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A conversation with Tzvia Dobrish-Fried, author of 'Secrets of Jerusalem'

by simone June 01 2008
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Ethiopian Village May 27 2008.jpg

Author Tzvia Dobrish-Fried grew up in the now belabored town of Sderot and moved to Jerusalem in the 1970s. It was love at first sight for the former small-town girl who to this day maintains her sense of wonder at the big, capitol city. After working for many years as the spokesperson for the Jerusalem Association of Community Centers, which organizes community groups and provides administrative guidance to Jerusalem's network of community centers, Tzvia, who now lives in Beit Hakerem, decided to express her love in writing, publishing Houses of Jerusalem and Secrets of Jerusalem, about her adopted home. She recently took time to speak with Jerusalemite about her books and the city that inspired them.

How did you end up living in Jerusalem? I came to Jerusalem 30 years ago, from Sderot, to go to university. Then I got married and stayed.

Where did the idea for your book Secrets of Jerusalem come from? Moving to Jerusalem was a big shock that still hasn’t worn off. To this very day I’m still surprised by Jerusalem, and every day I see something new here. When I first came here I was in university and then I was working and raising my childreTzvia Dobrish-Friedn and I never had time to explore the city. I would always see things on the side of the road that interested me and I always wanted to investigate, but I never had the time. In particular, I remember visiting my optometrist on Prague St. [next to Strauss St. and Jaffa Rd.]. He had a window next to his eye-chart, through which I saw a minaret. Every year, I meant to leave his office and check out the minaret, and I never did. When I took a leave of absence from work to write my first book, [Houses of Jerusalem,] I visited homes throughout the city. Since I was already exploring the city, I began to investigate other things I was interested in as well. When people found out what I was doing, they told me about their own secrets of Jerusalem and I began looking into those as well. Now I have enough information for three books about this city.

What are Jerusalem’s three most amazing secrets? There is a woman who has lived in the Israel Museum for 40 years. She’s like the phantom of the Museum. A few people know about her, but she’s really under the radar.

There’s also a complete mosaic in a private home near Damascus Gate. The home was bHouse in the Israel Museum May 28 2008.jpguilt on the ruins of a 7th century monastery. When the Moslems began building in the area, around 70-80 years ago, they built a house where the monastery once stood and they preserved the mosaic – which features pictures of birds – by incorporating it into the room, building the room around it. It’s very rare to have a full, undamaged mosaic from the 7th century, and here is one, which barely anyone knows about because it's on the floor of a private home.

Also, very few people know that the Queen of England, Queen Elizabeth II’s mother-in-law (Prince Phillip’s mother), is buried in Jerusalem, in Gat Shemanim.

Which Jerusalem neighborhood holds the most intrigue? When I was writing Houses of Jerusalem one neighborhood, the German Colony, really stood out as having a large number of exceptional houses. That was not the case for Secrets of Jerusalem. I wanted this book to feature secrets from popular areas – because if it was about archeological finds in the City of David, it wouldn't really be relevant. What I wanted to do is reveal secrets that are hidden under the surface of normal, everyday life. Secrets in places like Zion Square (Kikar Tzion) that even Tel Avivians, even tourists will recognize. The truth is that the city center holds a large number of secrets, as does the Old City.

Can you Micha Ullman Zion Square Art share with us a secret that is right under most Jerusalemite’s noses? Something the masses walk past every day and have no idea that it even exists? There’s a piece of contemporary art on the floor of Zion Square – a place everyone passes through everyday without realizing that the work of a famous artist [Micha Ullman] is right under their feet. The artist wanted it to be a modest piece with no credit or large fanfare and no one knows about it, but there it is, right there, on a manhole cover in the middle of one of Jerusalem’s most crowded squares.

What Jerusalem attraction do you wish had been kept secret? The Israel Museum was scared that because of my book, people would start scouring the Museum, looking for this woman who lives there, but that hasn’t been the case. You’ll just have to ask me again when more people have read this book.

What is your vision for the ideal future of the city? The day when my children and that whole generation of children who left Jerusalem for Tel Aviv – because they couldn’t find work here or they thought Tel Aviv was more happening – come back to Jerusalem. The day the youth returns and says, "How could we have ever left? What were we looking for in Tel Aviv? There’s nothing there – Jerusalem is everything."

Photos of the optometrist's minaret as seen from the Ethiopian Coptic Church Compound (top), the house in the Israel Musuem (middle), Ms. Fried herself, and the Micha Ullman manhole cover courtesy of Uriel Messa.

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