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Secrets of Jerusalem
By Tzvia Dobrish-Fried
Around the corner from my home in Talpiot stands an old war memorial in the midst of a small, immaculately maintained lawn. A sign on the surrounding fence identifies it as "Commonwealth War Graves." Even though I've walked by the spot countless times, I too, as Tzvia Dobrish-Fried has noted of other neighborhood residents, have gazed in "wonderment about how well the spot is kept and the way the locked site is maintained," without ever bothering to find out who exactly is interred in this unlikely location and why.
Now, thanks to her coffee-table book Secrets of Jerusalem, I finally know the answer. This is the burial spot for the Indian soldiers who fought and died with the British forces in their conquest of Palestine during World War I. Because of religious issues involving the largely Muslim and Hindu soldiers buried there, they were left in Talpiot when the British Mandatory government later decided to reinter most of the other Commonwealth war dead in the large memorial cemetery on Mount Scopus.
Entertainingly informative and handsomely illustrated with photographs by Uriel Messa, all the entries in this present-worthy tome are worth reading. Not all of them though, really qualify as "secrets." Included here are places that even casual visitors to Jerusalem are likely to already know about, such as the transplanted Italian Synagogue on Rehov Hillel; the illustrated stretch of the security barrier between Gilo and Bethlehem; and the "Noah's Ark" sculpture garden by Nicki de St. Paul in the Biblical Zoo (even though Dobrish-Fried improbably asserts of the latter that "despite its size and color, not many people visit the work or even know of its existence").
Other spots covered in the book may be familiar to the city's long-term residents, but will indeed prove revelations for most tourists. This category includes the charming strudel cafÃ© atop the Austrian Hospice in the Old City; the Hellenist-era Jason's Tomb tucked away on a Rehavia back street; and the charming pool in the central courtyard of the Rockefeller Museum.
Fortunately, there were still plenty of revelations in these pages for even this veteran Jerusalemite - who should probably do more walking tours. Nope, I didn't know that the large sundial that sits atop a building on Jaffa Road opposite the Mahaneh Yehuda market, has a "twin" built by the same man (Rabbi Moshe Shapira) on the Gra Synagogue in the Sha'arei Hessed neighborhood. Or that the space between two old olive trees on the lot behind the former Edison Cinema on Mea She'arim's edge has long been considered by Jerusalem kabbalists as the location where the messianic prophet called the Son of Joseph will one day make his appearance.
And now, having finally seen in these pages the impressive sixth-century CE Armenian mosaic floor found at 18 Rehov Hanevi'im; the luxurious Suite No. 6 (the "Fourth's Wife Room") at the American Colony Hotel, where Richard Gere and several other celebrities have slept; and the dazzling array of fabrics on display in the second floor of Ibrahim Abu Khallaf's store at 18 Rehov Hanotzrim in the Old City, I'm determined to make more of an effort to see these hidden treasures of Jerusalem with my own eyes.
Indeed, my only real complaint with Secrets of Jerusalem is that it's too short, given the wealth of hidden treasures in this city. Hopefully, a sequel is in the works - and if so I'd be glad to offer Dobrish-Fried my help.
For example, in its entry on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, she highlights the Ethiopian monks' "village" on its rooftop, which is not all that much of a secret. Instead, why not alert readers to the fact that in a nearby monastery you can see the only visible remains of the ancient Roman temple upon which the church was built? That's a secret of Jerusalem I'm gladly willing to share.
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