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we reach deep into spring in the Holy Land, the blossoming of the
almond trees in Ein Kerem is now at its glorious pink and white peak.
charming village, with its narrow streets and alleyways nestled in the
ancient terraced slopes west of Jerusalem between the Hadassah Hospital
and the suburban sprawl of Har Nof, is a lush bustan
with historic churches, picturesque stone domed houses and quaint
restaurants. A sunny warm early spring weekend is the ideal time to
follow in pilgrims' footsteps, marvel at the town's beauty, and enjoy a
Though today part of municipal Jerusalem, until
1948 Ein Kerem was a mixed Christian-Muslim Palestinian village known in
Arabic as 'Ain Karim' (the Noble Spring) far from the city. Traces of
settlement have been found here dating back to 6000 BCE. Following the
April 1948 massacre at nearby Deir Yassin, some 3,000 panicked women and
children fled. The remaining villagers and Syrian, Iraqi and Egyptian
fighters fighters were attacked by IDF forces in July of that year and
also abandoned the town. In their place came Jewish refugees from
Romania and Morocco, followed by artists and urban homesteaders, making
Ein Kerem today one of the most coveted locations in Jerusalem.
to tradition, John the Baptist was born and lived here with his parents
Zacharias - a priest at Herod the Great's newly-rebuilt Temple in
Jerusalem, and Elizabeth - a cousin of Jesus' mother Mary. The Gospel
records that Elizabeth - whose Hebrew name Elisheva means "My God is my
oath" - hosted her virgin yet pregnant cousin here for three months
until Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist. Mary then returned to
Nazareth before finally making her way to Bethlehem to give birth to
Jesus (Luke 1:5-25, 39-66.) The village contains a number of churches
commemorating these sacred events that lie at the heart of Christianity.
the Byzantine and Crusader shrines have long since been destroyed by
Muslim mujahadeen, the Faranj (Europeans) never abandoned their claim.
The Franciscans established themselves here in 1674, and in 1681
persuaded four Christian families from Bethlehem to resettle the
abandoned medieval village.
In the 19th century as the various
European powers competed for prestige in the Holy Land, a number of
impressive monuments and shrines were built here creating a pilgrimage
industry along a well-trod route from Jaffa through Jerusalem to the
Jordan River and Jericho.
Most pilgrims started the local leg of
their procession here at Ain Sitti Maryam (Mary's Fountain, also
called the Fountain of the Virgin) which bubbles to the surface in a
cave on ha-Ma'ayan Street. Here mujiks bottled holy spring water to take
back to Mother Russia from the site where according to a 14th century
tradition Mary drank while on her way to visit Elizabeth. An inscription
here bears the words of the Prophet Isaiah "Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters." (Isaiah 55:1).
Atop the spring sits a
vaulted, timeless maqam, a modest Muslim house of prayer akin to a
shtiebl. Abandoned in 1948, the ruined mosque and minaret stand in mute
testimony to the Nakba, the catastrophe by which the Palestinians became
dispossessed of their land even as Israel experienced its
Ein Kerem has two Churches of St. John
the Baptist - one Roman Catholic and the other Greek-Orthodox. The
first, owned by the Franciscans, contains a grotto where tradition holds
Jesus' baptizer was born. Steps down to the cave reveal a Byzantine
mosaic. The other John the Baptist Church, built in 1894, is mostly
impressive Franciscan site is the Sanctuary of the Visitation
recognized by the bronze statues of Mary and her cousin Elizabeth,
depicted as pregnant with John the Baptist. After a three-month stay,
Mary returned to Nazareth, only to return to Bethlehem later to give
birth to Jesus. Note the alcove which contains a boulder behind which
Elizabeth hid John from Herod's legionnaires in an infanticide echoing
Pharaoh's edict and Moses. (Jesus and Mary escaped Herod's murderous
wrath by fleeing to Egypt.)
The modern church was built in 1955
on top of Crusader remnants. It was designed by the Italian architect
Antonio Barluzzi, who designed many other churches in the Holy Land
during the 20th century including the Basilica of All Nations in
In 1860 the Soeurs de Notre-Dame de Sion arrived,
and built their convent between 1862-1890. This monastery was founded by
the French-Jewish convert brothers Theodore and Alfonse Ratisbonne as
an orphanage. Alfonse himself lived in the monastery and is buried in
its garden. Thirteen nuns from the order of Sisters of Our Lady of Sion
now occupy the site, which contains a silent and magical garden, and a
guesthouse run by the nuns.
convent on Rehov ha-Oren is hosting a series classical music concerts
every Saturday during February. For ticket info call 02 643 52 99.
French nuns were followed by the Russian Orthodox who arrived in 1871
and developed a huge compound, originally called "Gorny Monastery")
along the south ridge of Ein Kerem complete with two churches and
cottages for nuns. Villagers nicknamed the place "Moskobiyya" (Arabic
for Moscow). After more than a century of seclusion and isolation behind
a high wall, the Russian village recently opened its gates to visitors.
The compound today is home to some 100 women, most of whom are nuns,
and one monk, Brother Serafin.
In 1884 a German princess bearing
the regal moniker "Her Grand Ducal Highness Princess Elisabeth
Alexandra Luise Alice of Hesse and by Rhine" married Grand Duke Sergei,
the younger brother of Czar Alexander III of Russia. Assuming the title
Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna, she and Prince Sergei Alexandrovich
arrived in Jerusalem to build the Russian Compound just west of the Old
City. The Sergei Building, erected in 1890 as a luxurious abode for
visiting princes of Moscovy, stands as a monument to his piety - and
love of comfort. As reported in In Jerusalem, Oct. 27, 2006, Russia - as
a symbol of its pre-Communist prestige - wants to regain the landmark
on which the State of Israel holds a long-term lease.
couple also began construction of the main Moscobiyya church in Ein
Kerem. But they never completed the edifice. Anarchists assassinated
Prince Sergei in 1905; his widow became a nun and gave away all her
royal possessions. Construction continued fitfully but the church was
left roofless by the outbreak of World War I and the1917 Russian
Revolution - in which the princess was murdered along with other Romanov
While touring the site three years ago, a senior
Foreign Ministry official recognized the unfinished church as a valuable
asset in cementing Israeli-Russian ties. Meetings with the Patriarch of
Moscow led to the construction of the roof's gilded onion domes in
exact accordance with the original blueprint, with then Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon expediting construction - as was his wont.
festive inauguration ceremony was to have been held on April 7, 2006.
Russian President Vladimir Putin delayed the ceremony in the hope that
Prime Minister Sharon - who was then in the intensive care unit at
Hadassah Hospital a mere kilometer away - would recover from his massive
stroke and be able to attend. No new date has been set at the time of
Ein Kerem can be reached by the no. 17 bus from
Jerusalem's Central Bus Station. Admittance to the churches is free.
Most sites close at noon and re-open at 2 p.m. For organized visits
focusing on Ein Karem call Pnina Ein Mor of The Ein Kerem Legend, tel:
(02) 641-8682 or visit www.einkerem-legend.co.il
.If you go:
A treat to restore body and soul
Adina Solomonovich: A ceramics studio in a historic home with hamsas
and kiddush cups. (02) 643-7484.
Esti Deri's: A traditional Moroccan feast, open for reserved groups of 20 only; kosher; closed on Sabbat. (02) 643-7326.
Fundak Ein Kerem: A romantic café beside Mary's well. Not kosher. (02) 643-1840.
Inbal: A cozy café serving locally-baked pastry, sandwiches and salads. Kosher. Closed on Sabbat. (02) 644-6533.
Ruti Havilio: An artist who paints vignettes of Ein Kerem on ceramic tiles, her gallery is her historic home. (02) 641-7912.
Sweet Ein Kerem: A chocolaterie serving gourmet chocolate and ice cream. (02) 200-6660.
The Daphne Magic: A zimmer (B&B) with three new guest units for couples and families. 054-427-4416.
Ein Kerem Bistro: Works by local artists on the walls, serving pastry,
salads and light meals. Not kosher. Open Saturday. (02) 643-0865.
Targ Kerem Music Center: founded by the duo-pianists Bracha Eden and
Alexander Tamir in 1968, the center offers modestly priced recitals and
chamber-music concerts on Friday and Saturday morning. The surrounding
garden is worth a visit. (02) 641-4250.
The Rosary Sisters Monastery Guesthouse -A charming pilgrims hospice across from Mary's Fountain. (02) 641-3755.
further information on Holy Land tours and Christian tourism or group
reservations at one of many Christian guesthouses in the Holy Land
please contact Travelujah at firstname.lastname@example.org.Gil Zohar is a licensed tour guide and writes regularly for Travelujah-
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