It’s breakfast time at the Abraham Hostel on Prophets Street in Jerusalem. A
mural on one wall of the kitchen tells guests, “Abraham always shared his
The buffet offers the ubiquitous Israeli cucumbers and tomatoes,
as well as bread, cheese and cereal. There’s instant coffee and tea. It’s more
modest than in most Israeli hotels, but nobody seems to care. In most places in
the mornings, tourists eat quickly and head out for a full day of
Here, nobody seems to be in a rush. They linger, chatting in
a variety of languages at long, communal tables. They eat, then refill their
“There are early bloomers and late bloomers when it comes to
tourists,” Yaron Burgin, the general manager and one of the owners of the hostel
tells The Media Line. “These are the late bloomers. Some of them were drinking
at the bar until 2 a.m. so they sleep late and then have breakfast.”
guest house, which opened in 2010, was just rated #8 of all large hostels in the
world by the Hostel Association. It offers 260 beds in 72 rooms, half in shared
“dorm” rooms, and half in private rooms. The rooms are clean but very Spartan –
narrow beds with sky-blue pillowcases. The dorms sleep 10 to a room, some
segregated by sex and others mixed, and offer communal showers.
rooms are not what draws the clientele.
“There are a lot of people around
which is nice and it’s a lot friendlier than any hostel I’ve been to Israel so
far,” Taryn Levy, 19, a student at Western University in Toronto told The Media
Line. “It’s also the cleanest one I’ve been in.”
The price is certainly
right. A dorm bed costs about $30 per night, and a private room for two with its
own bathroom runs about $100. Breakfast is included and guests can use the
kitchen facilities for their other meals.
The hostel attracts mixed ages,
including several senior couples.
“Its quite a change from the Ramada but
its fun to see the difference,” Martha Mason, 69, from Rock Hill, South Carolina
told The Media Line with a laugh. “It’s pretty noisy but we knew it would be
Mason and her husband had just completed a 12-day Christian tour
and wanted to spend a few more days in Jerusalem. The receptionist in their
retirement community had stayed here and recommended it.
“Price was a
definite factor as well as location,” she said. “We wanted easy transportation
because we don’t have a car here.”
Across the room, Alex Mills, also 19
and a student from Liverpool agrees. He’s come with a friend to cheer on the
British team in the under-21 soccer championships being held in Israel for the
first time. Unfortunately, he says, his team didn’t do very well.
quite clean here, the people are friendly and it’s air conditioned,” he tells
The Media Line. “Plus there’s a cheap bar and it’s right in the center of the
The bar, which serves “the cheapest beer in town” says co-owner
Maoz Inon, is the focus of evening socializing. One of the beers served is
Taybeh Beer, brewed in the West Bank.
Travelers who want more of a taste
of Palestinian culture than the beer can take one of the tours offered by the
hostel. Most popular says Burgin, is the Hebron – City of Abraham, referring to
Abraham’s burial site known to Jews as the Machpela Cave and to Muslims as the
Ibrahimi mosque. In 2004, an extremist Jew, Baruch Goldstein, opened fire on
Muslim worshipers there, killing 29.
The Hebron tour, offered twice a
week, costs $75 for the day. It includes a visit to a Jewish community built on
land Israel acquired in 1967 which Burgin calls a “settlement” and meetings with
Palestinians who live in the city.
“We are not a political organization
in any way but we think tourists should see reality for themselves,” the
co-owner says. “They get their mind blown from this tour. It makes them think
and realize how complicated the situation is here.”
There are also tours
to Bethlehem and the much-less visited Palestinian town of Nablus in the
northern West Bank. These areas are under full Palestinian control, and,
according to Israeli law, Israelis are not allowed to enter them.
roof of the hostel, the owners have laid down green astro-turf and set out low
couches, sunbeds and a few sunbeds. One wall is covered with colorful drawings
done by guests. There are Jewish and Muslim symbols as well as the words
“Israel” and “Palestine.”
“We want to give the guests a place to express
themselves,” Burgin says.
There are also more conventional tours to sites
like Masada, the hilltop palace of King Herod, and the Galilee. There are daily
free lectures and free spoken Hebrew and Arabic classes. There is even a chance
to volunteer by playing with children of African refugees in Jerusalem while
their mothers try to learn Hebrew.
All of the owners are serious
backpackers, and know what independent travelers need. They are businessmen, and
they are making money. But they also have a sense of mission.
is to bring Abraham’s Biblical hospitality to the 21st century and to make the
Middle East a great destination for all backpackers and travelers,” co-owner
Inon told The Media Line. ”Abraham was famous for his hospitality and for
sharing his tent and his food. He is also the common father of Judaism and Islam
which is part of our message.”
For more stories from The Media Line go to www.medialine.org