6 Jerusalem Gems That Likely Won’t Appear on Your Tour Guide’s Itinerary
JNS.org – You’ve traveled to Israel one, two, or three times. You’ve seen the Kotel (Western Wall), taken a tour of the City of David, and visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum. Now it’s time to experience something atypical, creative, and uncommon.
JNS.org offers six Jerusalem stops that will tickle your palate, color your vision of the Holy City, and restore your faith in humankind.
Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies
Location: Mount Scopus
Nestled atop Mount Scopus overlooking the Mount of Olives, Kidron Valley, and the Old City, the Brigham Young University tour and its beautiful 125,000-square-foot, eight-level structure on five acres of biblical gardens is a site you don’t want to miss.
Brigham Young’s Jerusalem Center is a branch of the Mormon university, headquartered in Utah. It is run by four volunteer families from the United States, who each come for 18 months to work with students, host and entertain churchgoers and guests, and provide guided tours in multiple languages ranging from English to Hebrew to Spanish to French. Brigham Young students each spend 15 months on campus learning Old and New Testament as well as about Jewish and Muslim culture, tradition, and religion.
For visitors, Brigham Young offers weekly concerts by some of the area’s top musicians and monthly art exhibits that are hard to find anywhere else. In July 2016, for example, Brigham Young is hosting an exhibit created by Israeli and Palestinian teens who met together for a series of months to collaborate on works of art.
But the building and its garden are the real draw to Brigham Young. The structure was designed by Brazilian-born Israeli architect David Resnick, who also designed the nearby Dan Hotel. According to tour guide Joyce Smith, the building is comprised of upwards of 30,000 panes of glass.
In the backyard, a patio overlooks the Temple Mount, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and western Jerusalem. Tenth-century olive presses are still working, surrounded by fragrant and colorful pomegranate trees, a more than 700-year-old olive tree, and an original cedar of Lebanon.
Jeff Smith, Joyce’s husband and the other tour guide, says there are about 200 to 250 Mormons living in Israel and four Mormon churches — the one at Brigham Young and others in Tiberius, Bethlehem, and Tel Aviv.
Each Saturday, organist Kathleen Holyoak plays a more than 3,000-pipe organ as part of the church service, which creates a sound so loud and vivacious it can be heard throughout the facility. Tour participants can also take in her organ concert at the end of their experience.
“We do no missionary work,” Jeff Smith assures. “Our tours are open to anyone.”
The Coffee Mill
Location: 23 Emek Refa’im St.
Young, hip, and yet somehow vintage, the Coffee Mill has become one of Jerusalem’s most popular coffee digs. Founded in the 1990s by Anglo-Israeli Debbie Katz, the Coffee Mill is now run by her sons Avi and Yitzi Katz and their friend and partner, Michael Ronen.
“It’s very Jerusalem — the tan colors, the atmosphere,” Debbie Katz tells JNS.org.
Unlike your chain Aroma Espresso Bars or Cafe Ne’emans, the Coffee Mill grinds all of its own coffee on premise, offering pour-overs, flavored, and single-origin brews. All baked goods are homemade on premise, with muffins that melt in your mouth and a delectable carrot cake that is so rich and dense, it could be lunch.
One of the establishment’s highlights is its “New Yorker” wall, where Katz framed copies of her favorite New Yorker magazine. Many know the place as the New Yorker coffee shop.
“I have my choice of anywhere to go now,” says Katz. “If I can, I still sit at the Coffee Mill. I am really proud of what we started and proud of the three guys who took it over.”
Location: 14 Gdalyahu Alon St.
Hansen House is one of Jerusalem’s oldest “modern” buildings. It was established in the late 1800s by Baron and Baroness von Keffenbrinck Ascheraden, in cooperation with a committee of the Joint Anglican-German Protestant Community in Jerusalem, to treat the lepers who would beg near the poor huts at the Zion Gate. Leprosy later became known as Hansen Disease, hence the name of the house.
But today, while Hansen House still maintains the stunning 1800s antique, original architecture, the establishment is anything but old-school. In fact, Hansen House has been transformed from a hospital to a haven for modern artists and the creative.
According to Hansen House Director Ayelet Dror, Hansen House operates as an “organic hub” for Jerusalem’s burgeoning artist colony, many of whose leaders sit in the “beautiful building, encouraging collaboration and conversation.”
“You see left-wing to right-wing to Orthodox, non-Orthodox — everyone comes here,” says Dror.
Tenants or “residents,” as Hansen House likes to call them, include members of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design; theJerusalem Television and Film Fund; Mamuta art and media center; Erev-Rav, an independent Web journal of art, culture, and society;Hansen FabLab (Fabrication Laboratory), a communications and network consulting network for digital production; Toolbox Project activists from the New Spirit movement; and The Artery VFX, which creates high-end visual effects and content for feature films, commercials, digital experiences, art installations, and music videos.
The Hansen House has a breathtaking historical garden, which offers inspiration for area artists and visitors, and changing exhibitions open to tourists and passerby. Dror says the house is constantly expanding by adding new public amenities. A coffee shop is expected to open on the premises within the next couple of months.
“Every time you come back, you can see something new,” says Dror.
Location: Main branch at 23 Haoman St., Talpiot (five additional branches throughout Jerusalem)
An iconic Jerusalem bakery, for the past 26 years Mifgash HaSheikh has been serving Jerusalemites their favorite sambusak, malabi, and warm long pretzels with zaatar. The bakery was founded in 1990 by Shai Naor, a few years after the start of the first intifada. Before then, according to Elad Naor (one of four Naor sons that work in the bakery with their father today), his father and his father’s friends would meet at the Sheikh (what they called their meeting spot) in the Old City every Friday night, to end their week over sahlab, warm pretzels, and watermelons — bonding way into the night.
When the intifada made it difficult to visit the Sheikh, Naor decided to create his own.
“What makes us unique?” Elad Naor asks. “We make everything with a lot of love.”
Mifgash HaSheikh still uses its original 400-degree-Celsius wood-burning oven and its same sambusak recipe. Many of the staff members have worked there for more than 20 years. Today, it sells more than 500 products, all of which are homemade in its three-story Talpiot headquarters.
Aside from its sambusak, visitors flock for Mifgash HaSheikh’s traditional malabi — Israeli milk pudding with its rose-flavored sweetness and a light, creamy texture.
“Our father had a vision — and he taught us: Always stay on the high level,” says Naor. “Don’t bring in fake cheese or fake flours. Use the best and do the best and the customers will come back because their tummies are happy.”
Location: Monster Park, Kiryat HaYovel
There is barely a Jerusalemite (and certainly not a Jerusalemite child) who hasn’t stood in awe at the foot of the red, white, and black three-tongued “mifletzet” — or monster slide — located in the Rabinowitz Garden in Kiryat HaYovel.
The sculpture slide, also known as “The Golem,” is located in a well of sand, surrounded by green space, trees, and picnic tables.
According to the Hebrew travel site gojerusalem.co.il, the slide was commissioned by longtime Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek (himself a resident of Kiryat HaYovel) and designed in 1971 by French artist Niki de Saint Phalle. The artist also designed the phantasmagorical animal sculptures (which double as climbing toys) at Jerusalem’s biblical zoo.
The ‘Train Library’
Location: HaRakevet St.
Anglos in Israel know how difficult it can be to find good English books at a price they can afford. Students at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design last year helped solve the challenge for Jerusalemites.
According to Nechama Perton, around 20 members of the academy’s “Art and Activism” course — herself included — brainstormed and then built an outdoor book exchange program on the corner of the popular HaRakevet walking path, just off Emek Refaim Street. The “Train Library” site features glass bookshelves, with an overhang to protect the books from the elements.
“The point of the class is to find a problem or something in your community or neighborhood that needs fixings,” explains Perton. “We decided this was something that would benefit the community.”
About 200,000 North Americans lived in Israel in 2013, according to the most recent data available from the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel. While these immigrants are spread out throughout the country, a Nefesh B’Nefesh aliyah agency report shows that Jerusalem, Ramat Beit Shemesh, Modi’in, Ra’anana, and Beit Shemesh are their five most-popular communities of residence.
For Perton, who made aliyah to Israel from Canada five years ago, the library has been “amazing.”
“I am able to grab an English book, read it, can bring it back if I am not thrilled with it. Bring a new book, take another book. It’s a barter system,” she says. “There are books in every language now, on every topic—self-help books, dictionaries, everything.”
She says she often visits the library on Friday nights to choose weekend reading. Then, she’ll see boxes of books just waiting to be unpacked and put onto the shelves.
“People in the neighborhood have really taken it upon themselves to take care of the library,” Perton says.