focuses on animals mentioned in the Bible. Not that you won’t see others: Another focus is endangered species, a number of which are being bred in captivity with the hope of returning them to the wild. But unlike other zoos in the world, the cages and enclosures here sport signs quoting relevant passages from the Bible.
For 41 years, the Biblical Zoo was in Romema, near a very religious neighborhood. It was a small zoo, just over an acre in size, with a rather skimpy collection of animals. The landscaping was nothing to write home about, and it was a pretty dismal place with more empty cages than filled ones. More interesting than the animals were the visitors: The zoo was always crowded with black-garbed ultra-Orthodox Jews with countless children in tow.
In 1993, the zoo moved to a new location in Malha, a neighborhood in southwestern Jerusalem. It now covers 62 acres of land, with a large artificial lake in the middle and enclosures that try to recreate the animals’ natural habitat. It is beautifully landscaped, with lawns and flowers and well-marked pathways.
Tip: Wear good walking shoes and don’t forget a hat and a bottle of water. This is a very hilly zoo, and it can get pretty hot. You can also take the zoo train up to the higher level, and walk down.
If you get tired, have some ice cream on the deck of Noah’s Ark. Inside is an auditorium for films and lectures, and a room with computers for more information about the animals.
Opening hours: Sunday – Thursday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Friday and holiday eves – 9 – 16:30.
If you are visiting Israel with a group, are willing to spend a little money, and want to do something different, call up the Zoo Rabbi – Rabbi Nosson Slifkin. This British-born rabbi gives 2.5- 3 hour tours of the zoo (in English) that mix zoology, Bible, ethics and stand-up comedy. I haven’t done this myself, but I read some articles about his tours in the paper, and spoke to him personally before writing this tip. He takes a flat rate of $250 (admission to the zoo is separate) and needs a few days’ advance notice.
The monkey in the photo is a Golden Lion Tamarin, a highly endangered primate species. There are only about 1,000 of them left in the wild. The Biblical Zoo is one of a number of zoos in the world trying to breed these cute fellas in captivity, to save them from extinction.
Wherever you dig in Israel, vestiges of the past leap up at you. Build a road, excavate foundations for a building, install an underground pipe – any kind of earthwork leads to archeological finds. Many blueprints have had to be changed and roads rerouted as construction teams stumble upon old burial caves, ancient arches and ritual baths.
Wedged between the homes on a quiet street in the middle of Rehavia, an upscale residential neighborhood, is a funerary monument with a pyramid-shaped roof from the late Hellenistic-early Roman period: Jason’s Tomb – in Hebrew, Kever Yason. No one knows for sure who this Yason was, but he is believed to have been a high priest from a wealthy priestly family forced out of Jerusalem by rivals in 172 B.C.E. (according to the writings of the famous historian Josephus).
The tomb, dating to the 2nd century B.C.E., was discovered accidentally in 1956, when a house was being built. It sits back from the street, inside a little courtyard with vines growing up around it – a kind of secluded secret garden you would never see unless you were specifically looking for it. Inside the tomb are rock-cut burial niches. A charcoal drawing of naval vessels discovered on the wall has led to speculations that Yason may have had some connection to shipping.
A Greek and Aramaic epitaph reads: A powerful lament make for Yason, son of P…(my brother) peace…who hast built thyself a tomb, Elder rest in peace.
Thanks to this tomb in town, Yason, long dead and gone, still lives on in some people’s minds (admittedly, not many…).
(10 Alfassi Street - Make a left on Radak Street and then a right)
Buses: 9, 19, 31, 32
In the heart of Jerusalem sits the Monastery of the Cross, a 7th century Greek Orthodox church that could be mistaken for an ancient fortress (although the dome topped with a cross is probably a give-away).
Located in a valley between Rehavia and Nayot, it is built on the site of the tree that provided the wood for the cross on which Jesus was crucified, marked by a gold-encircled hole in the floor. In fact, the whole valley is full of old, gnarled olive trees, which can live for thousands of years.
This is not one of those mobbed Christian holy sites. It is in an out-of-way, secluded place, although it is visible from the busy highway that runs just above it. Only a few monks live there today. The mosaic floor dates back to the 7th century, and the walls are covered with frescoes claimed to be over 1,000 years old.
In the 12th century, the Georgian national poet, Shota Rostaveli, author of the epic poem "The Knight in the Panther's Skin," lived here. There is a portrait of the white-bearded Rostaveli on one of the walls (now covered with a plate of glass). This is the portrait that almost sparked an international incident in July 2004, when the president of Georgia came to visit. While sprucing up the church in honor of this visit, someone apparently repainted the beard and made a mess of it. A huge fight broke out, with some of the monks and Georgian delegates physically assaulting one another.
According to Christian tradition, Abraham the Patriarch asked Lot to plant the staffs left by the three visiting angels (Genesis 18:1-2) in this spot. He was told to sprinkle them with water from the Jordan to atone for his sins. The three shoots then grew into a single tree. Passed over by Solomon when he built the Temple, the wood was eventually used for the cross. This story is illustrated in the panels lining the dark chapel with the hole in the floor.
Hours: 8:30 am - 4 p.m.; Sun. until 6 p.m. Admission: NIS 15
The path outside the monastery goes up the hill to the Israel Museum.
At the intersection of Jaffa and Hanevi’im Streets in downtown Jerusalem is a historical monument that barely gets a second glance nowadays: the Davidka (“little David”). Next to a large, ugly looking stone block with a funny bulge on top sits a little black mortar. It doesn’t look like much, but this metal contraption helped defend besieged Jerusalem when the newly declared State of Israel was attacked by the Arabs in 1948.
Every day, from April to June, Jerusalem was shelled by Arab artillery. The Jews of Jerusalem had no artillery to retaliate with, so an engineer named David Leibowitz devised a makeshift cannon from a mortar and some pipe. It wasn’t very good as a weapon, but it made a lot of noise.
As Jason Fenton, who fought in the war, told The Jerusalem Post Magazine a few years back, it was a “monstrous and highly unpredictable weapon” but it served its purpose: “We filled it with nails and garbage and bits of old equipment. It made a terrible noise, scaring everyone to pieces, including us.” The Arabs thought Israel had the atom bomb and ran for their lives.
Inscribed on the monument is a verse from II Kings 19: 34 (The Lord says:) "I will defend this city, to save it."
Mary's Spring, Ein Karem
Ein Karem (“Spring of the Vineyard”) is one of those neighborhoods that landscape painters adore: winding lanes, old stone houses, cypress and olive trees, creeping vines - attractive, but in a kind of rambling, disorganized way. It is not so much a neighborhood as a little village at the bottom of a terraced valley in western Jerusalem.
Apart from being a quiet, pretty place (although there are times when the
road leading down to it is choked with tourist buses), the draw of Ein Karem lies in its being the traditional birthplace of John the Baptist. According to the New Testament, his parents, Elizabeth and Zacharias, lived in an unnamed village in the “hill country” of Judea, which the Byzantines decided fit the description.
The Virgin Mary (Miriam, in Hebrew), newly pregnant, spent three months here with her cousin Elizabeth (Elisheva, in Hebrew), who was also pregnant. It was a great escape from the gossip in Nazareth, and besides, Elizabeth had no one to talk to, because her husband, hearing that his old barren wife was expecting a child, had been struck dumb.
Tradition holds that when Elizabeth first greeted Mary as she neared the village, a spring of water welled up at the feet of the two women. Another version is that Mary drank from this spring before she climbed the hill to Elizabeth’s house.
This little trickle of water, which you can still see today, has been known since the 14th century as the Spring of the Virgin, or Mary’s Spring. Of course it was probably a lot purer back then. Today I wouldn’t advise anyone to drink from it. About 100 years ago, the Arabs built a mosque and minaret over the site, and used it as a primary school. Since the 1950s, the building has been vacant, but Mary’s Spring, covered by a stone archway, continues to attract a stream of Christian pilgrims and tourists.
Take the 17 or 17a bus to Ein Karem.
This is not the famous Montefiore windmill in the Yemin Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem, but a windmill on Ramban Street in Rehavia that most people don't know about. I happen to know it very well because my mother-in-law lives right across the street.
The Takhanah (the Mill), as it is called today, was built by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in the late 19th century. What it was actually used for is a good question - presumably it was a flour mill. In the 1930s, a famous German Jewish architect by the name of Mendelsohn lived there.
In the 1950s, appropriately enough, it was the residence of the Dutch consul. As a boy, my husband played there with the consul's children.
After many years of sitting empty, the windmill was renovated and a small shopping arcade was built around it. Today, it houses a restaurant, some trendy women's clothing shops, an optical center and I'm not sure what else. Next time I visit my mother-in-law, I'll check it out.
Update: March 2006
The current restaurant (they keep changing for some reason) is Sheyan, a kosher Asian Chinese restaurant that looks quite attractive. One of these days I'll have to eat there and write a review.
SAN SIMON MONASTERY, Katamon
It is hard to imagine, but this little Greek Orthodox monastery, with its silver dome, bell tower and stone fence, sitting so peacefully in the middle of a grassy park, was once the scene of a bloody battle.
In April 1948, during Israel"s War of Independence, the Palmach fought the Arab Legion for control of Katamon (Greek for "near the monastery"). It was on a hill overlooking Jewish neighborhoods, and gaining control of it was a vital military objective.
The most fortified building in the area was the church, built in 1859 over the tomb of St. Simon of Jerusalem (the fellow in the New Testament who cradled baby Jesus in his arms and prophesied that he would go on to great things...).
The Arabs were driven out and the church was taken over by Israeli troops. One of the Israelis remembers the clanging of the bells in the bell tower and the sound of smashing glass as bullets whizzed through the windows, shattering window panes and hanging lamps.
Of the 120 Israelis who took part in battle, 40 died and 60 were wounded. The injured lay on the floor of the besieged church and the situation seemed hopeless. In desperation, the remaining fighters considered the "Masada option" - blowing up the building and committing mass suicide rather than dying at the hands of the Arabs. The commanding officer, Yitzhak Rabin (who went on to become an Israeli prime minister) would not hear of it. The battle resumed with renewed vigor and the tides turned. The commander of the Arab forces, seeing defeat before his eyes, got into his jeep and sped off.
I visited San Simon in April, 57 years after that terrible campaign. The gate of the monastery, usually locked, was wide open. I walked in. In the dim light of the church, I made out a group of Christian pilgrims gathered around a table-like structure in the corner, covered by a slab of marble. The pilgrims took turns laying their heads on the marble. If you listen carefully, they said, you can hear the beating of St. Simon's heart.
The streets off Jaffa Road in downtown Jerusalem are a world of their own. Just past Zion Square is a small street called Rehov Harav Kook, named for Rabbi Kook, Israel's first chief rabbi, who was greatly revered for his "modern" approach to Israel and Zionism. On one side of the street stands a handsome stone building with carved wooden doors and balconies of intricate black grillwork that housed the Italian Consulate in the late 19th century.
This building has had a colorful history in itself. Over the years it changed hands, serving as the Lebanon Hotel, the offices of The Jerusalem Post, and the home of a famous local design and crafts shop called Maskit. I vividly remember the fashion shows held here in the 1970s. Now it is the Franciscan House, where Catholic mass is held in Hebrew.
Directly across the street is a little alleyway with signs pointing you to Beit Ticho, the home of a famous eye doctor and his artist wife, Anna - today a museum and garden cafe. In a stone courtyard off this narrow lane is the home and studio of Moshe Zvi Berger, an artist from Transylvania who paints what he describes as "modern religious pictures." They even have the "kosher stamp" of a rabbi (he will gladly show you Rabbi Mayer Yehuda Getz's endorsement if you have any doubt).
Berger lives in one room, puttering around and listening to classical music. When visitors come, he escorts them into his "Museum of Psalms," a set of rooms with vaulted ceilings where his brightly colored acrylic illustrations of the Psalms cover the walls. He sells prints of these paintings for NIS 95 apiece, with explanations on the back. Every color has mystical significance. Purple, he told me, is the color of wisdom. Red is courage, and light blue - mercy and compassion.
If you keep your eyes open as you walk down Jaffa Road - Rehov Yafo - Jerusalem's "Main Street," you will come across buildings with strange histories. Tucked between the dollar stores, clothing shops and kiosks, hidden behind a high wall and an iron gate, is a beautiful old Arab mansion embellished with stone carvings.
Today it belongs to the Ministry of Health. Air-conditioners are mounted on the windows and black electric wiring is strung in crazy loops across the yard. For many years it was the laboratory of the District Health Office. This laboratory was run by Prof. Werner Zilberstein, a German Jewish physician who was a close friend of my husband's family for many years. Uncle Werner, as he was known, a charming and erudite man, lived alone in his elegant Jerusalem apartment, attending classical music concerts and entertaining friends (he even had a girlfriend - my mother-in-law) until way past 100. He died at the age of 102.
Ask the Russian security guard at the gate about the history of this building, where travelers headed for exotic destinations used to come for their shots (faded notices hanging on the iron gates attest to that). He will stare at you blankly. Even the taxi drivers who pass by every day are oblivious to the building's creepy past. But the old-timers know.
In the 19th century, the house belonged to a wealthy Arab family whose son died on his wedding day. But they didn't let that spoil the party. They dressed him in his suit, sat him on a chair - and went ahead with the wedding as planned.
Since then, Jerusalemites have called it the House of the Dead Groom.
A small staircase directly on Habbad St. in the Old City, just off the main market street, led us to the roof of the building. Many buildings in the Old City are joined up, so that we could walk on the roofs and get an unusual view of the Moslem, Christian, Jewish and Armenian quarters.
It was a strange feeling, to be only a minute away from the noisy and bustling market, actually on top of it, and still enjoy a very different, quiet atmosphere, viewing the major landmarks of Jerusalem from the rooftops. We saw the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Omar mosque, the Lutheran church, the Latin Patriarchate... We also had a glimpse into private yards and residences, usually hidden from the public eye and tourist cameras.
When Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany visited Jerusalem he wanted to enter it like an emperor, so part of Jaffa Gate was knocked down and the opening was widened especially for his carriage.
If you want to enter the Old City the easy way, like the Kaiser, you'd better skip this tip.
However, if you are ready for a 10 minute walk up a scenic path, you can enter the Old City the unconventional way. The path is called "Ma'alot Beni", and it starts below the south-western corner of the Old City walls, near Sultan's Pool, at the corner of Derech Hebron and Jerusalem Brigade Streets.
The path climbs the western slope of Mt. Zion between low green shrubs, and affords a great view of Sultan's Pool, Yemin Moshe neighborhood and the gardens leading towards the King David Hotel. The Old City walls tower above you as you climb. You reach the south-western corner of the Old City walls, and then a narrow lane will take you past the Church of Dormition to Zion Gate and into the Old City (or to Mt. Zion sites if you turn right just before the gate).
Enjoy the climb (and don't forget to take a small bottle of water with you for the way)!
The Israel Museum is located in the New City of Jerusalem (a moderate distance from the Old Walled City). The most compelling attraction of this museum is the Shrine of the Book, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are displayed.
We went to this museum specifically to see this display and we weren't disappointed. After paying our entrance fee (I believe it was around the equivalent of $10 USD), we literally ran toward this amazing, oddly shaped white structure which we learned was created to mirror the clay vessels in which the Scrolls were discovered in Qumram at the Dead Sea back in 1947.
If you're lucky, you'll arrive in time to hook up with a docene who will be more than happy to lead a group through the dimly lit chamber below where the scrolls are preserved under glass. In fact, the story of the Essenes (the religious sect who housed the Scrolls and lived in the Qumram caves) is told in a series of scroll sections, all laid out in a circular manner.
Plan to spend at least one full hour inside the Shrine of the Book, if not longer. It still blows my mind to think I was looking at the world's oldest biblical manuscripts.
Located in New Jerusalem at Ruppin Blvd., near the Knesset (Israeli Parliament)
The museum has a terrific website. You should check it out, below:
This Church is one of the oldest surviving Christian Churches having being built in 326 AD by Constantine and his mother Helena It is built over the cave where Christ was born.
Since those times the Church has been extended , rebuilt etc by the various rulers, including the Crusaders. The decorations within the Church reflect the different periods and people who had control.
When we visited during October, 2010 the Church was having a complete refurbishment with approximatly 70% covered by scaffolding. Through all of this the beauty of the Church and it decoration was still able to be seen.
Be prepared to wait should you wish to view the cave. We managed to have a brief viewing of the cave, however it was a serious crush through the crowd.
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