by: Rev. Cheryl Hauer, Associate Editor
Jerusalem, where ancient prophecy is today’s reality and miracles happen every day. A thoroughly modern city with the world’s most impressive tech industry, it is still home to centuries old neighborhoods where children play freely in the streets and the voices of the prophets seem to whisper around every corner, calling us to remember. It is one of the oldest cities in the region, and in its painful history it was attacked 52 times, recaptured 44 times, besieged 23 times and destroyed twice. Through it all, it remained the heartbeat of the Jewish people, their ancient capital and the city where God says He has placed His name forever. Today, Jerusalem glitters in the afternoon sun, a city united and strong, a beacon of freedom, the eternal and undivided capital of Israel. And hidden in its vast array of streets and alleyways are treasures for the finding…
Thousands of people flock to town every year for one of Jerusalem’s 30 annual art, music or dance festivals, the most in all of Israel. Millions come just to wander the streets where the prophets walked, pray at the Western Wall and explore the Old City through its seven open gates.
Today, Jerusalem is a city alive with visitors from all over the world, most of them staying in one of the city’s 90 hotels which are home to over 9,000 hotel rooms. While here, they may visit one of the city’s 1,578 gardens or parks; or one of its 70-plus cultural centers that teach art, music, poetry, literature and performance to young and old; or perhaps one of the more than 60 museums that dot the city.
For centuries, Jewish people who weren’t able to live in Jerusalem longed to at least be buried here. The Mount of Olives Cemetery is the oldest continually used cemetery in the world. There are an estimated 150,000 graves located there, some dating as far back as the 15th century.
One of the highlights of a visit to Jerusalem is its amazing Botanical Gardens. Here, over 6,000 species of plants help to tell the story of Israel’s history. And speaking of history, the city is home to over 2,000 archaeological sites.
In Jerusalem, nearly all of the buildings are built with stone, or at least have a stone façade, to maintain the look of the ancient city. But the neighborhood of Nachlaot, built in 1869 as part of an effort to expand the city beyond the ancient walls, actually has buildings covered in tin! Built during a time when materials were somewhat scarce, the tin served as a layer of insulation against very chilly and wet Jerusalem winters.
One of Jerusalem’s most unique treasures is located on Hillel Street in the center of the city. On the first floor of an ancient building, a beautiful German Catholic chapel built in the 1860s opens its doors to parishioners on Sunday while the second floor houses the Italian Synagogue, open to worshipers on Saturday.
Hidden among the superhighways and ultramodern apartment towers that are part of the Jerusalem landscape we find an oasis of beauty and quiet. Called Gazelle Valley, it is Israel’s only urban nature reserve and home to dozens of delicate, graceful gazelles! With hiking and biking trails, observation points, natural ponds and watering holes and acres of lush greenery, the park is another of Jerusalem’s unexpected treasures.
The College Freres, a Christian institution serving the Christian Arab community in Jerusalem for 135 years, was the site of a remarkable act of kindness and goodwill on the part of the IDF. In 1965, the school housed Arab youngsters whose favorite pastime was football (soccer). Unfortunately, they often kicked their footballs, which were expensive and hard to come by at the time, over the wall and into no-man’s-land, never to be seen again. That year, the IDF sent one of their soldiers, with United Nations approval, into that desolate area to retrieve as many balls as possible. As Jordanian soldiers looked on from the walls above, shouting “Turn left,” or “Turn right,” so that the soldier did not step on a land mind, the precious items were found, and that year, the boys received over a dozen freshly washed footballs as a Christmas gift from the IDF.
Between Israel’s Knesset Building and the Supreme Court lies one of Jerusalem’s loveliest treasures, the Wohl Rose Garden. Originally designed in 1949, the garden was only used for official government events for many years. It was later redesigned for the International Rose Congress which was held in Israel in 1981 and has been open to the public ever since. With over 400 breathtaking varieties, it was awarded the 2003 award for Garden Excellence by the World Rose Foundation as one of the 11 most beautiful rose gardens in the world.
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