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Travel: A weekend in Jerusalem - July 30th -31th/2020

Date: Weekend of July 30th -31th/2020

Place: Jerusalem -Israel

By: Lili Naveh

Visiting Jerusalem in the previous month during the last weekend of July was an intriguing experience. Both the Jewish Tisha (9) B'Av and the Muslim Eid al-Adha holidays, were being celebrated then, concurrently.

"Ninth of Av" holiday's ambiance is about Sadness and Fasting.

This historical date is an annual day of mourning and anguish in commemoration of the disastrous destruction of both the Jerusalem Solomon's Temple by the Neo-Babylonian Empire (423BCE) and of the Second Temple by the Roman Empire (70 BC )

The temples' physical destruction ended Jewish national sovereign existence for over 2000 years, which was resurrected in 1948 with the creation of the state of Israel.

9th in Av is regarded as the gloomiest day in the Jewish calendar and it is thus believed by many observant Jews, to be a day which is destined for tragedy.

In contrast, the Muslim Eid al-Adha - Feast of the Sacrifice' - is characterized by Joy and festive Feasting.

This worldwide annual celebration of the last of the two Islamic holidays considers the first being Eid al-Fitr, to be the holier one and the second a more joyful one. Though plagiarized from the jewish original version, the Muslim derivative honours the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son Ismael (not Issack) as an act of obedience to God's command. But, before Ibrahim would sacrifice his son, God provided a lamb (not a ram) to sacrifice instead. In commemoration of this intervention, an animal, usually a sheep, is sacrificed ritually, and is being feasted on.

The thick solemn holiday's atmosphere we encountered, when arrived on Thursday morning, had canopied the Jerusalem stone-made buildings, shadowing like a looming dark cloud, over the forsaken silent city's center streets, and above the very few opened yet, shopper-less stores.

This gloomy scenery was in total opposition to the densely crowded, noisily busy Tel-Aviv we left behind

Also most museums in Jerusalem were closed either due to the pandemic prolonged lockdown, which has caused a depletion in donations for operative budget, or due to the 9th of Av austere tradition.

One out of the few museums which could be found open was the "Museum on the Seam" which we were delighted to visit for the first time, and which, not surprisingly, also dictated the rest of our visit experiences, zig-zagging the blurry hem between West and East Jerusalem.

This small quaint socio-political contemporary Art museum on the Seam is housed in a charming neo-classical building. Built in 1932 by its original owner and architect - the Christian Arab Andoni Baramki, it served as his family home. The property was appropriated by Israel after 1948. The building witnessed a turbulent history and changed hands and its usage during the British Mandate. Later it was transformed into an Israeli army outpost and a critical vantage point, on the divided city's border line between Israel and Jordan.

The museum was initiated and established by Raphie Etgar - an Israeli artist and curator, who has served as its artistic Director since its establishment in 2000. Also it has been supported for some decades by the Holtzbrinck Family Foundation through the Jerusalem Foundation

No permanent collection is on display, only temporary changing exhibits, focusing on allowing art to raise discussions about controversial ideas tied to national, ethnic and economic issues.

The impressive museum's exterior architecture, its historical background, as well as its location, were of more interest to me than the current contemporary exhibits on display..

The museum is situated by the Old City's Shchem Gate and right at the end corner, of the densely populated ultra religious Mea Shearim neighborhood. A cluster of young idle children - boys with heads coverings over their peies, and girls with long braids and skirts, were hanging off the buildings balconies in droves, curiously staring at us - the "extraterrestrials" secularists from Tel Aviv.

Drinks at the iconic King David Hotel

At the city's West side, we had an afternoon drink with the newly appointed manager of this World Leading King David Hotel .

Here we also encountered only native Israelis, who were lured to vacation at this 5 stars pricey hotel, when offered an alleged "reduced" special deals. Appealing to the indigenous natives, meant to jump-start the lost revenues, which its streaming was brought up to an halt by the Corona related cessation of international tourism.

The hotel, which had been closed, from mid March for the first time ever since it opened in 1931, was reopened again, only in mid July.

The grand structure was founded by Ezra Mosseri, a wealthy Egyptian Jewish banker. Built with locally quarried pink limestone in the centre of Jerusalem, it overlooks the Old City and Mount Zion.

Traditionally the venue has been hosting the international rich and famous, heads of state, dignitaries and celebraties. Their signatures and marks can be found on the hotel lobby's floor , and their historical photos on the lobby's walls. It is also famous for having been targeted by a terrorist bombing in 1946 undertaken by the Zionist paramilitary group Irgun.

Tamir - who was offered the prestigious GM position of this epochal Jerusalem based Hotel only this mid June 2020, gave up on managing a chain of glamorous seminal hotels abroad. He was the one to reopen the hotel and restore its international standard exceptional ism.

This flamboyant, most friendly, hospitable fellow in his mid 40th had managed top hotels in 27 countries around the world. He can be engaged in 7 languages, with the smoothness, confidence and looks of a politician or even an Hollywood star.

The son of David's old professional college, Tamir was most gracious to David I, Keren and Elie, as well as generous with the time he dedicated to meeting with us. Aware that Eli (keren's fiancee) is a diplomat at the Jerusalem US embassy, Tamir also assured us that he works very diligently to accommodate the US delegations and diplomatic staff, who unfortunately, have been kept (most of them) away, back home in the US, during these Corona international lockdown season.

In the evening, left with no dining possibilities at the city's western side, (most of the Israeli edible restaurants were closed on this Jewish fasting day) we were compelled to"migrate" to the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Hanina .

A 15 minutes smooth ride North (8km) of the Israeli city's center of this united Jerusalem, on the road to Ramallah, landed us at this most vibrant, crowded , teeming with life Arab suburb.

Its ambiance was in total opposition to the solemn gear of the western side

Traffic clogged the busy streets and jolly shoppers mobbed its many stores all stocking up on produce for their Muslim holiday feast .

Unfortunately, we later learned, that the related holiday's large family celebrative gatherings, combined with disrespect to social distance maintainance and even denial of the pandemic grave threats, has triggered a sharp increase in Corona contaminated East Jerusalem cases.

Densely populated, it is relatively prosperous suburbs, and has many shops, bakeries, beauty centres and ngo offices. It is a busy commercial centre that attracts and serves not just local residents but is also a hub for leisure, trade, education and health facilities for visitors across northern Jerusalem.

It may date back to the Canaanite period.In June 2013, Israel Antiquities Authority unearthed an 1800-year-old Roman road, 8-meter-wide which led from Jaffa to Jerusalem and was built with large flat stones.

The several locals, whom we - the "American tourists"- conversed with in English, were delighted to recommend and direct us to the neighborhood's first-class restaurants.

We took our chances on one of the recommended restaurants and had a great meat dinner at "Castalita" - BBQ & More- Beith Hanina 02 6369944 02 6369945

Also we stocked up on a great quality and beautifully presented local specialty chocolate, sold in a small crowded boutique on Biet Hanina main road.

"Zumorod" - Chocolate & Sweets Boutique 054 9995864 0542492204

Inbal our younger daughter joined us with the 2 grands, the next day on Friday, for an early family breakfast, at the other beautiful landmark hotel.

Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem

Built in 1929 by the Mufti of Jerusalem as the first luxury hotel in the Middle East, the stunning structure is a blend of Greco-Roman, Gothic and Ottoman architecture, together with classic style.

It was originally named then the Palace Hotel and it hosted many monarchs and heads of state in great magnificence and splendor.

The Palace hotel closed in 1935. In 1948 with the establishment of the State of Israel, the government of Israel took over the deserted building for offices and the Ministry of Commerce and Trade occupied the building for over 50 years.

In 2006 the property was bought and converted back to its original purpose – Renowned Luxury Hotel. The renovation works took nearly eight years to complete. As a heritage landmark, the façade of the building was never demolished but restored to the 1929 architecture, and even the original main entrance has remained.

In search of an engaging activity for the young ones, and a shady shield from the midday heat, our family escaped into the indoors respeit.

Luckily, the "Hebrew Music Museum" was open, and allowed us to engage our delighted 4.5 years old grandchild - Leo, in trying some of the musical instruments collected from all across the world, on display,

During the museum organized tour, Leo was the first among the children's group to volunteer and demonstrate his musical talent, blowing into strange wind instruments and hammering on specialty tambourines.

The noises of the streets when we got out, sounded mute then the indoors musical racket tones, but the kid's overjoyed face was worth every discord.

The museum is located at the city's most quaint "Music Square"-

a renovated modern complex in the picturesque Nachalat Shiva neighborhood in central Jerusalem, and one of the most enchanting places to visit, for the boutique stores around it and several of its gourmet restaurants.

Finally on Friday evening we actualized the main reason for our Jerusalem pilgrimage of that weekend.

We were invited by Keren -our older daughter and- her fiance Elie for our first family Shabbat dinner, at Elie's beautiful apartment, located at the eastern Jerusalem beautiful "Seikh Jarrah" neighborhood on the slopes of Mount Scopus.

The Arab neighborhood received its name from the 13th-c tomb of Sheikh Jarrah, Hussam al-Din al-Jarrahi, was an emir and the personal physician to Saladin- the military leader whose army liberated Jerusalem from the Crusaders.

The modern beautiful neighborhood was founded in 1865 and gradually became an upscale residential center of Jerusalem's Muslim elite.

Eli and Keren out- did themselves and prepared a royal feast for us all.

We couldn't stop eating the master chef Humus with a pile of pine-nuts from Abu-Shukri's famous establishment, or the many other delicious dishes we stuff ourselves with to the brim.

The following day we couldn't resist having lunch at the neighborhood's quaint small hotel, right around the corner from Eli's residential compound. The Ambassador Hotel is known for its very good Arab food restaurant I wholeheartedly recommend.

This one of the first small elegant hotels of its kind in East Jerusalem, is situated in the consulate section of Sheikh Jarrah.

The hotel's restaurant offers wonderful arabic salads and selection of barbecued food, on its open air terraced restaurant overlooking the city view.

At 6:00am Saturday morning our daughter Inbal knocked on our hotel room's door.

She dumped Alex along with her darling brother Leo on our bed, declared that the 9 months old baby Alex didn't let her sleep from 3:000am.

Then she turned around and went into her room to catch up on the deprived sleep.

Our wonderful tender grands entertained us in those early morning hours, letting us be as playful and mischievous as they so innocently are, until their mother came back 2 hours later to retrieve them, ready again to assume her parental roles and face the new day.

Searching for an open decent breakfast place early Saturday morning when it is still cool enough to bear walking in the outdoors, was quite a challenge, but we did manage to stumble upon one place on Yanai St

"Etz Cafe" - Breakfast place

On the way back to the hotel we passed through the impressive "Russian Compound" which is one of the oldest districts in central Jerusalem.

It features a large striking Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church which we entered for the first time ever, also courtyards and several former pilgrim hostels that served the needs of Russian pilgrims to the Holy Land .

After the State of Israel was established, the Israeli government bought most of the buildings from the Russian Patriarchate and has been using them as Israeli government buildings. Today the compound houses Jerusalem’s district courthouse and the police headquarters, Moscovia Detention Centre, and for the Museum of Underground Prisoners.

The area is also a happening, restaurant and pub district.

The compound, which is located off Jaffa Road just up from Zion Square, was built between 1860 and 1890, with the addition in 1903 of the Nikolai Pilgrims Hospice. It was one of the first structures to be built outside the Old City of Jerusalem. In October 2008, the Israeli government agreed to transfer ownership of Sergei's Courtyard to the Russian government.

Continuing up on the pedestrian Jaffa street, along which the rail tracks of the main transportation TRAM route connects east and west Jerusalem, one can not miss the stunning 4000 square meter stone-paved

The large plaza is surrounded by the main buildings of the Jerusalem Municipality complex, and is a popular meeting space for festivals, demonstrations and public fairs as well as features the colorful cushions, created by Smadar Carmeil, symbolizing hospitality, comfort and warmth,

In reality, they are not, since they are made of hard concrete .

By the time we reached the last segment of our morning walk through "Prophet Street" - (Rechov Haneviim) the increased unbearable heat of the day managed to melt away our exploration spirit, and curbed our enthusiasm to stay a minute longer at the outdoors.

The street is one of the central roads which features historical 19 c architectural gems like: the Italian Hospital, Ethiopian Orthodox monasteries, hospices, government offices, foreign consulates, and wealthy Christian, Jewish and Arab residents,

That last elegant street's segment, which its given name has out-lasted the actual "biblical prophets", reminded me of how much the country is in need, especially during these politically turbulent and morally bankrupt times, of their long lost important clarity and guidance.

And that solemn thought, more than the loss of the sacrificial temple buildings, sealed our visit, at this eternal, glorious yet so problematic city.


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