Wander Jerusalem’s lane of artists

January 28rd, 2020Category: Solo
Through a large arched window one can watch artist David Harel in his studio painting a colorful scene of Jerusalem’s Old City.
Harel is one of Israel’s top artists, producing everything from stunning scenes of the city to the logos for the Eurovision song contest and the Taglit Birthright program that brings thousands of young Jews to Israel each year. And for more than 22 years this studio in Jerusalem’s Hutzot HaYotzer, or Artists’ Quarter, has been where Harel has come to work.
It’s a beautiful place, and it’s quiet,
said Harel, who lives in nearby Yemin Moshe.
For 50 years, this stone lane running between the Jaffa Gate area and Jerusalem’s Teddy Park has been filled with working art studios that are open to the public throughout the week. Most focus on Judaica, but many are also contemporary and some a more universal appeal. There are photographers, painters, mixed-media artists, sculptors, jewelry-makers and others. A special place all year long, Hutzot HaYotzer is a good place to visit this time of year if you are looking for a Hannukah menorah or other holiday gifts.
Down the lane, artist Dina Kopelman works on a large oil painting. Her studio is filled with dozens of large canvases covered in slightly abstract and whimsical portrayals, often of landscapes and animals.
My work is pretty universal,
Kopelman said,
But I am a Jerusalemite, and the city is very important to me. That’s why I work here.
She began working in her studio here about 4 years ago, and said the space in unique because it allows her to work as well as to exhibit and sell her art.
People also come here, and that’s really special, so is the interaction and energy of all the artists here,
she said. In addition to her paintings, Kopelman also sells smaller items, like sketchbooks with her drawings on the cover that appeal to a wider range of shoppers and budgets.
I really want to offer something for everyone, not just art collectors,
she said.
Nearby, colorful Biblically-inspired textile art, like embroidered pillowcases and handmade prayer shawls and challah covers filled the windows of Efod Adina Gatt. Across the way, Yaael Herman’s studio was filled with his digital photography of Jerusalem and other places around Israel. Further down, Alsberg Studio displayed a rich variety of items of gold and silver jewelry, most inspired by geometric designs, and artist Dan Alsberg was ready to make more pieces, according to customer request.
Another not-to-miss place in Hutzot HaYotzer is the small museum dedicated to Teddy Kollek, the long-serving mayor of Jerusalem who established the artists quarter and initiated many of the city’s other prominent building projects, including the Israel Museum, the Jerusalem Theater and numerous parks.
Most studios in Hutzot HaYotzer are open daily, except for Saturday and holidays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., closing earlier on Fridays. Entrance is free.

Looking for vintage treasures and bargains

January 28rd, 2020Category: Solo
At The Garage, one of Jerusalem’s newest vintage shops, customers look through racks of clothing and sort through a diverse assortment of other treasures, including artwork, analog cameras and jewelry.
Each thing here as its own story,
said Moshe Lepan as he worked the cash register on a recent afternoon. Lepan’s brother and a business partner opened the shop in October in a building on Shiloh Street, near the Mahane Yehuda Market. The place is packed with items the owners have hand-selected, ranging from jeans to fur coats to ties to a statue of a rooster.
It’s a whole lifestyle really,
Lepan said, explaining it is important to them to recycle and help people find new owners for interesting, beautiful and valuable things they may no longer need or want.
We are putting out new things each day,
he said. The store, which has an active Facebook page and Instagram account also holds events where people can dress up in vintage clothing and have their photo taken by a professional photographer.
It’s really fun,
Lepan said.
The store is one of many in the city. Many of the most popular and unique vintage boutiques are located along Shatz, Hillel and Bezalel streets. In addition to these shops, the area also hosts a weekly flea market, every Thursday along Agrippas Street, where shoppers can find everything from clothing to home decor to Judaica.
And for those looking for more modern used items, there is a treasure of a shop tucked into the first floor of the Bell Tower building on King George Street, just across from the intersection with Agrippas street. Here, for the past eight years, Sandy Daniel has been curating and selling high-end second-hand women’s clothing and accessories in a consignment shop.
It doesn’t feel like old clothing
Daniel said.
It’s not trying to be vintage or Victorian. And it’s only in perfect condition, and things from good brands.
It’s also a place people can bring in their items; when they sell they get 40% of the price, Daniel said.
When Daniel says her store doesn’t really have a name, a customer chimed in and said
It’s called Sandy’s and she’s wonderful.

Hearing Jewish history through music

November 21rd, 2019Category: Solo
In one corner of Jerusalem’s Hebrew Music Museum, a group of visiting children and adults are sitting in a circle, playing drums. All the drums and other instruments they are using are from Yemen and Ethiopia and other lands in the region which have been home to Jewish communities throughout the centuries. Nearby, in the sprawling museum built inside ancient stone buildings in the city’s central Nahalat Shiva neighborhood, other rooms are filled with instruments from Europe, Morocco and Central Asia, also home to historic Jewish communities..
The museum allows people to experience the whole Jewish diaspora, through musical experiences,
says Nechama Housmann, a tour guide at the museum, which opened three years ago as part of the Kikar HaMusica complex, which also includes restaurants and daily musical performances
It’s really very interactive.”
It’s really very interactive
Guided tours, which require reservations, take groups through the series of rooms, each built in the style of the region whose music they represent. The room dedicated to Central Asia has a colorful domes ceiling and bright blue and green tiles on the wall. Here, Housmann uses two wooden sticks to strum the strings of a santur, an instrument with roots in Persia. She also blows the kornai, a large trumpet-like instrument still used today in weddings in the Bukharian Jewish community, which has roots in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
Participants on guided tours also have a chance to try out the instruments. Those visiting independently also have a chance to play some independent games, and are guided virtually through the museum via a tour on an iPad.
After learning about Jewish music around the world, grand ending of the tour is in a room displaying a model of the Second Temple, and various instruments that Jewish tradition says were used in the first and second temples. Visitors can also put on virtual reality glasses and headphones, and feel like they are entering the temple and hearing harps, flutes and other instruments played there.

The museum is located at 10 Nahalat Shiva Street. To schedule a guided tour or independent visit, send an email to or call 02-540-6505.

A Stroll among the roses

A Stroll among the roses
November 21rd, 2019Category: Solo
Inside Jerusalem’s government quarter, between the Knesset and the Supreme Court lies one of the city’s most romantic hidden gems: The Wohl Rose Park. More than 15,000 rose bushes grow in this lush island of green, which also has a pond, a waterfall, sculptures and plenty of trees. There are winding trails to wander and open green lawns perfect for picnicking. The air is always filled with the sweet aroma of roses.
All year long there is something to see, but the most magnificent time is in May, when all the roses bloom
says Dalit Kaslasi, the park’s rose curator, who has overseen the garden’s plants for more than 30 years. Dozens of pots of small rose bushes sit just outside her office in the park, ready for planting.
We are always adding new roses
Kaslasi says. While the park is an ideal place for couples to wander about, sit on secluded benches, or to take photos against the backdrop of thousands of roses, it is also an intriguing place for those interested in flowers. In fact, it was a group of local amateaur rose growers who helped found the park in 1981 on a patch of empty government-owned land. Funded by the Jerusalem Foundation, and maintained by the municipality, the park now contains more than 450 varieties of roses from around the world.
Signs throughout the garden mark the different kinds of roses. The park’s small public library, next to Kaslasi’s office, contains four closets full of books and magazines about roses in various languages, for those who want to read about the history of the plants, or learn how to better care for their own rose gardens.
Meanwhile, most people who visit the park simply come for its beauty and quiet, Kaslasi said. For those planning to tour the Knesset or Supreme Court, the nearby park is a good additional stop. A visit here can also easily be combined with a stop at the nearby Jerusalem Bird Observatory if one is looking for more outdoor things to do.

Entrance to the park is free. Optional guided tours focusing on the park’s roses and history are 220 shekels per hour and can be made by calling 02-563-7233, or by emailing During the month of May there are free daily guided tours.

Life through Taxes

November 21rd, 2019Category: Business
In 1953 the acclaimed Israeli writer and poet Leah Goldberg sent a handwritten letter to the government saying she had no money to pay her taxes. This letter is now on display in the tiny Museum of Taxes near the Machane Yehuda market. Operated by the Ministry of Finance, this unique museum uses the history of taxes, customs and other bureaucracy in the Holy Land to offer insight into life here all the way back in the First Temple period through the present day.
Everything is about taxes, and taxes touch on all parts of life and history
said Mira Dror, the passionate director of the museum for more than 25 years.
Although the topic of tax sounds boring to many, the museum is full of interesting insights into Israel’s history. Although all the signs are in Hebrew, there is a book explaining the exhibits in English, and Dror can also guide English-speaking visitors around the museum, which makes a visit even more interesting.
A receipt issued to Mikveh Israel agriculture school in 1896 for paying baksheesh--a type of payment usually given discreetly--to the Ottoman Empire, which ruled the area at the time, shows the blurry lines between the law and what actually happened in real life. A 1917 document from Ronald Storrrs, the British military governor of Jerusalem, declaring that the then-new British Mandate would simply continue the tax policies of the Ottoman empire shows how governments maintain authority in times of chaos, and sheds light on why Israeli law today remains a mix of Ottoman, British and modern legal codes. Letters from Jewish residents of Jerusalem in the 1930s written in English to the local British tax authorities demanding documents in Hebrew demonstrate the passion and hard work it took to bring the ancient language back into daily use.
Mannequins dressed in historic uniforms of border tax agents and a display case full of items confiscated by tax authorities over the years, including shoes with holes in the bottoms to hide gold coins, a coat lined with expensive silk scarves and a coffee table whose top opens to reveal a poker table, also help bring the museum alive. During a tour, Dror picks up a simple cushioned wooden stool and flips it over to show the bottom plastered with 50-year-old stickers ensuring luxury tax had been paid on the item.
Why is this a luxury?”
she asks. Then she consults an old chart on display that stipulates luxury tax on any upholstered object. That tax was abolished in the 1980s.
As for whether Goldberg had to pay that tax she complained about, the answer is not clear. But of course, most official answers to tax exemptions are no, at least on paper, Dror adds with a smile.

The museum, with free entrance, is located at Agripas 42, and can be reached by going up the stairs next to Berman’s Bakery, then turning left. It is best to coordinate your visit in advance with Dror by calling 02-625-7597 or 02-531-7332. The museum is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“Jerusalem through my father’s eyes”

August 29rd, 2019Category: Solo
In the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, a small shop called Elia Photo Service, offers a window to the city’s past. The glass cupboards, walls and countertops are covered with black-and-white photos that Elia Kahvedjian took in and around Jerusalem and other parts of Israel for more than six decades, beginning in the 1920s. There are photos of camels in the desert, horse-drawn carts on Jaffa Road, and the interior of the Old City’s Hurva Synagogue before it was destroyed in the 1948-49 war.
He was always with his camera
said Kahvedjian’s grandson, also named Elia, who now runs the shop that his grandfather started in 1930. First located on Jaffa Road, where the elder Elia bought the existing Hanania Brothers photo service shop, the shop moved to its current location in 1949. Now it is a sort of museum, offering images of Jerusalem’s past, and selling the photos taken by three generations of Kahvedjians. But for a long time it was a place to develop film, get portraits taken, and hire photographers for weddings and other events.
When the elder Elia passed away in 1999, his son, Kevork, took over the business, and also published the book “Jerusalem Through My Father’s Eyes,” a collection of photos taken by his father. When Kevork died last year after battling cancer, the younger Elia continued the business.
Now it’s my time
the younger Elia said, sitting behind the counter on a recent summer afternoon, where he was telling a group of European tourists his father’s life story, of how he came as an Armenian orphan to Jerusalem during World War I, and built a whole life here. The younger Elia is also a photographer in his spare time.
I really like to show the changes in the city in my photos,
he said, pointing to a shot of the Zion Gate, riddled with bullet holes from the 1967 Six Day War. He then took out a photo his grandfather had taken in the same place in the 1930s, when the gate’s facade was much smoother.
I think it’s important to document things, because they will change again in the future
he said.

The shop is located at 14 Al-khanka Street, in the Christian Quarter of the Old City.

Discover Jerusalem’s stories through food

August 29rd, 2019Category: Solo
Do you want to meet the artists, designers and other creative people who have been changing downtown Jerusalem in recent years, and enjoy food along the way? For a unique look into life at the galleries and artsy cafes, as well as at the street graffiti, just download the Bitemojo app, and sign up for the Creative Tour of Jerusalem. Like Bitemojo’s other smartphone-based tours, the Creative Tour includes several pre-paid stops to taste food, using the various restaurants, cafes and bars as a way to learn about the past and present of Jerusalem. Guided by the smartphone app, participants can also go at their own pace, without worrying about keeping up with a group.
It provides you with a different way to experience Jerusalem
said Michael Weiss, co-founder of Jerusalem-based Bitemojo, which now offers eight different app-based food tours around Israel, and 14 others in cities around the world, including Budapest, New York and Lisbon
You go off the beaten path and really understand a place.

Other Jerusalem-based tours include the company’s original Mahane Yehuda market tour, as well as tours of the Old City, Jerusalem bars, and Jerusalem at night. The cost includes five or six stops for food on each tour, as well as stories and information about people and places along the way.
Jerusalem offers an endless amount of stories, and this is what we try to do,
said Weiss, who also co-founded YallaBasta, the first company to create an online map of the sprawling Mahane Yehuda market, where it also offers tours and pre-paid cards for food tasting. He said BiteMojo tours are unique because they can be done independently, and don’t create the disruption of large groups with guides, especially when exploring many of the city’s small streets and alleys. People can also start and stop tours as they please, completing them over several days.
It allows you complete autonomy,
he said. With the increasing number of food tours in the city, the Bitemojo ones stand out because they examine specific themes.
With the Creative Jerusalem tour, you can really see how the city is being changed with more artists, designers and entrepreneurs,
he said. The tour includes tastings at Nocturno, a cafe with its own designer boutique; custom-made juices in Mahane Yehuda market; and cheeses at one of the first shops to import products.
The food is also important
Weiss said
But the food is like a beacon of light that takes you from one place to another while you get the stories along the way

Tours are 110 shekels per person, and include five or six food tastings.

A book cafe for lovers

July 14rd, 2019Category: Solo
So many married and long-term couples have visited the cozy Tmol Shilshom cafe while they were dating that the cafe published a book about some of those who met their life-partners here. That book, Stories of Love, features ten couples, and is just a glimpse of the important role this place has played in the lives of so many people in Jerusalem.

“I feel grateful about being a meaningful part of the lives of people of the network of this city,”
said David Ehrlich, the founder and owner of Tmol Shilshom, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this summer. Inspired by the bookstore-cafes he visited while traveling in Europe and the United States, Ehrlich, a former journalist and author of four fictional books, wanted to bring the concept to Jerusalem. In 1994, he opened Tmol Shilshom in a small space overlooking Jerusalem’s Nahalat Shiva neighborhood, an area of winding streets and stone buildings in the city center. Over the years it has expanded, and now consists of two large rooms with stone floors and high arched windows. There is also a courtyard filled with tables. In addition to books, the cafe is filled with old typewriters, clocks and other unique items, which all contribute to the cozy and comfortable atmosphere. Tables tucked next to the stone walls and windows offer ample quiet and privacy for conversations among couples or friends.
The same coziness of the place that makes it an ideal date spot, has also attracted writers.
The poet Yehuda Amichai spoke and read some of his poetry at the opening. Esteemed Israeli writers Amos Oz and David Grossman have also read their work here. And American writer Nathan Englander wrote his first book here.
“A lot of writers have made this their home,”
said Ehrlich, who recently published a set of interconnected short stories partly inspired by people he met at the cafe. To encourage love of books and culture, the cafe regularly hosts speakers and events, and many of its plates contain quotes from Hebrew literature.
“I really feel like this is my mission, to encourage love of culture,”
said Ehrlich, who recently set up a children’s corner in the cafe, filled with comfortable pillows as well as stacks of books and magazines. Such a corner also makes this a great place for those couple with children to perhaps enjoy a few quiet moments together while their children are busy checking out the books, magazines and games.

The Anna Ticho house

July 14rd, 2019Category: Solo
A Place for Art and Culture; old and new

Before the state of Israel was established, botanist Baruch Chizik and artist Aharon HaLevy traveled around rural Palestine, cataloguing all of the plants they encountered. Chizik studied and identified the various flowers and cacti while HaLevy painted them.
It was part of a larger cooperative scene of scientists, artists and linguists who worked together to find, document, and even create modern Hebrew names for the plants growing in the Holy Land.

Now, some of the botanical art from this period, in addition to later periods, is part of the Seeds of the Land exhibition in the Anna Ticho House, a stone home in the center of Jerusalem that was home to one of the city’s most influential couples..
“The exhibit looks not just at the art, but at the way modern artists use plants to express feelings and political ideas,”
said Timna Seligman, curator of the Ticho House, which is part of the Israel Museum. The exhibit, on the ground floor of the building, runs through November, 2019.
The contemporary pieces include delicate glass sculptures by contemporary artist Dafna Kaffeman, and pages of Haaretz newspapers from the Six Day War period faded with paint and imprinted with silhouettes of local wildflowers in a project by Larry Abramson. Both Kaffeman and Abramson include work from earlier Israeli botanical artists.
The exhibit is especially fitting for the space because this was once home to Anna Ticho, an artist who often painted local landscapes. Her husband, the eye doctor Avraham Albert Ticho, is credited with treating the then-common eye disease of trachoma, and saving thousands of people from blindness.
“We always try to make sure that the temporary exhibits we have here have some connection to Anna,”
Seligman said.
In addition to this exhibit, the Ticho House is a place worth exploring. With its arched doorways and stone work, the house is also a well-preserved example of typical Jerusalem architecture. Recent renovations have exposed ornate ceiling drawings on the top floor of the house, now home to the Anna Cafe, a Mediterranean restaurant.
Entrance is free, and its location, near the main downtown thoroughfare of Jaffa Road makes it an ideal stopping place during a day of exploring the city.
“Visitors can stop in, have a look around and even enjoy a drink or meal,” Seligman said. “It’s really a lovely place, especially in the summer when the gardens are in bloom.”

Jerusalem’s secret garden

March 26rd, 2019Category: Solo
From Jerusalem’s bustling King David Street, the tiny Elimelech Admoni Street leads down hill to reveal a sprawling green park, shaded with palm, pine and olive trees. Rather than city traffic and honking car horns, here it is quiet, with birds chirping in the background. This magical hidden park in the center of Jerusalem is called Bloomfield Garden, and is tucked between King David Street and the Old City. In addition to a quiet atmosphere, filled with stone paths and benches, there are also sweeping views of the Old City Walls.

Other hidden treasures include a walkway covered with arches of grape and rose and vines, streams and water fountains. There are also sculptures scattered throughout the park, including several bronze lions, donated to Jerusalem by Germany in the 1980s. Like almost every other place in Jerusalem, the park also contains a window into history and stories of the past. Here you will find an ancient cave on the face of a grassy hill. Only the entrance is visible to the public, but this cave leads down to a five-chamber underground burial complex. According to some archaeologists, this place is possibly where King Herod, famous for building up Jerusalem during the Second Temple period, had his sons and other family members buried. Other scholars dispute the connection to Herod, but all agree it was a significant monument, dating back at least 2,000 years. Researchers are still working on solving the mystery. Although the burial cave is not open to the public, the presence of its adds to the secret and undiscovered atmosphere of this park.

Scents of Jerusalem

Behind the walls of the Hansen hospital

May 23rd, 2017Category: Solo
When Ruth Wexler started working as a nurse at Jerusalem’s Hansen Hospital in 1983, it was still a place that many people feared. Just a short walk from the Inbal Hotel, this complex behind stone walls was where people were treated for leprosy.

By the time Wexler started working here, leprosy was treated with antibiotics and was called by its modern name, Hansen’s Disease, after a Norwegian scientist named Gerhard Armauer Hansen discovered the bacteria that causes the disease, mainly affecting the skin, nose and eyes. “But everybody still called it the leper home,” Wexler recalls. “And some people were afraid to come inside.” The hospital, which opened in 1887, only closed its doors in 2009. But now it has taken on a second life. A few years ago, this sprawling complex re-opened as the Hansen House Center for Design Media and Technology. The stone buildings that were once a hospital have been turned into art galleries, working spaces and a cafe.

The gardens, which patients with leprosy once relied on for fruit and vegetables, are alive again and bursting with colorful flowers and shady green spaces. It has become one of the city’s trendiest public places, hosting many cultural events, including the upcoming seventh annual Jerusalem Design Week in June. This is largely due to Wexler’s passion for the place. When the hospital closed, Wexler organized a historical exhibit about it, which the city’s mayor, Nir Barkat, attended. This exhibit led to the municipality deciding to preserve the property--originally designed by German architect and archaeologist Conrad Schick who was Jerusalem’s first city planner-- and open it as a public cultural space, explains Shira Schonfeld, who works for Ran Wolf Urban Planning and Project Management, which manages the Hansen House.
Else it probably would have been turned into luxury apartments or a boutique hotel,
Schonfeld says. “It was really because of Ruth’s exhibit that this is what it is today.” While Wexler says “it’s a great thing,” that the two acres of land and its buildings have been turned into such a vibrant space, it is still important to her to educate people about its historical role in treating Hansen’s Disease, and in fighting the stigma that is still associated with leprosy. She now gives private tours of the property, including the few hospital rooms that have been preserved as a museum. One of the first things she emphasizes is that
this was never a closed institute. Patients could come and go, and people could come in and visit.
Contrary to the cultural fears people have about it, going back to Biblical times, leprosy is only “mildly contagious,” Wexler explains. Only about 5% of the human population can actually catch it, as most immune systems fight it off, she says. And since the 1940s it has been treatable with antibiotics. “There are good cures and most patients can lead a normal life,” she says. But even though going back to the 1940s, some of the Hansen Hospital patients were medically-fit to go home, many stayed living here, as their families sometimes rejected them due to social stigma and fears of catching the disease, Wexler says. The black and white photos hanging in the museum reflect the community that developed in this pastoral place. Photos can be seen of the residential patients working in the gardens and learning how to sew.
Christians, Muslims and Jews, everybody lived together,
Wexler says. This is the part of the hospital’s history that she really does not want to be forgotten, and this is why she gives tours. For people from outside Jerusalem who come here for the cultural events, “many don’t even realize what this place used to be,” she says. “And I feel that it is a very special human and cultural story, how for everybody who came in, this was a home for them.”

Wine-tasting and tours add to famous romantic

May 23rd, 2017Category: Solo
Wine-tasting and tours add to famous romantic landmark
For more than a century the blades of the towering windmill in Mishkanot Sha’ananim did not rotate.  But that didn’t stop this historic neighborhood from becoming one of the most romantic places in the city, a site where hundreds of couples got engaged or posed for wedding photos each year.

But now, after a 2012 restoration project, the windmill once again rotates.  And several new activities based in and around the windmill make this location--with its sweeping views of the Old City and surrounding hills--one of the best places to visit, especially for couples looking for a fun day out or a romantic evening walk.

Sommeliers from Jerusalem Wineries have now found a home inside the base of the windmill.  Stop by here any weekday between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., or any Friday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. to sample wines and chat with professionals from the winery.  You can even purchase a bottle to take home.

After sampling wine, you can join a guided tour to learn how the windmill works, and to get to the bottom of the local debate about whether or not it ever actually ground flour.  Built in the late 1800s by French philanthropist Moses Montefiore to provide income for the poor residents of the first neighborhood outside the city walls, the windmill did indeed grind the wheat of surrounding farmers into flour.  But after 18 years of operation it stopped working.  Then local stories began to spring up about how it never worked, about how it was not even built to work.  Even Israel’s most famous 20th century poet Yehuda Amichai once wrote about how
the windmill never ground flour. It ground holy air.
After an extensive renovation project funded by the Jerusalem Foundation, which involved flying in windmill experts from Europe, the windmill is again operational.  

Visitors to the windmill can now also participate in an escape-room style game that takes place in and around the windmill. The game is suitable for couples as well as larger groups.

But even with the windmill blades once again turning and new activities here, one of the best things to do is simply stroll around the colorful gardens here and take in the panoramic views in this urban oasis, whether its on an ordinary evening or for a marriage proposal.

Out of the blue

May 23rd, 2017Category: Solo
Inside a glass case at Jerusalem’s Bible Lands Museum, a stone tablet from the 13th century BCE reveals how some people in the lands of ancient Canaan paid their taxes not with gold or silver, but with bundles of wool dyed in blue.
This is just one example of the important and surprising spiritual, cultural and financial role that the color blue played in the ancient world.  Examining the origins of the color blue, a new exhibit called Out of the Blue takes visitors on a journey through thousands of years and thousands of miles, from the blue sky to the blue sea; from ancient Afghanistan to the modern state of Israel, where blue defines the state’s flag and many other symbols.
You can say it’s just about a color, but it really takes you so many places,
says one of the exhibit’s curators, Oree Meiri, as she walked through the exhibit on a recent morning.  “I learned so much in the process of organizing this exhibit that I can’t even begin to tell you.”
Although it is the color of the seemingly endless sky and sea, blue held special significance in the ancient world because unlike shades of green, yellow, or brown, it could not be picked up in the form of leaves, grass, stone or animal fur.

One of the few tangible sources of blue that occurred in nature was the lapis lazuli stone, found in what is now Afghanistan.  In fact, these rare and valuable stones are likely what the Bible refers to when it refers to the sapphires that decorated the Ark of the Covenant and the garments of the Temple’s high priests, Meiri explains.

But it was not until the time of the Phoenicians, who lived along the ancient Mediterranean coast, that a reliable source of blue fabric dye was discovered. They found that the glands of certain sea snails contained a liquid that stained fabric different shades of blue and purple.  The tedious process of making dye from these snails was such an integral part of this trade-oriented society--and likely their source of wealth -- that many of their coins contained a picture of a sea snail.
It was really a complex process to extract this dye, and it was a big deal that the color stayed, and didn’t fade or wash out,
Meiri says, as she looks at a case full of ancient sea snail, or murex, shells found at archaeological sites.  This so-called “tekhelet” was also the color that the ancient Israelites were instructed to use to dye the fringes that hung from their four-cornered garments.

The exhibit goes on the trace how the industry of making blue dye from Mediterranean sea snails eventually collapsed, causing the fringes of the tallit, or Jewish prayer shawl, to once again have only white strings.  But blue had become such an integral part of Jewish identity that people began putting blue stripes on the fabric of their prayer shawls, and this was what inspired the design of the flag of the modern state of Israel. The exhibit also tells the story of how the blue dye of the murex was rediscovered in modern times, leading once again to some Jews having blue strings hanging adorning their prayer shawls.
Today blue is something we take for granted,
Meiri says.  “But the story of how it came to be this way is really amazing.  It really is a deep color.”

Bringing King David to life

May 23rd, 2017Category: Romantic
A red-headed boy leads his sheep across a grassy field, interspersed with trees.  The music of a flute plays and the rolling, rocky hills of Judea rise in the background.  These are the opening scenes of the new evening sound and light show King David, which transforms the 1,000-year old stone walls of the Tower of David Museum in Jerusalem’s Old City into a surround-sound movie theater five nights a week.  Once the sun sets, David and his story come to life in this Crusader-era citadel via 18 laser projectors and 20 speakers.

In addition to telling the story of the life of David--the shepherd boy who became a Biblical King--the show also illuminates the citadel walls with hundreds of works of art made throughout history that have immortalized David.  So viewers see Michelangelo’s famous carved marble David statue and Chagall’s bright painting of David with a harp, among dozens of others, as David is one of the most portrayed people in the art world.
My idea was to take people on a walk through a gallery of art,
said Renee Sivan, the museum’s archaeologist who curated the show.  “Seeing these works of art lets people have a different appreciation and see the appreciation different people had for David.”
Sivan, who previously created the museum’s other sound and light show, The Night Spectacular, which tells the story of the history of Jerusalem, wanted to present a fuller picture of David.
King David is not only a king, he’s a musician, a poet and also very very human,
Sivan said.
But producing the life-like images of David and the other historical figures that illuminate the walls was not simple.  Sivan wanted them to be historically accurate, in every detail, from what they wore to how they moved.
“And that’s difficult because we have very few indications and pieces of archaeological evidence from the era of King David,” she said.  She spent months researching what fabric dyes were available in the region at the time in order to portray David and others in authentic clothing.  And she scoured museum collections around the world for visual evidence of historical events associated with David.  For example, she relies on stone carvings found in Egypt to know what the Philistines, who fight David in a battle, looked like.

“This is how I knew exactly how they moved and what they wore,” she said.
Her goal was also to create a show that would appeal to a wide variety of audiences.  And this one has something for everyone, she said, from beauty, to history, to art to action. She said she knew all her work was worth it when she recently took her 7-year-old grandson to see it.
His eyes were wide open, just looking the whole time,
she said.

Tickets to King David are 55 shekels for adults, 50 shekels for senior citizens and 45 shekels for children ages 3 to 18.  Combined tickets for both the museum and the show are 70 shekels for adults and 55 shekels for senior citizens and children.

Catching birds

May 23rd, 2017Category: Solo
Every morning Alen Kacal arrives just after sunrise to the Jerusalem Bird Observatory, near the Knesset, to see if any birds were trapped overnight in the large nets that cover many of the trees and bushes here. On a recent March morning she found a blue and orange kingfisher, a bright yellow warbler and an owl that usually lives in Siberia.
There are always surprises, especially in the spring,
says Kacal, an Israeli immigrant from Trinidad who has been bird watching since she was 8 years old, and is now the director of the bird observatory, operated by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and located in the middle of Jerusalem, between the Knesset and Gan Sacher park. Every spring about 500 million birds fly over Israel, making their annual migration from the southern hemisphere back to the northern hemisphere. They stop to rest at various places around the country, including in this little 1.5-acre patch of nature, making Israel one of the best places in the world for bird watching. For most birds, this is their first stop in a lush and green area after many nights of flying over the Sahara and Negev deserts, where there is almost nothing for them to eat.
The birds get here absolutely famished and exhausted,
Kacal says. After landing, the birds spend about a week among the trees, flowers and lily-pad filled pond here, eating various plants and animals. Small birds will usually double their body weight before they fly off for the rest of their journey, Kacal explains. On this March morning, about 100 birds were trapped in the observatory’s hard-to-see nets, which catch birds without hurting them. Kacal and other staff members gently pluck the fluttering birds out of the nets, and put them into small cloth bags. They then spent the rest of the morning attaching small metal rings imprinted with contact information for the Jerusalem Bird Observatory to the birds’ legs. These rings help scientists around the world track bird migration patterns. Some of the birds trapped here arrived with rings from landing here during previous migration seasons. “We see a lot of returning birds,” Kacal said. And many birds arrive each day with rings from other bird ringing stations in Europe and Africa. A group of school children watched intently as a staff member put a tiny ring around the leg of a chiffchaff, a small brown bird weighing about 6 grams.
This is usually a bird you never see because it spends most of its time in the bushes, where it looks just like a leaf,
Kacal explains, saying the bird spends it summers in northern Europe and its winters in Africa. After the ring was attached, the bird was released, flying up into the trees. Through the end of May, visitors can come each week day between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m. and watch up close as staff put rings on the birds. Sometimes visitors can hold the birds after they receive their rings and release them into the sky, Kacal says. “For us, interacting with the people and teaching them about birds is very important,” Kacal says. She then makes her way over to a small hut with benches where visitors can look out over the pond and watch birds. A kingfisher is hunting for fresh-water crabs, pausing every few minutes to sing out in search of a mate. Visitors can borrow binoculars, and sit here for free, as long as they want. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, visitors can also see butterflies and turtles; and at night there are porcupines, hedgehogs and bats. “Or, of course you can just sit here and pretend you are not in the middle of the city,” Kacal says.
It’s a great place for everyone, and another way to get to know the city and the country.
In addition to the always open bird watching area, and daily bird ringing, the observatory offers special activities during Passover, including hikes during the day and at night, and viewing of films and an art-exhibit in its visitors center. For more information, see


May 23rd, 2017Category: Solo
Along the shop-lined cobblestone pedestrian Yoel Solomon Street in the city’s Nahalat Shiva neighborhood, one store stands out among the others because it has two names.  The door reads Cadim, but the sign on the building says Altogether 8.  While it can be confusing, the shop does indeed have have two names because two different ceramic art cooperatives--among the oldest businesses on the popular street-- recently joined forces.
It now ensures that we have more variety and a high quality of work,
says Cecilia Lind, an artist who joined Altogether 8 three years ago and is now one of 15 artists in the new joint cooperative.  “We are getting used to working together and rebranding ourselves.”
For nearly 30 years, Cadim and 8 Altogether were two different shops on two different sides of Yoel Solomon Street, run by two different groups of local artists. In January, they merged, with the artists of Altogether 8 moving into Ruach Cadim and bringing their wares and--their sign--with them.  

Ranging in ages from 28 to 84 and hailing from all over the country the group is still getting to know each other, but the artists say the larger cooperative will help them do better work and still keep prices affordable for customers.  The cooperative nature allows the artists to split the overhead for renting and running the shop, as well as for other expenses like marketing and accounting.  Each artist works in the shop a couple of days a month, with their other days free to spend in their studios.  They meet once a month for a potluck meal to get to know each other better and deal with the logistics of running the shop.
We are really a community, and support each other,
says Lind, who lives in the Greek Colony, where she has an in-home studio.  
The ceramics in the united shop range from Boris Katz’s whimsical lion-shaped Hanukkah menorah to Amnon Israeli’s peacock-adorned bowls to Ruthie Simon’s blue and white kiddush cups.  Lind’s work includes a ceramic tea set with stripes and other textures embedded in the clay, and painted in greens and blues.

“The work here, it’s modern but it pays respect to the city,” Lind says as she was working in a the shop on a recent Friday. “It’s an old art form, but maybe used in a new way. So it’s like when they build a new building in Jerusalem, but they still use the same kind of stones and the same architecture, like the arched doorways.”

Simon says the colors in her work are inspired by the white stone of the city’s buildings and the often clear blue sky.  She also incorporates pomegranates, grapes and other local fruits into her designs.
Jerusalem definitely influences my work,
says Simon, who was born in the coastal city of Ashkelon, but has lived and worked in an old stone house in Jerusalem’s Nachlaot neighborhood for more than three decades.
But it’s not just the city that influences her work, but also its people, and the people who visit, whom she often meets when it’s her turn to work in the shop.

“It’s really an intimate meeting between the artists and the people who come into the shop,” Simon says.  “I get inspiration and ideas from them.”

Jerusalem of art

May 23rd, 2017Category: Solo
Turning onto a small street from Jerusalem’s bustling Jaffa Road, Jenna Romano leads a group of visitors to a small courtyard surrounded by stone houses.  The group climbs a narrow staircase and enters the Marie Gallery, one of a growing number of contemporary art spaces in the city.  The gallery’s white walls are covered with collages made from a combination of photography and paintings. The exhibit by local textile artist Chana Cromer deals with how people process memory, explains Romano, who runs the blog Contemporary Art in Jerusalem and gives both public and private tours of the art scene here.

Like most of the city’s art exhibition spaces, this was not built as an art gallery, but as housing on the edge of Jerusalem’s Nachlaot neighborhood, Romano explains “The galleries here are not the typical white cubes you see in New York,” Romano says.
Most are in very old and ancient places.
Like many newcomers to the city, Romano-- who has a university degree in art history and has worked in galleries in New York and Paris before moving to Jerusalem in 2015-- was surprised to find so many contemporary art galleries and artists working here.  Jerusalem is home to Israel’s premier art school, Bezalel Academy; but until recently, most graduates headed for Tel Aviv, long the capital of Israel’s contemporary art scene, and still its commercial art center.  Now, that is starting to change, and in recent years, more artists have set up shop in Jerusalem, working mainly in studios and galleries that are cooperative, non-profit, or funded by the municipality.
The galleries here are not focused on selling things, so it’s a very authentic and community-oriented vibe,
Romano says.  And it’s another way to learn about the city, even for those without any prior interest or knowledge of art, she says. This is why she started her blog and to give tours.  
“It’s a new and refreshing way to see the city,” she says.

The history and current diversity of the city influence many of the artists working here, Romano tells her tour group as they wander around Beita, whose exhibition space has tall windows looking out onto Jaffa Road and the city’s light rail train tracks. There, Beita’s curator talked about its current group exhibition, entitled The Lion and the Pussycat. Among the installations were sculptures of cats portraying certain members of the Israeli parliament, and a sand pit filled with giant feline bones that visitors could play with.

“It seems like an exhibition about cats, but it’s not,” curator Avital Naor Wexler tells the group. 
It’s about Jerusalem.  The city’s symbol is the lion, which is powerful, grand and royal and Biblical.  But the cats, who live all over the streets in Jerusalem, represent the everyday life here.  The citizens are kind of like cats.
After visiting Beita, while walking along Jaffa Road, Romano pointed out grafiti by the street artist Solomon Souza, whose colorful paintings cover much of the city’s Mahane Yehuda outdoor market.  The tour also passed by an outdoor exhibition space called Black Box, which features rotating works displayed in large billboards near the Davidka light rail station.

The last stop on Romano’s tour was the Jerusalem Artists House. Modern art galleries may not be what one would expect to find inside this 19th-century stone mansion with well-manicured gardens. But that is exactly what is here.
Romano explains that this used to be the museum of Bezalel Academy, which once focused largely on traditional Jewish art as well as crafts.  But when the Bezalel collection was moved to the Israel Museum, this became the headquarters of the Association for Jerusalem Artists, and includes three galleries which focus on emerging artists as well as retrospective exhibits by older artists.  
There are a lot of hidden places like this around the city,
Romano says.  “And even though the focus is on contemporary art, you also can’t escape the history.”
To learn more about Jerusalem art tours, see

Walking in the footsteps of repentance

May 23rd, 2017Category: Solo
As darkness falls over Jerusalem each Thursday evening during the Hebrew month of Elul, groups of visitors will make their way to Mount Zion.  Among the ancient ruins, a tour guide begins to talk about King David, who, according to Jewish tradition, conquered the city and built its first temple.

But during this month that focuses on repentance, leading up to the high holidays of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, it is not just the glory of King David that is talked about, but also his sins. This is just one stop on the so-called Selichot Tours offered by Yalla Basta, a local family-owned interactive tour company.  Named after the selichot, or repentance, prayers recited at night or just before dawn in the weeks leading up to the high holidays, the evening tours offer a glimpse into both history and everyday life in Jerusalem.  One route explores Nachlaot and the Old City, while another focuses on Nahalat Shiva, Mishkenot Shaananim and Mount Zion.
Through these stories, people will learn the history, learn about the Jewish traditions and hopefully also about themselves,
says Maria Zavin, who oversees marketing for Yalla Basta.  “It’s a way to see the city in a vivid way.”
Two local families launched  Yalla Basta in 2012, originally offering tours of the Mahane Yehuda market that allowed participants to taste food and hear stories from vendors.  In recent years, the company has expanded, offering food tours in several neighborhoods as well as tours focused on the holidays.
We’ve always wanted to allow the traveler to experience the local life, not just the dry history,
Zavin says.
That’s why when the selichot tour goes through Nachalot, the guide encourages participants to ask passersby on the street “Who was Rabbi Arie Levin?” as they pause outside the building that was once his home.  After hearing locals tell what they know about Levin, who lived in Nachlaot in the early 20th century and was famous for visiting prisoners and taking care of the sick and impoverished, people, the guide tells the group how Levin prepared himself for the high holidays.
There are so many stories to tell,
Zavin says.  Through these stories, the guides also hope that visitors--no matter their religion--will also look inside themselves as they learn about the spiritual journeys of both famous and ordinary; and ancient and contemporary locals.
In the midst of exploring synagogues, small streets and ancient ruins on the selichot tours, participants also stop for pastries and hot drinks in Jerusalem establishments, experiencing a small taste of the nightly cafe scene.

Contact Yalla Basta for tour times and cost.