Comments from Recent Visitors

"Madeleine gave us an objective view of the people and places we see on the news."

"She is no nonsense, easy to work with, and very flexible. I recommend her highly."

"Madeleine kept our children, 10, 13, 15 yrs interested and engaged (as only a former teacher can), and her depth of knowledge was welcome by the adults in the group."

"We were a diverse group - different ages, religions, athletic abilities - and Madeleine managed to accommodate us all."

"Madeleine gracefully navigated complex issues of faith and culture and we came away with a much better perspective of Jerusalem through 3,000 years of history"

"Madeleine has a talent for listening to what we're interested in and crafting an itinerary that when experienced, flows perfectly while she is open to being flexible and the serendipity of discovery"

"Madeleine was incredible - a huge wealth of information, extremely professional and a wonderful sense of humour"

Thursday, December 20, 2012

All Aboard! The Jerusalem Train Station Returns to Life - now open!

The ground shook on September 26, 1892 when the first train from Jaffa pulled into the Jerusalem train station which is situated in the German Colony. A century later, the train station was closed and the compound fell into disrepair.

The glory days of the Jerusalem Train Station

However, things are about to change. Plans are underway that will bring the site back to life by Spring 2013 in a project similar to the one which recently rejuvenated the "Tahana " train compound in Tel Aviv.

First Station will be a venue for restaurants, cafes, shops, food market, craft stalls and even an open air cinema to attract visitors to the historic site and add to the entertainment options of the area.

Work underway - January 2013

New Plan for the Station

Earlier in the year a bicycle and walking path was also inaugurated at the train station which follows the old railway line and will eventually reach the neighborhood of Beit Safafa. This is a great hit at weekends especially with families who can be seen walking or peddling along the attractively-landscaped route of the former tracks.

For more information on the new station project: See the following article by Melanie Lidman which appeared in a recent edition of the Jerusalem Post

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Blooming Marvellous! - The Jerusalem Botanical Gardens

Which plant did Adam and Eve take as a reminder of the Garden of Eden? What was the Burning Bush?

Questions like these and many more can be answered by touring the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens.

Today I joined a tour for English-speaking tour guides of the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens in Nayot situated close to the Israel Museum and Knesset. Although I live just a short distance away from the Gardens and have visited them on several occasions since they were opened to the public in 1985, I was very excited to learn about the new programs on offer to the public and see how far the area has developed in the past few years.

Something is always blooming in the Gardens' six geographical sections, which replicates landscapes from around the world. Here, you can travel from Europe to North America, from Southern Africa to Australia, and from Asia to the Mediterranean, without stepping on a single plane!

We started our tour on the Flower Train passing through landscapes of the six geographical sections. We learned about medicinal plants, the new Bonsai Garden being opened with the assistance of Japanese friends and a grass maze for children. We were introduced to the Bible Path and learned how botanical metaphors were used to convey moral and other messages in a language the ancient Hebrews would have easily understood.

With the largest plant collection in Israel (some 10,000 species), the Gardens truly present 'biodiversity live'!

Diversity in the Gardens is also reflected by the diversity of the visitors.  Whether it's families with young children, senior citizens, religious, secular and ultra-orthodox Jews, Arabs, new immigrants, people with special needs - everyone benefits from nature and exposure to the beauty and tranquility of the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens.

Special activities for children and families are organised for private groups.

Next time you visit the Israel Museum or Knesset, take time out for a tour of the Botanical Gardens. You can also enjoy a meal or light refreshment at the lakeside restaurant.

NB Thanks to reciprocal membership schemes, holders of subscriptions to the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens get free entry to the San Diego Botanic Garden and the Chicago Botanic Garden too!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Hidden Gem in the Old City - "Wujoud"

Jerusalem is filled with hidden gems. Last week, I visited, together with a number of other female guides, Wujoud - "Presence" in Arabic - a museum and cultural centre of Palestinian heritage situated just a few steps down David Street the main market street from Jaffa Gate. Established only two years ago, Wujoud offers visitors glimpses of Palestinian life in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The inspiration behind this project is Nora Kort, a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, who grew up in a cosmopolitan Jerusalem family. She is an amazing entrepreneur and the driving force behind a number of Old City projects aimed at assisting the Palestinian community and in particular the women.

My group of "girl guides" were inspired by Ms. Kort, her determination against all odds - city bureaucracy and the indifference and even animosity of local shopkeepers - and her belief that Wujoud can become a place where people of all faiths can meet others and share stories.

The project began in 2009 when the Greek Othodox Church donated a 650-year old building to the Arab Orthodox Society of Myrrh Bearers. A group of engineers and architects were commissioned to rehabilitate the building which had been sitting in disrepair for most of its existence and have turned it into a beautiful cultural centre.

Wujoud is situated in the heart of the Christian Quarter overlooking Hezekiah's Pool or the Pool of the Patriarchs which was an important source of water for the city during the 1st century. Now dry, the city has cleaned up the area and Nora has ambitious plans for this site.

View of Hezekiah's Pool from the roof of Wujoud

(Left: Nora Kort, the Holy Sepulchre Church can be seen in the background)

Girl Guides enjoying the museum
(pictures: Carol Ann Bernheim)

If you have a few moments to spare, stop by Wujoud for a cup of coffee or tea and visit the small ethno-museum in this beautiful building. Donations are gratefully received!

Other projects supported by Nora include: the Melia Center, established in 1992 by the Arab Orthodox Society, which gives Palestinian women an outlet to sell their embroidered goods and earn an income. This is situated close to the New Gate.

Adjacent to this is Bint al Balad - or "Daughter of the Country",  which prepares traditional Palestinian dishes including pies, pastries, and salads. In addition to the shop itself, the employees provide catering services for parties and other celebrations. This and the embroidery shop constitute the only stores in Jerusalem staffed entirely by women.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Amazing 2000 Year Old Olive Tree

After a recent tour of Beit Guvrin with Margie and Harvey Willensky, I was asked by Margie to help her in her pursuit of photographing interesting trees in Israel. One of them was an ancient olive tree hidden away in the grounds of the Beit Jamal Monastery down the road on the way to Beit Shemesh.

We entered the compound only to be told that the monk with the key to the garden was resting. We were extremely disappointed but, not to be put off, I asked one of the staff if he knew about the tree. He immediately took out a key, walked us to the garden gate, and pointed in the general direction of the tree which, he said, had been tested by Italian experts and dated to over 2000 years.

After wandering for about 100 yards along a dry and thorny trail we came upon an amazing site: our 2000 year old olive tree!

As we approached we started to realise how large the tree really was.

At over 8 meters (25 feet) in circumference, this tree was truly a magical thing to behold and we knew we were in the presence of something very special.

An intricate network of roots snaked their way down the tree and we were embraced in it's long arms.

We spent half an hour enchanted by this magnificent tree - a truly spiritual experience

Photos courtesy of Margie Willensky

Friday, May 18, 2012

Mona Lisa of the Galilee - Tzippori

One of the most exquisite and well-preserved mosaics in the country is to be found inside a building referred to as the Roman villa in the Tzippori National Park. Perched high up on the acropolis, this luxurious home was clearly the residence of one of Tzippori's more important citizens, perhaps the local governor.

"Mona Lisa" (photo: Fabienne Attal)
The centerpiece of the home is a large guestroom with 'triclinium', or a three-sided, U-shaped Roman banquet area. The mosaic floor, comprising tiles of twenty-eight different colors, is designed around these three tables so that no panels are obscured.

The southern portrait depicts a captivating woman adorned with earrings and a laurel garland. Her gaze is riveting; in fact, it appears she looks directly at you from every corner of the room. This woman has been dubbed "the Mona Lisa of the Galilee", not because she resembles DaVinci's subject but rather because she seems to have the same quality of timelessness and of superb artistry. She even has the same faint hint of a smile.

Much speculation has been made as to the identity of this mysterious beauty. Who was she? The first possibility that comes to mind is the lady of the house. Perhaps this woman was a legendary beauty of her time whose face was renown throughout the land?  Maybe she once graced this villa with her presence and the owner chose to memorialize her visit to him in the room he entertained all his guests.

Perhaps the mosaic artist created a monument to a great love of his life whose radiant beauty would be admired by all who gazed upon her, but whose identity would remain hidden.

Tzippori National Park is situated near Nazareth and is well worth a stop on your next visit to the Galilee.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Spring is here at last! - Lupin Hill

Spring is here! After an unusually long and wet winter the hills are alive and blooming.  The locals are making the most of the fine weather to tour the length and breadth of Israel in search of the wide variety of wildflowers which carpet the country for the few short months before the onset of summer.

Last week I took a friend along on my annual pilgrimage down the road to Lupin Hill otherwise known as Givat HaTurmussim or ancient Socoh (in Hebrew גבעת התרמוסים) overlooking the Valley of Elah and Tel Azekah, site of the epic battle between David and Goliath (I Samuel: 17).

Lupins lining the hillside
Situated close to Beit Guvrin National Park, throngs of visitors converge on Lupin Hill which is a blaze of colour for only a few short weeks in March.

Blowing in the wind
The area still maintains its biblical atmosphere and it is easy to imagine the events that took place some 3,000 years ago not a stone's throw away from the hillside on which we sat.

Ancient wine and olive presses attest to the traditions that are maintained today by the many fine boutique wineries, dairies and restaurants which offer tourist attractions throughout the year.

This is a perfect area to visit for those who are looking for something different to do within an hour of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. (Thanks to Fabienne Attal for her pictures)


Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Taste of Morocco

Tucked away behind store fronts and a newly-built apartment complex on Jerusalem's King David Street is one of the first buildings to be constructed by Jews outside the Old City walls. A narrow path from the busy road leads into a another world and a delightful courtyard replete with fountains and splendid Moroccan mosaics. The neighborhood is the Mahane Israel quarter, also known as Mughrabim or Mamilla. The building houses The International Heritage Center for North African Jewry which celebrates in a most resplendent and ornate style the extensive contributions of the North African Diaspora.
A beautifully-carved door conceals the four-storey building in the form of a painstakingly reconstructed Moroccan palace featuring architectural motifs from Morocco and the Andalusia Alhambra Palace.  Expert artisans in zellige – the mosaic floor and wall coverings – were brought from Morocco to Jerusalem to create the absolutely authentic atmosphere and surroundings of back home for them and that which hundreds of thousands of Jews left behind but never forgot.
Elaborately carved cedar wood beams, imported from the Atlas Mountains, and great expanses of decorative stucco walls and arches leave one in awe - and with a stiff neck from looking up in order to absorb the true beauty of the intricate work of the artisans Spanish-Moorish style.

Breathtaking craftsmanship of Moroccan artisans in Jerusalem

Leading off the central patio on all levels are spacious exhibition halls showing artworks and photographs with texts detailing the period of history depicted.  Apart from a library, the building is full of furniture, carpeting, vessels, clothing, - to help conjure up a picture of the richness of Jewish life in the Magreb for those Ashkenazi outsiders like myself.  The fourth floor contains a music room and audiovisual centre which screens a short film of the delights of Morocco which made me want to travel there immediately!
Even though the Heritage Centre was opened over a year ago, it is still somewhat of a hidden gem to Israelis and overseas visitors. Groups of 10 or more can arrange a tour of the building (in Hebrew, French or English) by contacting Natalie at (02) 6235811. There is no access to individuals at this stage.
(My thanks to Jill Rosenfield for her pictures and
Lydia Aisenberg for text)