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 12, 2013

Winter Wonderland Jerusalem, December 2013

Even though snow is not a rare occurence in this city, this morning Jerusalem experienced its heaviest December snowfall since 1953. Schools have closed and public transport is at a standstill as Jerusalem's residents stay at home and keep warm.

Coming fast on the tail of an unusually warm November, Jerusalemites have been suprised by the sudden freezing temperatures which are affecting much of the Middle East. Snow is always a cause for great celebration especially among the children who look forward to building snowmen and generally having fun.

The snow storm was the fiercest in over 100 years cutting off roads to the city and electricity to many households. The sun is finally coming out and melting the snow but a huge amount of damage has been caused to infrastructure which will take some time to repair.

Jerusalem of white and gold

View to the Knesset

Old City Walls

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Shabbat Morning Stroll in Jerusalem

This month marks my 30th year in Israel! When I first moved to Jerusalem there was very little to do on Saturday for entertainment in the west part of the city. Certainly no restaurants or movies. The situation is very different today.

It was a beautiful autumnal day with bright sunshine and blue skies. I took a walk with a friend to the First Station and this is what we found along the way.

The beautiful Armenian mosaic by David Ohannessian at the Jerusalem House of Quality on the Hebron Road - formerly the St. John's Opthalmic Hospital.
We continued to the charming St. Andrew's Scottish Church where we ate brunch and, on exiting, crossed to the Lions' Fountain in the park opposite where an Ethiopian wedding celebration was taking place.

The Happy Couple

Then onto the First Station which opened in May this year and has quickly become a popular hub of entertainment. The place was filled with people walking, cycling, eating, shopping and watching an open-air jazz concert. What did we do before this place opened??

Jerusalem is alive and well, even on Saturday!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Jerusalem Bird Observatory - another hidden gem in Jerusalem

Hidden away on a tiny, one-acre plot (5,000 square meters) between the Knesset (the Israeli parliament), the Rose Garden and the Supreme Court, sits the Jerusalem Bird Observatory - JBO.

The JBO was established in 1994 by the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel - SPNI - in order to preserve one of the last bird and wildlife refuges in the city.   The site is one of the few traditional birdwatching areas in Jerusalem that has not been harmed by development, and its central location makes it an attractive educational and tourist center for the public.

I wrote an earlier piece about the 500 million birds passing through this country in the autum and spring as they migrate to and from Europe and Africa.

It is possible to stop by the JBO any time of the day and night to sit and watch the birds who stop off at the small pond to rest and refuel on their long journey across continents.

The Hoopoe
Voted Israel's national bird in 2008
At present the JBO is receiving a USAID grant promoting a joint Israeli - Palestinian ringing project. The JBO offers monthly activities to the general public. These include: afternoon bird walks, nature walks, bird banding (ringing) for students from preschool to college age. It is also possible to arrange private bird watching trips to all parts of the country.

 On your next visit to Jerusalem, take the time to enjoy this special place  - only a stone's throw from the Knesset but much more relaxing and spiritually rewarding.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Zalatimo's an Old City secret

Zalatimo's Bakery has been in existence since 1860 when Mohammed Zalatimo created the unique sweet called "Mutabbaq" - or envelope in Arabic. The tradition is continued by brothers Ahmad and Talal who take pride in making this unique pastry filled with nuts or cheese freshly prepared right in front of you.

(Thanks to Emily Livingstone-Parker for her pictures)

Forming the pastry - Sami in action

The little hole-in-the-wall bakery can be found just off Khan E-Zeit Street which runs from Damascus Gate - the old Roman Cardo - to the Jewish Quarter. Make the turning as if you are going up the steps to the Ethiopian roof top of the Holy Sepulcher Church. In fact, for an extra 5 shekels they will show you the original entrance steps to the 4th century church.

I had heard about this delicious creation for many years but only tried one in March of this year. Mutabbaq takes about 15 minutes to prepare and bake and costs 20 shekels. A real treat if you are looking for something different and tasty. Tea and coffee can also be ordered on the spot.  I highly suggest that you check the price for everything before you purchase. I have heard of some people being overcharged for drinks.

By the way, I think the one with nuts is the tastiest.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Herod the Great: The Man and His Mausoleum

Was King Herod really such a bad guy or did he have the wrong PR agent? What did he look like? Was he a cruel tyrant or a shrewd politician? What do we really know about him?

King Herod the Great
Herod (Getty Images)
Some of these questions can be answered at the world's first exhibit on Herod the Great which opened in February 2013 at the Israel Museum - Herod the Great: The King's Final Journey.

Following the discovery of Herod's tomb in 2007 by the late Professor Ehud Netzer, it was decided to mount an exhibition on his building projects. The exhibition follows Herod's final journey from his winter palace in Jericho to Herodium where he planned his burial place.

The life and legacy of Herod the Great, ruler of Judea from 37-4 BCE and considered among the most important imperial figures in history, is the focus of this groundbreaking exhibition. The exhibit focuses on his projects in Jericho and Herodium and his relationship with Rome. Rare artifacts from the sites are displayed for the first time together with items from the Roman world.
The exhibition also features a monumental, full-size reconstruction of the burial chamber of the king’s mausoleum, including the intricately carved sarcophagus believed to have held his body, together with fragments from the Second Temple of Jerusalem and reconstructed palace chambers decorated with meticulously restored wall paintings and stucco and mosaic work.The scale of the exhibit eclipses the usual painstaking work necessary to produce the average museum show. With some 30 tons of columns, stones and frieze fragments from Herodium, floors had to be reinforced and ceilings raised at the 900-square-meter exhibition space.

Herod the Great Exhibition Jerusalem
A tour of the exhibit helps us understand Herod's world and the building styles and techniques that he introduced into the country. Love him or hate him one cannot fail to be impressed by his work.

The exhibit s proving to be extremely popular. During Passover week alone over 35,000 people passed through the exhibit and many more have followed.

STOP PRESS! Due to popular demand the exhibit has been extended until January 4, 2014.
Don't miss it!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Did You Know? - Nubian Ibex

Nubian Ibex in Ein Gedi
(Photo - Aliza Orent)
The Nubian Ibex - Capra nubiana - is not a gazelle but a wild goat. They are a protected species in Israel and appear on the logo of the Israel National Parks Authority.

Protection Authority's Logo

They are well suited for the hot, dry desert landscape. Their light sandy brown coat provides a camouflage against the desert scenery. The smooth, shiny coat is thought to reflect a large amount of incoming solar radiation which allows the animals to remain active throughout the day even during hot summer afternoons. Males have a dark stripe on their front legs and one down their back, as well as a dark beard.   

Both males and females have horns although they are much larger in males than females. Horns on bucks can grow up to 120 cm / 48 inches long.  The much thinner, shorter horns of females grow up to 35 cm / 14 inches.

Mating occurs during the late summer months, especially October. The majority of kids are born in March. Ibex can live up to 17 years and are often seen wandering around in herds.
In contrast to most desert animals, the Nubian ibex drinks almost daily.    During summer nights, the Nubian ibex rests in high, open areas of slopes, allowing a variety of escape routes should danger present itself. During the cooler winter nights, herds rest in more sheltered places, like caves or under overhangs. Nubian ibex, although equipped with a semi-waterproof coat, do not like to get wet, seeking shelter if possible during rain storms.

If you want to see an ibex up close go to the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve or nearby guesthouse. They can also be found wandering close to the ancient synagogue at Ein Gedi and around the Ein Gedi Field School. Further south they can be seen at Ein Avdat and Mitzpe Ramon near to the crater.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Maine in Tel Aviv - The American Colony

You have probably heard about the famous American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem but did you know that there is also an American Colony in Jaffa established in 1866 by a group of Christians from Maine, USA?

Thirty-five families set sail on the Nellie Chapin but were unprepared for the hardships that lay ahead. They erected their wooden houses from prefabricated pieces, which they had brought with them. However, diseases, the climate, the insecure and arbitrary treatment by the Ottoman authorities, made many colonists wish to return home.


In front of the Maine Friendship House with Jean Homes
George J. Adams, leader of the American Colony made his purpose clear. "We are going [to Jaffa] to become practical benefactors of the land and people, to take the lead in developing its great resources.” “We have no purpose to interfere with their religion.” Their purpose was not to missionize but instead to assist the Jewish people.
By 1870 the houses were sold to the German Templers who established other settlements in Haifa, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the Galilee.
Very little remains of the wooden homes built by the first American settlers who embarked on their arduous journey over 150 years ago from the shores of Maine to the port of Jaffa. However, due to the determination of one couple, it is possible to visit one of the original homes which has been lovingly restored by Jean and Reed Holmes - the Maine Friendship House
The museum houses artifacts about the original settlers including documents and clothing. Make sure you watch the short movie which is screened in the basement of the house.
The house on Auerbach Street can be visited Friday 12:00 - 15:00, Saturday 14:00 - 16:00.
Visits can be arranged at other times by calling: 03-6819225.

Monday, January 14, 2013

History in Black and White

From David Ben Gurion declaring the new State of Israel to portraits of presidents and prime ministers, Rudi Weissenstein's camera captured the history of a nation. Together with his wife, Miriam, they opened the Pri-Or Photohouse in 1940. Today Israel's oldest photography store is run by grandson Ben Peter.

Last week on an unusually cold and wet Tel Aviv day I discovered this magical place in the heart of Tel Aviv. Over a hot coffee and surrounded by portraits of the Who's Who of Israeli history, Ben proceeded to tell us about his family, his work and the more than one million pictures taken by his grandfather documenting the history of the state.

With Ben Peter in the Photohouse - Shimon Peres looks on

Since Ben Peter began working with his grandmother, Miriam Weissenstein at the Photohouse, one of his goals has been to preserve his grandfather’s archive of one million negatives through digitization. On November 27, 2012, the building which had housed Pri-Or Photohouse on Allenby 30 for over 70 years was torn down, and on that same day a contract was signed with the National Library of Israel to preserve the archive.

The story of the Photohouse was documented in the film "Life in Stills" by Tamar Tal winner of the best film award at the DocAviv Festival in Tel Aviv in 2011. It tells the story of the special relationship between Ben and his 96 year old grandmother Miriam, the family and the photos.

Images of Miriam Weissenstein on the wall

Since Miriam's death last year at the age of 98, Ben divides his time between the store, touring the world promoting the film and keeping alive the legacy of his grandfather's pictures.

It's worth taking the time to stop by and peruse the wonderful photographic collection and perhaps purchase a souvenir of days past - if you can choose just one that is!

Pri-Or Photohouse - Zalmania is located on 5 Tchernikovsky Street, Tel Aviv. 03-5177916. Open Sunday - Thursday 10:00 - 18:00, Friday until 13:00.

Thanks to Aliza Orent for her photographs

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy 2013!

Enjoy the new year and this delightful picture of Sam and Jon Russoff at the Dead Sea during the last week of 2012.

Join us, the water is warm!