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The roots of Jerusalem's Armenian family tree

by michael September 12 2008
Armenian Quarter
The quiet alleys of the Armenian Quarter

Wedged into an modest corner of the Old City behind high walls and locked gates, Jerusalem's tiny and ancient Armenian community has weathered two full millennia amidst the chaos of one of the world's most historically turbulent cities. They've been squeezed by demographic pressure, buffeted by the will of invaders and conquerors, and borne witness to countless wars - but they're still here, still living and dying in the shadow of their venerable cathedral, St. James. And finally their long history and colorful traditions are being investigated and preserved for future generations by a special historical and genealogical study initiated by community members: The Kaghakatzi Family Tree Project.

The project focuses only on a distinct group within the greater Jerusalem Armenian population, the Kaghakatzis ("city dwellers"), whose roots stretch back 2000 years to the first Armenians in the city. The other subgroup of Old City Armenians, descendants of those Armenians who fled to Jerusalem during the Armenian Genocide at the hands of the Turks during World War I, are not included, apparently still considered newbies. That's a century of hazing.

In the process, the "Kaghakatzi Family Tree Project" will create a permanent record of the wisdom, culture, history, arts and crafts, and traditions of this community, the genealogical oddity whose every single member is related to every other member, in an unbroken chain stretching over the centuries.


Armenians had established a presence in Jerusalem even long before King Tiridates III proclaimed Christianity as Armenia's state religion in 301, making it the first nation on convert to the new faith.
They had trekked to the region in the wake of the conquering armies of King Tigranes II, who had invaded Syria and Palestine and whose empire extended from the Caspian Sea to the shores of the Mediterranean. Many had opted to stay in Jerusalem, building homes and setting up a nucleus that evolved into the Armenian Compound.

Over the centuries, the Kaghakatzi enriched the city's multifaceted ethnic and social fabric with a proliferation of talent, vision and hard work, creating a unique culture and identity, unlike any other in the Armenian diaspora.

The Kaghakatzi ancestors were great teachers, artists, goldsmiths, carpenters, and story-tellers but they were poor record keepers. Except for a register of births, deaths and marriages maintained by the Armenian Patriarchate of St James in Jerusalem, and some family heirlooms, they have left few archives or documents detailing their way of life.

The efforts to preserve the Kaghakatzi history and culture, the Kaghakatzi Armenian Family Tree project, are encapsulated in a website, located at
The website houses copies of the Armenian Patriarchate registers, old pictures, family trees of the leading Kaghakatzi clans (numbering over 50), old photographs, personal reminiscences and mementoes, and snippets of their way of life, including their cuisine, traditions and wisdom.

Hopefully the project's organizers will share their results with non-Armenian Jerusalemites; even though Armenians are an important part of the city's history, the Armenian Quarter is mostly closed off, with only a poorly-tended (if interesting) museum, a couple restaurants and some gift shops affording the average tourist a peek into Jerusalem's Little Armenia.

Photo of the Armenian Quarter courtesy of Weitwinkelsubjektiv from Flickr under a Creative Commons license.


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Israel's best kosher restaurants in Tel Aviv? Uh, no.

by harry September 09 2008
Gavriel - certainly one of the better kosher restaurants in Israel

It used to be that nary a kosher restaurant could be found in Tel Aviv, also known as Jerusalem's hedonistic, secular and at times, apathetic, stepsister. These days things have changed considerably and not because Tel Avivites have suddenly discovered religion en masse - it's all about the tourists baby. But this does not make Tel Aviv a Mecca for kosher eaters by any means. Sure, there are some quality kosher restaurants in the Big Orange but leave it to Haaretz, our nation's pretentious and over intellectualized news daily to publish an article titled "The best kosher restaurants in Israel" and only include restaurants in Tel Aviv, perpetuating the stereotype that there is no world outside of The Bubble. Maybe this gross representation of a headline was an oversight and not intentional, but Jerusalemite must not ignore this grave injustice.
Canela - Jerusalem's fine dining
For years, Jerusalem was certainly not known as a kosher culinary capital, maybe for street food and gargantuan salads at local cafes, but hardly a good reputation when speaking of fine dining, gourmet food or chef's restaurant - or whatever the trendy term is these days. This all changed a few years ago when gourmet restaurant 1868 came onto the scene. Some smart Tel Aviv chefs brought fine dining to Jerusalem using only ingredients the way they were supposed to be used. No kashrut comprises. No parve creme brulee and absolutely no use of Riches' parve whipped cream. And their location is key. You can't really go wrong opening a restaurant directly across the street from the two most expensive hotels in Jerusalem. 1868's success gave investors more confidence in the upscale kosher market and restaurants such as Gabriel and Canela followed suit. 

Today's kosher cuisine scene in Jerusalem is thriving and growing constantly. Sure, there are some unkosher restaurants listed among our top ten. But we at Jerusalemite feel strongly that gourmet and kosher aren't mutually exclusive in this town - nor does it require an exodus to Tel Aviv. So we openly challenge Israel's most pretentious foodies to come on down and taste some of the best we have to offer. We think you'll find it so heavenly, you may even want to thank God - or the chef - for the experience.

Photo of Gabriel by Melissa Dordek for Jerusalemite. Photo of Canela by Asaf Kliger for Jerusalemite. 

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Archaeologists find evidence of sloshed predecessors - and ancient city wall

by josh September 08 2008
ArchaeologyMunicipal newsNews

Jerusalem sprawl, then and now
Where the beer (and wall) was found

Apparently drinking and littering on the job was not uncommon when it came to digging out the remains of Jerusalem at the end of the 19th century. That's one of two major discoveries made last week by a team of (sober) archaeologists, who also discovered the remarkably intact remains of a city wall dating back to the Second Temple period. Ok, maybe the vintage bottles of beer and wine they found in the 120-year-old dig site don't constitute a major discovery, but considering modern Jerusalem's infatuation with all things drunken (or imbibed) lately, it's still pretty cool.

The discovered wall on Mt. Zion (the actual major find) constitutes the southern end of the city at its peak size in ancient times, though at 3.5 miles long, the city's fortifications pale compared to Jerusalem's current sprawl. Despite being 2,100 years old, the wall still stands about three meters tall and represents one of the best examples of Hasmonean architecture ever found. Even more astonishing is the Byzantine-era wall discovered directly on top of the Second Temple period one. Of course, in a city like Jerusalem, where everything is built on somebody else's something, a wall on top of another wall isn’t exactly something to write home about. Except when the wall follows the exact same line as its predecessor, without, according to the (presumably still sober) archaeological team, the knowledge that they were plagiarizing the city's previous inhabitants. It's almost like they were both trying to defend the same area. Crazy.

As for the beer and wine, that was left by a team of (possibly drunk) British archaeologists working on the city's southern and western walls between 1894 and 1897. An original attempt to find their work shaft, which had been filled in with dirt over the years proved unsuccessful. This time though, archaeologists found the old dig sites, which yielded shards of both beer and wine bottles as well as part of a shoe and a gas light, begging the most archaeological of questions: Exactly what was going on down there?

Photo of Mt. Zion's latest dig courtesy of The Israel Antiquities Authority.

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Seven years in the saddle

by michael August 24 2008
Discoli in Belgium.
Eduardo Discoli in Belgium

Modern-day gaucho Eduardo Discoli left his native Argentina on horseback in 2001. Several days ago, he arrived in Jerusalem. In the seven intervening years, he and his three horses have trod through South America, Latin America, North America and Europe, relying on the kindness of strangers (and equestrian societies) for funds, food and lodging, with a record-setting 33,000 kilometers (20,500 miles) behind him.

Discoli and his horses entered the city on August 20, leisurely proceeding down busy downtown streets towards Jaffa Gate and drawing plenty of curious stares from normally blasé city residents. After all, the last time anyone of note rode up to the Old City was in 1917, when Field Marshal Allenby handed the Ottomans their walking papers and ushered in the British Mandate.

After doing the pilgrim thing, Discoli decided to live it up a bit Jerusalem-style: he stopped in at Chutzot HaYotzer and enjoyed a taste of home courtesy of a food stall selling Argentinian food. Too bad he didn't swing by Argentinian meat palace El Gaucho - it would have been poetic.

With the Holy City now behind him, Discoli is heading south, aiming to ride through Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. His goal is to complete a horseback trip around the world within the next two years.

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A conversation with Eliyahu McLean, peacenik

by simone August 24 2008
InterviewNewsThings to do

Eliyahu McLean

Descended from a long line of Christian pastors on his father's side and rabbis on his mother's (the two met while hitchhiking to a hippie commune in California), peacemaker Eliyahu McLean has been dedicated to interfaith work since he was a college student at UC Berkeley. Co-founder and Co-director of the Jerusalem Peacemakers, Eliyahu is also the interfaith coordinator at the annual Sulha gathering, coming up this week at the Latrun Monastery.

Please tell us a bit about your background and the various initiatives with which you are involved. I grew up in Hawaii, where I was involved with Young Judea, which brought me to Israel for the first time when I was 15. When I returned at 18 for Year Course, I met Rabbi Shlomo Carleabach and was influenced by his teachings. From there, I went to UC Berkeley, where I became a pro-Israel activist on campus. That got me interested in bridge-building work, and I began studying Middle Eastern Studies. I was back in Israel again for my junior year, though my program was canceled due to the Gulf War. Instead, I got involved with the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace – I traveled to Bethlehem that year and Egypt, where I studied Islam and Sufism. When I returned to Berkeley, I began leading interfaith projects but I was really drawn to doing that sort of work here in Israel.

In 2000, I helped found the Jerusalem Peacemakers, a network of independent interfaith peacemakers, and I'm the interfaith coordinator of the Sulha Peace Project [a grassroots peace initiative]. Our annual gathering is taking place this year August 26th-28th at the Latrun Monastery. I help secure permits for part of our Palestinian delegation – we ask for 700 permits, and I'm in charge of 150 of them. I'm also in charge of making sure the kitchen is kosher, the Beit Tefillah prayer space, and interfaith panels about reconciliation, ecology, conflict resolution andAt the Big Hug with Rav Frumin and Moslems the concept of sulha (mediation) in religious traditions.

In the case of The Big Hug and some of the other projects you're involved with, the message seems to be less about specific issues or solutions and more about just getting together to spread loving vibes. How much of a difference can loving vibes make? These projects are about more than just loving vibes: They're about rebuilding trust. Last year, before the Big Hug, a Palestinian taxi driver was murdered by a French Jew and there was a lot of tension around the area of the Damascus Gate and only when the mother of the murderer called up the father of the victim, and went to meet with him, did it calm down the anger and the tension and we were able to hold that event, because trust had been rebuilt. There were about 2,000 people involved in that event - soldiers, settlers, Palestinians - all coming together, and the idea of it was not just positive, good vibes but specifically about finding a new way that we can all respect and honor Jerusalem, about showing our shared love for Jerusalem. I think on a small scale we succeeded, and we want to make it a more long-term type of thing.

Do you see Jerusalem primarily as a hotbed of conflict or as a model of coexistence? It has the potential to be either. If you look at the word Yerushalayim (Jerusalem in Hebrew), it breaks down into the Hebrew words yeru, you will see, and shalayim, shalom, peace. The double form of the word peace implies that there are two Jerusalems, a heavenly Jerusalem, and an earthly Jerusalem. In the earthly Jerusalem there definitely are big problems. All you need to do is open the paper on any given day and you'll see a long list of them, rampaging bulldozer drivers, housing demolitions, problems with trash and litter removal. In the heavenly Jerusalem, we have mashiach (the messiah) and peace. Right now there's a huge gap.... (click here for the full interview).
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Not that far away after all

by ben August 21 2008
City planningNews

Light rail trolley car

For us here at Jerusalemite, the city's light rail project simultaneously represents everything exciting and everything wrong with Jerusalem. The light rail is the promise of a shiny, rebuilt capital, one with quiet, pleasant streets and efficient public transportation. But the light rail is also the specter of never-ending bureaucratic quagmires, community leaders pushed to their limits and horrible, horrible growing-pain gridlock.

Some conspiracy theorists have gone so far as to question the project's existence. After all, what better way to convince the public to endure endless construction? What better way to convince the federal government and the private sector to invest enormous sums in the future of Jerusalem?

Well, we finally have evidence to support the idea that despite the delays, coordination troubles and other nuisances, the light rail is for real. And it's getting closer every day. On Tuesday, on his drive in, Yaakov from The Aliyah Blog saw and photographed a huge flatbed truck hauling a light rail trolley towards Jerusalem. So now we've got the commuters, the bridge and the electric trolley cars - if only they'd finish laying the tracks already.

Photo of a light rail trolley car on its way to Jerusalem courtesy The Aliyah Blog.

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How long shall they find evidence of plots to kill our prophets?

by michael August 05 2008
Set me as a seal on your extensive archaeological digs

Remember that time the ministers of King Zedekiah conspired to kill drama queen Biblical prophet Jeremiah? That was pretty awesome. Remember how archaeologists dug up the seal of one of the guilty ministers in the City of David? That was pretty awesome too.

Israeli archaeologists have unearthed a seal impression belonging to a minister of the biblical King Zedekiah, which dates back 2,600 years, during an archeological dig in Jerusalem's ancient City of David. The finding helps corroborate the story pertaining to the biblical minister's demand to have the prophet Jeremiah killed.

The seal impression, or bulla, with the name Gedalyahu ben Pashur, who served as minister to King Zedekiah (597-586 BCE) according to the Book of Jeremiah, was found completely intact just meters away from a separate seal impression of another of Zedekia's ministers, Yehukual ben Shelemyahu, which was unearthed three years ago.

Both ministers are mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah along with two other ministers when they came to King Zedekiah demanding the death of the prophet Jeremiah for preaching to the besieged city to surrender.

The impressions, measuring 1 cm in diameter each, were found among the debris of the destruction of the First Temple period, by an excavation team led by Prof. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

And just in time for Temple-mourning holiday Tisha B'Av, too. 

You may remember Eilat Mazar from the last time she plucked the seal of a Biblical figure out of the dirt in the City of David. What the Bible doesn't mention, though, is the root cause of the apparent scourge of seal-dropping by Israelite Jerusalem's social elites. 

At this rate of historically- and Jewishly-significant archaeological discovery, it's probably only a matter of time until they find the Ark of the Covenant. So if you're in the neighborhood of the City of David and you see faces melting, you'll know why.

Image courtesy of bdnegin from Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Is Chutzot Hayozter being Chutzot Ha-unfair?

by josh August 04 2008

Next Monday's two-week Chutzot Hayotzer, marketed as an international arts fair, might ironically be more local than it's touted as being. It's the kind of doublethink that leads a tiny Florida airfield that shuttles one flight to Cuba to bill itself as international.

Despite having submitted all of the requisite paperwork, vendor Yitzhak Moshik-Levy claims that Chutzot Hayotzer's planners have unfairly declined his application to sell his wares this year. Moshik-Levy, who sells wooden handicrafts imported from Thailand, was left off this year's vendor list, because, according to City Hall's spokespeople, "This year the committee decided to give preferential treatment to original Israeli artists."

But Moshik-Levy says he knows the truth. He says he’s been passed over because his prices were just too damn low at last year's fair, enraging other vendors who apparently have not read up on their Adam Smith.You will not find Thai wood structures at reasonable prices at Chutzot HaYozter this year.

Yitzhak Moshik-Levy said that vendors at last year's fair had complained about him to the fair's director, after he sold high-quality wooden products that he had imported directly from Thailand at more than 50 percent below the prices of the other vendors.

Moshik-Levy, who works as a part-time taxi driver and spends several months a year in the Far East, said that his request to operate a stand at this year's fair - which requires a NIS 5,000 payment - was turned down without explanation by Ariel, the company that runs the fair….

Moshik-Levy called the city's response disingenuous, and wondered aloud whether there would be no foreign products sold at the event.

This guy's understandably upset, and we do know that in Jerusalem, things shrouded in red tape are managed like old boys' clubs, but that doesn't mean that Moshik-Levy's conspiracy theory gripes are necessarily accurate. Regardless, this wouldn't be the first time the invisible hand has been slapped away in favor of "consumer protection." But aren't Israelis supposed to love a good deal? Protocols of the Elders of Zion aside, just have a the names of some of our grocery stores as an example. Instead of ones that emphasize quality and WASPiness, we've got ones with names that call attention to how cheap and shuk-like they are.

Jerusalemite's coverage of Chutzot Hayotzer continues later this week.

Photo courtesy of Brivey from Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Haute cohen couture

by ben July 22 2008

Runway is old hat
When some Jerusalemites talk about the apocalypse, men in white coats come and take them away. When others do the same, the masses take out their credit cards and clamor to buy white coats from them. It's all in the pitch.

The redemption-minded Jews at the Old City's Temple Institute have been hard at work for over 20 years now, preparing replicas of the vessels from the ancient place of worship that once stood on the Temple Mount. Using rabbinic and Biblical teachings as their guides, the team's creations do not hold mere nostalgic value – they're meant for use in the messianic age, when believers say the Third Temple will be built. But they haven't just brought to life the Menorah (the symbol that we know and love from the seal of the State of Israel) and the Ark of the Covenant (the symbol that we know and love from that Indiana Jones movie).

According to a recent Associated Press feature, the Temple Institute has hand-sewn a full set of priestly garments at costs exceeding $10,000. Apparently interest among the general public has grown, because now, according to the article, "If you are a descendant of the Jewish priestly class, a full outfit, including an embroidered belt 32 cubits (48 feet) long, can be yours for about $800." It's a bargain, but a far cry from the wholesale Tel Aviv factory version seen here.

The Temple Institute managed to bring down costs by obtaining special rabbinic permission to use sewing machines.

"From the moment we see we're ready here, the clothes will be ready and the priests can get to work when the time comes," said Hagai Barashi, an assistant tailor. He wore a Biblical-looking robe, long sidelocks, and a pair of Nike flip-flops.

Illustrative painting of Second Temple priests accepting pilgrims' sacrifices courtesy of The Temple Institute, which can be reached at 02-626-4545 and visited at Misgav Ladach St. 36.

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Brewing the soul of Machane Yehuda

by greg July 16 2008
FoodCity planningNews

Aroma in the shuk

Jerusalem's internationally successful espresso bar chain, Aroma plans on opening its doors in Shuk Machane Yehuda tomorrow afternoon, following years of rumors and weeks of construction. The beloved market has undergone many changes in recent years, with photo galleries and clothing boutiques now located in stalls next to fishmongers and spice grinders. Many have argued that the gentrified Machane Yehuda lacks the blue-collar romance that it once held, and those of us who believe in balancing "progress" with "character" have defended the market's renaissance. But with an international franchise eatery moving in, we have to wonder how slippery the slope may be after all.

Ready to brewAfter spending more than ten years working in a lawyer's office in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem native Yatsor Nachmias was looking to come home. Nachmias wanted to open a coffee house, and, "Aroma was the name." As part of the Aroma franchising process, he spent a half year working and learning all the ins and outs of the business. "The beginning was difficult," he recalls. "Eight hours on your feet, making things, working in the kitchen."

Manager Eli Cohen claims that Aroma "brings something new to the shuk – something European, to upgrade the shuk and bring something back for tourism. Just like the Kotel, tourists go to the shuk. There's no place to really sit and enjoy your juice or coffee. We're bringing something to the shuk where people will come sit and enjoy." Perhaps Cohen simply isn't aware that Aroma will not be the first place where one can sit and enjoy a coffee in Machane Yehuda.

Sharona Zohar, owner of Hamsa, a bag and clothing boutique next door to Aroma, says she is, "very happy" about the opening, and understandably so. "The name Aroma can help here, work and help those in the shuk."

Similar but more equivocal sentiments were voiced by Assaf Barashi, who sells clothing nearby. "The shuk was once food for the house; now people are coming to pass the time.... Of course [Aroma can help business], but on the other hand it's a bit bothersome – what will happen with the rent?"

Back at the almost-finished Aroma construction site, Cohen defends his infiltration. "To be a chain is not something bad," he says. "You bring in a name and level of service and cleanliness and quality. We think forward. The goal here is to raise the level of the shuk."

The new branch has encountered difficulties with City Hall, as the municipal government has recently decided to remove all tables and chairs from the area – all of them. The issue is now a court matter. "Of course we are in a war over this," says Cohen. "We're working on it and hope to win."

Aroma's new branch is located at Machane Yehuda St. 26 and can be reached at 02-622-2833.

Photos of the signature red awning and black logo in the context of the open-air market (top) and of branch owner Yatsor Nachmias by Greg Tepper for Jerusalemite.

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