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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.