by: Jo Sarah Stanford, BFP Staff Writer
Boasting some of the most famous and oldest tourist destinations in the world, Israel sees over four million visitors each year. No tour of the Promised Land would be complete without a stop in the nation’s heart—Jerusalem. You could tour this city for weeks—months even—and still not experience everything it has to offer. The best treasures lie off the beaten tourist track: coffee shops tucked away down cobblestoned alleys, authentic Israeli food made by locals and places with views that you will never tire of seeing.
Bridges for Peace volunteers come from all across the world to serve in Israel for a few months or years. As “locals” we all have our favorite go-to places around Jerusalem. These are just a few of them.
A few miles west of the Jerusalem city center sprawls a park atop a high ridge. The Haas Promenade, known in Hebrew simply as the Tayelet, boasts an amazing panoramic view of the Old City. On a clear morning, the City of Gold stands in sharp contrast to the backdrop of blue skies. From here you can see the Mount of Olives, the City of David and the Temple Mount. It is amazing to sit here on a Shabbat (Sabbath) morning, reading the weekly Torah (Gen.–Deut.) portion, often overlooking or at least in close proximity to the very spot where the biblical events took place.
Tradition says Abraham stopped by here on his way to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah (the Temple Mount). “Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you’” (Gen. 22:4–5).
The Mahane Yehuda Market, locally known as the shuk, is Jerusalem’s open air market and one of the best places to see this city’s rich and diverse culture. Shop at stalls piled high with fresh fruit and vegetables, fragrant spices, dried fruits and nuts. Alternatively, sit down at one of the many coffee shops or eateries to people watch, as a cross-section of all walks of life in Jerusalem pass by.
If you really want to experience Jerusalem in all its fullness, visit the shuk on a Friday afternoon. Feel the mad rush and press of the crowd as people scramble to finish their shopping before stores close and Shabbat begins. Not for the faint-hearted, but the experience is truly memorable.
Down an alleyway off Jaffa Street is a little coffee shop and bookstore. Named after the novel Only Yesterday by Nobel Prize laureate S.Y. Agnon, the café hosts author talks, live music and cozy movie screenings. Bookshelves piled with secondhand books line the walls, and the relaxed atmosphere makes it the perfect place to sit with your laptop and get some work done.
Order a coffee or a bite to eat. Lonely Planet hails Tmol Shilshom’s shushuka (a dish of eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce) as one of the world’s top ten breakfasts.
Just around the corner from the Bridges for Peace headquarters is a shop that arguably sells the best falafel in Jerusalem. Mercaz Hafalafel Hatemani (The Center for Yemenite Falafel) serves what is considered typical Israeli street food. Motti, the owner, has become like family to the Bridges staff who buy lunch there. His falafels are crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Eat them on their own for a snack or stuffed in a pita with sauce, French fries and salad for a satisfying meal.
For your morning coffee and a sweet treat, head one door down from Motti’s to Arochas Bakery. Known to Bridges for Peace staff as “Roni’s,” it is a popular morning stop for a caffeine and sugar fix. Roni has been serving customers with a smile since he took over the counter for his father many years ago. The smell of home-baked pastries is enough to tempt anyone through the door. Roni serves a great selection of sweet or savory delicacies, and on Fridays the counter is piled high with the freshest challah (special braided bread eaten on the Sabbath).
If you are looking for souvenirs, drop by Yad LaKashish: Lifeline for the Old. Here you will find one-of-a-kind, handmade gifts crafted by elderly Jewish people. Established in 1966, Yad LaKashish is a day center for the elderly, providing hot meals, community and purpose to those who would otherwise be alone. In the workshop, these precious people create jewelry, stationary, Judaica (Jewish art or objects) and other souvenirs that you won’t find anywhere else. The proceeds from the sale at the gift shop goes toward supporting the artists.
The Western Wall, or Hakotel Hamaaravi in Hebrew, is probably the most popular tourist spot in Israel. The last remaining part of the retaining wall for the Second Temple, it is the most holy site in the Jewish faith. Jews and Christians both come here to pray. For most, it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. However, living in Jerusalem, you can simply stop by the Wall on the way home from work! Yet no matter how many times you visit, the awe and reverence of the place never ceases to amaze.
Jerusalem is a wonderful, bustling, modern yet ancient city. Every street offers secrets and experiences waiting to be uncovered and explored. After a busy day, though, the best place to be is sitting on the balcony at home as the sun sets and turns the stone houses from white to gold. Here, Jerusalem is home.
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