(photo credit: www.funinjerusalem.com)
Since landing in the capital city from Los Angeles two years ago, Joanna Shebson had been relying on neighborhood mothers, ads and posters to find activities for her two little boys. Why not widen and consolidate the effort with an online resource, she reasoned?
Shebson launched her one-stop site for English-speaking Jerusalem-area residents and visitors at the beginning of July. It has comprehensive information on child-oriented destinations and special events in the capital's streets, parks, shops, malls, museums and theaters.
"This is my outlet to take the information I'd been collecting and share it," says Shebson, whose boys are five and two. "It's not just telling people the information about the place, it's trying to give them valuable tips on making the experience easier."
For example, parents interested in activities at the City of David (Shebson calls it a "biblical amusement park") will read that there are lockers, toilets and drinks available, as well as a NIS 5 shuttle so that tired kids don't have to climb back up to street level at the end of Hezekiah's Tunnel. She also advises leaving the stroller behind; there are at least 100 steps from the parking lot.
With an MBA from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, Shebson already had the basic skills she needed to develop her idea. A class on social media marketing gave her the additional tools to get the site and its companion blog and newsletter off the ground. She also started Fun in Jerusalem Facebook and Twitter groups, as well as a Youtube channel.
"In August, the site had 10,000 visitors, and over Succot we beat our summer highs every day," Shebson reports. Out and about with her kids during the holiday, she kept bumping into people like the mother from Australia who told her she'd been logging on to the site daily.
Since the children of most Anglo immigrants are fluent in Hebrew, Shebson lists events for Hebrew-speaking kids, and plans to launch a Hebrew version of Fun in Jerusalem as well as spin-off sites for cities including Tel Aviv and Eilat.
Prior to holidays such as Hanukka, visitors to FunInJerusalem.com will find a variety of mostly exclusive special offers. Recently, a caterer offered free cookies with an order of a certain size.
"We always make sure the offer is kid-related," says Shebson. "It's not going to be a free cup of coffee. It'll be a free glass of chocolate milk."
Though it's geared to the interests of ages one to 12, the site includes a directory of activities for teenagers, as well as local swimming pools, physicians, hospitals, pharmacies, kid-friendly eateries and food-delivery services.
"I figured the average tourist checking the site is not necessarily staying at a hotel, where they could just ask the concierge," says Shebson. "Assuming they're staying in a rented apartment, I post the kinds of things they'd ask a friend about."
If not for Shebson's site, many parents might not be aware of lesser-known destinations such as the Jerusalem Bird Observatory, the Ein Yael outdoor museum, Ghepetto's Wood Workshop in Talpiot, the Monster Slide Park in Kiryat Hayovel and the shopping mall in Pisgat Ze'ev. She also suggests activities in suburbs such as Gush Etzion, Mevaseret and Ma'aleh Adumim.
"For me as a recent ola, Jerusalem seems like such a fabulous place to raise kids," says Shebson. "There are hundreds of activities going on. It's just a matter of letting people know what already exists."