Jerusalem is usually thought of as that place you go to when you're sick of all those waterfalls and mountains that make up Israel's nature reserve scene. Though the city is known for its holiness to three religions, its kicking nightlife (if you're into drunk yeshiva kids) and the fact that it's made out of gold, it is actually also home to some decent hiking. And unlike many of the world's Walden Ponds, much of Jerusalem's varied nature zones are accessible by public transportation.
If you're looking to feel like you're in nature -but not too much - head over to the Gazelle Valley, a 260 dunam reserve within spitting distance of the Trump Towers-esque Holyland. Take buses 19, 31 or 32 to Tzomet Pat, and it will be hard to miss the large plot of (hard fought for) undeveloped land. The Jerusalem Post has a nice play by play of the hike - and we do the same - with nearby Valley of the Cross.
One of the few convenient things about Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital (really, who sticks a hospital on the edge of town?) is that it backs up to the Jerusalem Forest, meaning that any of the plethora of buses (12,27,42,19 or 153) that ferry people to the hospital and attached Hebrew University campus will also get you to a number of trailheads. From the parking lot of the hospital, hikers can take one of three trails, taking them to Hindak Spring, the quaint village of Ein Kerem (and requisite spring) or for just a quick jaunt around the mountains. Getting off before the hospital at Yad Kennedy is also the start of a 5.5 kilometer hike through a number of springs.
Though technically not a city bus, Egged's #183 from Binyanei Hauma to Kibbutz Tzuba will take you yet deeper into the heart of the Jerusalem Forest for a bevy of hikes around Sataf and Har Eitan.
Across town, the Ramot Forest also offers hiking trails up and down the pine treed mountains that surround Western Jerusalem. Buses 11, 7, 35 and 39 all end up at the Ramot Forest entrance in Ramot and from there you can traverse the large open spaces between Ramot and Mevaseret Zion, through Emek Ha'arazim and the recently saved mountaintop lookout of Mitzpe Naphtoach.
Bus 155 from the Central Bus Station will get passengers to the Harel interchange in Mevaseret, which is home to not only a mall, but the beginning of a 3 hour hike through the hills to Ein Harak, a small spring popular with groups.
Jerusalem's unique location and the extensiveness of the city's public transport system means that a few slices of nature are no more than an hour bus ride and 5.60 NIS out of your pocket, a fact that could make even the granoliest hippie (even with their crazy acid trip buses) green - with envy.
Special thanks to the SPNI for research help - a full list of nature spots around Jerusalem can be found here. Photo of Evan Sapir courtesy of alexkon from Flickr under a Creative Commons license.
Jerusalem has never been shy about turning religion into a quick buck, and the month of Elul has become something of a cash cow for the city. The lead up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is when Jews, especially Sephardim, wake up at what were previously thought to be ungodly hours (turns out they are, in fact, most Godly, and not just for Jews) to beg for their lives with a little prayer called Slichot. It's kind of like a High Holy Days pregame, except without all the drinking.
Lately, tours of the different synagogues hosting such services have become the hottest trend this side of "Esther" and those little red strings. (We know, we know, so 2004) Slichotourists come from all over Israel, and the world, to experience what real penitence looks like (take that, Lent). Whether most tourists come to the holy city with a mind to repent themselves, or just to see what all the early morning crying is about, is anybody's guess, but synagogues and neighborhoods around this fair city have not exactly closed their doors to the prying eyes of those who want to see real live slichot in action.
Maybe it's because of its holy-hippy Kabbalah vibe, its established Sephardi community, or it's old city-like winding, narrow "roads," but Nachlaot has become the Times Square of slichotourism, a tried and true must-do. There are a number of nighttime tours visiting the varied and historical synagogues around the neighborhood, though some say it's better to ditch the group and wander through the dark alleyways alone with only your atonement addled mind for company. The best part, of course, is being able to hop right over to Machane Yehuda afterwards for some wake-up juice and green shakshuka.
The Bucharim quarter is another Sephardi stronghold with much to offer in the slichot tours department, but to really get close to God, head on down to the Old City, the center of the slichot, and general, universe. Some tours start in the Old City at different points, or you can make the spiritual journey from new Jerusalem to old with one tour starting off at Mishkenot Sha'ananim. There is also a "green" tour beginning at Brigham Young University in Emek Tzurim and venturing from there inside the walls. (Dial *3639 for details on both.) There is even a tour this year exploring the Moslim Quarter as well as the Jewish to mark the significance of the start of Elul and Ramadan falling on the same day. By some crazy accident, all the tours terminate in the same place, the Kotel, coincidentally also the object of all that lamenting.
May you be inscribed in the reservation book for slichot tours. And the book of life. That's a good one, too.
Photo of slichot service courtesy of JessicalleneM under a creative commons license.
Only a couple minutes' walk removed from the night-and-day bustle of Jaffa Road is one of Jerusalem's most serene and most picturesque boulevards, HaNeviim ("The Prophets"), a stately thoroughfare cutting a mostly straight line from Davidka Square near the Machane Yehuda shuk right up to the walls of the Old City at the Damascus Gate. HaNeviim stretches not only across Jerusalem's geography but across her demography and across her history; to walk down its narrow sidewalks is to walk across the lines that separate secular from religious, modern from traditional, Jew from Arab, and to walk through the past 120-odd years of Jerusalem history, the century-and-change that turned the city from a dusty Ottoman backwater into the vibrant national capital it is today.
The story of HaNeviim is intertwined with the development of modern Jerusalem, which began in the latter half of the 19th century as Jews and Christians began to pour out of the overflowing Old City, building new neighborhoods and cultural and religious institutions in the one-time no man's land outside the city walls. The Christians especially took to the area around HaNeviim, multiple denominations building churches, monasteries and hospices along the road. The street flourished under the British Mandate, but after the British abandoned their claim to Palestine and let the Jews and Arabs fight it out for themselves, HaNeviim was split in two in 1948 by the Seam Line, which separated Israeli west Jerusalem from Jordanian east Jerusalem. Even now, 41 years after unification, there are two distinct parts of HaNeviim, corresponding exactly with the former border - but at least now you can travel between them without having to worry about concertina wire and snipers.
Start at Machane Yehuda, because time spent being harangued by the pushy merchants of the shuk is time well-spent. Buy some of that juicy, ripe, fresh-off-the-kibbutz in-season fruit that Israel is so justly famed for - it'll fortify you for the meandering journey ahead.
Neviim starts at Davidka Square, where the city mounted one of the few remaining Davidkas, a makeshift mortar built by Israeli forces during the 1948 War of Independence that served essentially as a glorified noisemaker. Its destructive power was almost nil, but the little cannon that could made such a tremendous boom that it often caused the opposing side to flee (the Arab population of Tzfat abandoned the city because they mistook the Davidka for an atomic bomb). Davidka Square is currently going through massive renovations in order to create a public space, so the the Davidka itself has been temporarily removed and the area is congested and dusty. (Click here for more...)
Wall-E Shmall-E. Catch real animation at the Ticho House
Between wine festivals, film festivals and crazy bridge opening celebrations, Jerusalem's pretty much got the party at night thing down pat. But what to do during the seemingly endless sharav-like days of summer in the city? The wonders of air conditioning make a day spent inside seem the perfect cure, but denizens need not only rely on the staycation (or holistay, take your pick) as a means of respite from the sun. Though not as people-watching-tastic as its big brother Ben Yehuda Street, nearby Rav Kook Street offers a slew of quirky and educational spots to visit while remaining comfortably indoors.
The street was once home to one of Israel's most celebrated rabbis, Rav Abraham Isaac Kook, hence the name. Kook worked to close the distance between the ultra-Orthodox and the non-religious Zionists during the mandate period, fostering the eventual creation of the religious Zionist movement. His apartment is now home to the Rabbi Kook Museum, a shrine to the rabbi and his teachings. The entrance to the house, featuring a turreted wall reminiscent of the nearby Old City walls, takes visitors into the residence that looks much as it did when Rabbi Kook occupied it, complete with mikveh (ritual bath) and beit midrash (study hall).
For those looking for a less straightforward religiously educational experience, there is the uber trippy Museum of Psalms. Though the paintings that make up the museum may look at first glance like just another deadhead trying to channel his or her energy into psychedelic representations of the his or hr most recent LSD-enhanced Phil Lesh concert, the art is actually the work of kabbalist and Holocaust survivor Moshe Tzvi Halevi Berger. Berger's paintings bring the 150 psalms to life, though the years they have spent on permanent display have begun to show in some of them.
A short walk away is the Anna Ticho House, a former Ottoman era home occupied by artist/social butterfly Anna Ticho and her husband/cousin Avraham, who also ran an eye clinic at the site, during the early 20th century. The gallery is filled with Anna's artwork, for which she was famous, and Avraham's chanukiah collection. There is also a special exhibit of sculpture, video and animation with the aim of bringing Ticho house back to life.
You can hit up the acclaimed Little Jerusalem restaurant without even having to venture outside. The dairy joint serves up standard European and Middle Eastern fare with a bevy of breakfast options.
Though Hadassah College is situated just up the street, you will have to venture a bit further out to catch two exhibits highlighting the artwork of Hadassah's newest graduating class. At the Underground Prisoners Museum next to nearby Safra Square you can see an exhibit of photography and digital media through August 21.
A bit further away at the Jerusalem Theater is another display of photography and digital media from the same institution, with a bit of print production and industrial design thrown in for good measure. The exhibit runs through the end of August.
Pictured is Raaya Karas' Some Place for Tomorrow, currently on display at the Ticho House as part of the Animating Ticho House exhibition.
Slightly south of the city center, where the neighborhoods of Rechavia and Katamon meet, in an incongruously green and deep valley bounded by busy roads, a valley dominated by the ancient monastery nestled in its center: the Valley of the Cross.
The Valley is cleft deep into Jerusalem's heart spiritually as well as geographically; its gnarled, solemn olive trees and rocky outcroppings provide an island of meditative quiet in the midst of Jerusalem's bustle and traffic, its stillness and natural beauty making it a favorite topic for Jerusalem's many poets. Yehuda Amichai, Jerusalem's most beloved wordsmith, frequently brings up his youth spent in the vicinity of the Valley:
This might have been a poem praising my sweet imagined childhood God. It was Friday, black angels filled the Valley of the Cross, their wings black houses, deserted quarries. Sabbath candles danced like ships at the harbour entrance. "Come, bride," wear the clothes of your tears and glory from the night you thought I wouldn't come and I came.
The Cross in question is of course Jesus Christ's - Queen Helena, the mother of Constantine, designated the valley (then outside the city) as the location from which the wood for the cross was harvested, and commissioned the construction of the monastery. The monastery, which has not undergone significant changes since its founding almost 1700 years ago, is still occupied by a small contingent of rarely-glimpsed monks; the Greek flag flutters from the ramparts in the stiff Jerusalem breeze.
Naturally, the Valley of the Cross makes for a great walk and a great location for a picnic. To get there from downtown, take King George St. all the way down (away from the city center) towards Kikar Tzarfat (Paris square), where you should turn right onto Ben Maimon Street, which turns into Aza St, the main thoroughfare of Rechavia. Follow Aza all the way down, about ten minutes, until you see the Valley. The Valley can also be accessed from major Jerusalem park Gan Sacher. At the far end of the park, slightly beyond where the running path bends around to head back towards Nachlaot, is a graffiti-plastered cement tunnel which leads straight into the Valley.
Once you're there, leisurely take in the verdant scenery. Clamber over the rocks. Run your hands over the knotted bark of the centuries-old olive trees. In addition to the monastery (which can be accessed during certain posted hours for a small fee), you should be able to see the modernist jumble of the Israel Museum looming over the Valley's western lip, and the blocky Knesset slightly off to the north. Enjoy a picnic at one of the Valley's fire-pit equipped sitting areas, or head to one of the several nearby cafes in Rechavia.
NOTE TO SOLO TRAVELERS: Like any unlit place, the Valley of the Cross is best avoided at night.
Photo of the Monastery of the Cross courtesy of heatkernel under a creative commons license.
On a clear day, you might be able to see the Dead Sea. Maybe.
Rising out of Jerusalem's northeast corner, offering commanding views of the entirety of the Old City and much of West Jerusalem beyond, is Mount Scopus (Har Ha'Tzofim), one of the seven hills upon which Jerusalem is supposedly built, a relatively modest mountain that still figures prominently in the city's history and continues to capture the Israeli imagination.
The mountain is so-named because it served as the lookout point from which Roman troops planned their assault on the rebel-dominated city of Jerusalem during the Great Revolt of Judean revolutionaries in the 1st century CE. The Hebrew University, the first secular Hebrew language institution of higher learning ever established, was opened on Mount Scopus, and occupies it to this day. During the 1948 Independence War, the school and its accompanying hospital (Hadassah Mt. Scopus) were cut off from Jewish-controlled Jerusalem, leaving the mountain as a garrisoned Israeli outpost in the midst of Jordanian territory, which it remained until the unification of Jerusalem in 1967. The areas around Mount Scopus, particularly Ammunition Hill, saw incredibly fierce fighting during that year's Six Day War. The Hebrew University's massive tower atop the mountain dominates the Jerusalem skyline.
Visitors to Mount Scopus can still enjoy the views of the Old City that gave the mountain its name, the Dome of the Rock shimmering in the sun atop the Temple Mount. Unfortunately, it is difficult to gain access to the Hebrew University's campus if you are not a student or an invited guest (due to security concerns), but the area still offers other attractions. Down the road (Etzel Street) from the university is a British military cemetery and memorial, the final resting place of several hundred fallen soldiers from World War I, which offers an opportunity for quiet contemplation. Going further past the traffic circle and up the hill takes you along the Hebrew University's Idelson dormitory, and two falafel stands operated by the Arab residents of the French Hill neighborhood. Jerusalemite recommends the further of the two stands (French Hill Falafel), as the other one is attached to a dentist's clinic of the same name, which conjures images of a dentist running back and forth between his deep fryer and drill, and is rumored among Hebrew U students to cause stomach upset. Further along still you'll see off to your left the French Hill shopping center, which includes a grocery store and several small restaurants and cafes.
At the end of the road are the gates to the Arab village of Isawiyya, a notorious hotbed of political unrest during the Intifada. Visitors are not always welcome. Before arriving in Isawiyya, turn left (the first left turn after passing the shopping center area) and follow the road's curve until you get to Tzameret Ha'Birah (about five minutes' walk), a neighborhood on Jerusalem's fringe characterized by its stunning views of the Judean Desert. The steeply terraced neighborhood offers a playground and a great number of impressive vantage points. Early risers can take advantage of a rare opportunity: at sunrise on a clear day, you can see all the way to the glimmering Dead Sea, forty minutes away by car.
Photo of Mount Scopus view courtesy of tmesis from flickr under a creative common license.
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 Jerusalemand 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 children 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.... (Click here for the full interview.)
That's right: Yemin Moshe and Mishkenot Sha'ananim.
Yemin Moshe ("The Right Hand of Moses") was named not after the sea-splitting liberator with whom you may be familiar, but after a much more recent figure who, in his own way, guided just about as many Jews to the Holy Land as his white-bearded Biblical namesake did: Moses Montefiore. Montefiore, an Italian Sephardi Jew who became an extraordinarily wealthy and respected businessman in London (to the point of being knighted and receiving a baronetcy), spent a great portion of his long life in an effort to revitalize and encourage settlement in the Land of Israel. When Montefiore arrived in the Land on the first of his many lengthy trips there, the entirety of the Jewish community of Jerusalem was squeezed into the cramped Jewish quarter. By the time he died in 1885 at the age of one hundred, several thriving Jewish neighborhoods existed outside the walls of the Old City in what would become modern West Jerusalem - all due to Montefiore's abundant largess and abundant vision.
The first of these neighborhoods was Yemin Moshe, symbolized by its mighty windmill, a structure which, for all its grandeur, never actually worked. The neighborhood around it was first inhabited by the mostly-poor former residents of the Jewish Quarter, but as time went on and Jerusalem expanded, this prime land with its incredible views of the Old City became more and more lucrative, and while the quaint character of Yemin Moshe remained unchanged, the same could not be said for its property values. Thus Yemin Moshe and its outgrowth Mishkenot Sha'ananim ("Serene Dwellings") turned into the domain of the wealthiest of Jerusalemites.
But just because you can't afford to live there doesn't mean you can't enjoy it. A walk through these neighborhoods is a walk through the beginning chapter of modern Jerusalem - these humble alleys a stone's throw away from the walls of the Old City are the precursor of nearly everything behind you, from Ben Yehuda to the bus station. Start in true Jerusalemite style with a picnic in the large, grassy park in Yemin Moshe that overlooks the Old City, where you'll doubtless encounter Jerusalem residents of all faiths enjoying the weather and view. Then stop inside Montefiore's windmill for an intimate look at the life of the man who created your surroundings. And then just endeavor to get lost in the winding alleys and steep terraces of Yemin Moshe and Mishkenot Sha'ananim. You probably won't bother anyone - many of the homes are empty for much of the year since their owners live abroad and use them for vacation residences.
It turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly given the ever-tumultuous nature of, well, everything in Jerusalem, that the ongoing digs in the City of David are uncovering not only a great deal of significant artifacts but also a great deal of significant controversy. Much of the archaeologically significant strata lies beneath Silwan, an Arab neighborhood across the Kidron Valley from the Old City, and awkwardly, the organization funding the dig is also heavily invested in the settlement of religious, politically rightist Jewish families in Silwan. The AP, being uncharacteristically even-handed, provides elucidation:
Lying on a densely populated slope outside the walled Old City, the area is known to Israelis as the City of David, named for the legendary monarch who ruled a Jewish kingdom from this spot 3,000 years ago. It is the kernel from which Jerusalem grew.
But Silwan is in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan in 1967 and which Palestinians claim for the capital of a future state.
The organization funding the digs, the Elad Foundation, is associated with the religious settlement movement and is committed to preventing Israel from ever ceding the area in a peace deal. It says it has a yearly budget of close to $10 million, nearly all of it from donations, and is buying up Palestinian homes in Silwan to accommodate Jewish families. Around 50 have moved in so far, living in houses flying Israeli flags and guarded by armed security men paid for by the Israeli government.
At the same time, the City of David digs have expanded through the neighborhood, carried out by respected Israeli government archaeologists with funding from Elad.
Fakhri Abu Diab, a neighborhood activist, said the Elad Foundation has made it clear that he and his neighbors are in the way.
"They want the land without the people," he said.
None of the finds that the archaeologists highlight for the public are from the eras of Christian or Muslim rule. "They are looking only for Jewish ruins," said Abu Diab. "It's as if we're not here."
Of course, given the official stance of the Palestinian government regarding Jewish history in Jerusalem, which is that it's a Zionist fabrication, there may be some color commentary by the pot concerning the kettle going on here. Still, it's a thorny issue, and like many thorny issues, it can always be grossly exacerbated by the police.
The police arrested five Palestinian residents of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan this week, all within a day of their having petitioned the High Court of Justice to stop an Israel Antiquities Authority excavation under their homes.
According to the IAA, the dig has uncovered the remains of a Second Temple-era drainage channel. It is being financed by Elad, an organization that promotes the Judaization of East Jerusalem.
The Palestinians, who fear the dig will damage their houses, asked the court to halt it on Sunday, on the grounds that the IAA did not inform them that it planned to excavate on their property, as required by law. The court gave the IAA 14 days to respond. Last week, Palestinian demonstrators prevented the IAA from proceeding with the excavation. They tried to do the same on Sunday, but the police intervened to allow the dig to proceed.
Always an encouraging development when the police ignore the rulings of the highest court in the land.
But what to do? Do the Jewish people have the right to uncover their own cherished history? Yes. Does Elad have the right to legally buy homes in Arab neighborhoods and fill them with Jews? Yes. Does it also have the right to support important archaeology, even if it's colored by politics? Yes. But do the Palestinians have cause to be concerned anyway? Well...yes. And are the Jerusalem police overzealous? As always, yes.
Sure, the snow, even when it comes, doesn't deign to stick around long here in the Levant, but even if you can't tramp out with snowboots to sled down Mount Zion and build a snow golem, you can still toast our departed snowfall with some good times in the city this coming weekend (after Shabbat is over) - especially since it's going to be relatively warm. (Highs up to 60F!)
How does one celebrate snow in Jerusalem? Appropriately snow-colored food, of course. Given that winter chill, anything frozen is out...but Jerusalemite has some ideas of foods that will keep you warm yet in a festive winter mood.
Start out with a hot milk-and-honey drink at Tmol Shilshom. Remember as you drink it that once upon a time a whole nation of people crossed one of the world's most inhospitable deserts to get a taste of that business.
Then head to the first bakery or coffee shop you come across - Jerusalemite recommends the little shop Turkish Bourekas from Haifa on Jaffa Road - and get a bourekas filled with salty white cheese, topped with alabaster tehina and a pristine hard-boiled egg.
And dessert? Why not a fresh crepe at Katzefet on the Ben Yehuda midrachov?
And then walk all those calories off while watching the remaining bits of snow disappear from Independence Park. Have fun!