A walk around lovely and diverse Ein Kerem

Wander through narrow, picturesque residential lanes and pop into unique workshops and studios, a stunningly restored boutique hotel, and the gallery/home of the neighborhood’s biggest fan.

Dwellings of stone – and a doll – on Ha’ahayot Street. (photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
Dwellings of stone – and a doll – on Ha’ahayot Street.
(photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
A few years ago, Jerusalem’s Artists’ House held a retrospective of Yitzhak Greenfield’s works.
“What exactly is a retrospective?” I asked the 84-year-old Greenfield during a visit to his studio a few weeks ago. Basically, he answered, it sums up a lifetime of work.
Well, it may have been too soon for Greenfield’s retrospective – for he hadn’t yet finished creating. Indeed, he says, “I continued working, and haven’t stopped since!” Greenfield is one of a fascinating group of artists who live and work in Ein Kerem, and whom you can meet during this extraordinary street stroll.
Instead of taking the standard Ein Kerem tour to a variety of traditional Christian sites, you wander through narrow, picturesque residential lanes and pop in at unique workshop and studios, a stunningly restored boutique hotel, and the gallery/home of Ruth Tzfati, the neighborhood’s biggest advocate.
BEGIN ACROSS from Mary’s Spring on Hama’ayan Street, at a new overlook that offers a lovely view of the enormous Hadassah University Medical Center complex, the Church of the Visitation, and, across the valley, pastoral slopes sporting stone homes that are often centuries old.
Then head for the neighborhood’s main byway, Ein Kerem Street. As you walk towards it, you will see two signs pointing to Ma’agal Hanikba Street.
Turn in at the second (on the wall of a building) to stroll through a charming little lane with decorative stone walls.
When it ends, ascend to Ha’oren Street, and the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.
Turn right to reach Greenfield’s residence and studio at 5 Ha’oren.
(Basket weaving at ‘Behefetz Kapea.’)
Greenfield immigrated from New York in the 1950s as a member of Hashomer Hatza’ir and lived on Kibbutz Galon.
Afterwards, with his wife, he moved to Ein Hashofet. But Greenfield relocated to the then-pioneering community of Ein Kerem half a century ago, and has been here ever since.
An artist since childhood, he later studied with some of the world’s most renowned artists and sculptors. Greenfield’s creations are exhibited at New York’s Metropolitan Museum and the Israel Museum.
One of his specialties is print making, where pictures are made with a plate instead of a brush. In addition, he works in oil, acrylic and water color on canvas and paper.
Although he taught at the Youth Wing of the Israel Museum and at the Art History Department at the Hebrew University for years, today he teaches privately at his studio. Lately he has been focusing on landscaping and Kabbala – both of which are evident in the many of the works on display.
The sign on the gate will probably read “open” in Hebrew and English, so do walk in: guests are more than welcome and he is always happy to chat.
When you leave, retrace your steps, pass the junction with Ma’agal Hanikba Street and continue straight ahead.
Enjoy the ambiance: it is so quiet here that you can hear the birds singing in the lush foliage around you.
The road passes the Sisters of Zion Convent and then curves to the right to become Ha’ahayot Street. As you proceed, you will view, directly ahead of you, the Church of St. John in the Mountains – traditional birthplace of John the Baptist. Pass the Beit Hagat guest house on your left, along with masses of trees and sabra bushes.
Follow the road as it curves to your right, then look for a big gate. It belongs to the Alegra Hotel – formerly a two-story home inhabited nearly a century ago by a Christian Arab named Jabra Rahil and once-religious Jew Alegra Bilo.
When they married, in 1929, Alegra’s father mourned for seven days, dumping ashes on his head. Yet the couple seems to have lived happily ever after in the Arab village of Ein Kerem. Restored a few years ago as a boutique hotel, it positively exudes atmosphere and tranquility; if you are not part of a group, you can walk in and take a look.
Now backtrack as far as the curve in the road, but walk straight ahead and under an arch (on your right). Enter the gate to discover Behefetz Kapea, an enterprise named for the biblical phrase “She seeketh wool and flax and worketh willingly with her hands” (behefetz kapea – Proverbs 31:13).
The child of both a photographer and the artist who designed Mahaneh Yehuda, Hadar Kleidman founded Behefetz Kapea four years ago as a center for traditional handicrafts. She notes that at least as far back as the biblical era, in addition to their regular housework, women worked together to spin thread, produce cloth and weave baskets. Kleidman felt that it was important to preserve both the crafts themselves and the spirit in which they were created: “And all the women that were wise-hearted did spin with their hands” (Exodus 35:25).
Women from all walks of life, and from all over the country, come here to learn these ancient skills. Walk-ins are invited to watch handicrafts in the making, with the different crafts dependent on the season. On Mondays women can join the workshops for free. Handicrafts are sold at a new little shop.
Jeweler Tzadok Yehuda is located inside the same complex. Yehuda, it turns out, fashioned jewels for years before discovering that his grandfather had been a silversmith in his native Iraq.
Yehuda focuses on jewelry with an ancient flavor and sells his creations – made of silver, gold, or a combination of the two – right out of his workshop. Take a look at his unusual designs, watch him at work, Sunday to Thursday 9 to 6, Friday 9 to 2.
Exit the workshop. Then, still in the complex, walk up one flight of stairs to Tzfati’s elegant home. Although born in Mamilla and raised in Nahalat Shiva, Tzfati never really felt connected to Jerusalem.
She moved to the Sharon area, where she became intensively involved in journalism.
Eight years ago, however, something brought her back to the Holy City. As she wandered around the neighborhoods where she had grown up, she felt like she was seeing Jerusalem for the first time – with the excited new eyes of a tourist. She talked to people in the markets, in their workshops, in their stores and their houses. And she vowed to bring her new insights to others.
The result was an attractive booklet on Jerusalem, full of unusual tours, and eventually publication of a volume – filled with stunning photographs and short texts in English and Hebrew – with stories about Jerusalem’s colorful population.
Especially fascinated by Ein Kerem, Tzfati decided to bring a taste of the village into her lovingly restored dwelling. The complex in which it stands belongs to artist Emanuel Kleidman (father-in-law to Hadar of Hefetz Kapea). Kleidman, who divides his time between Europe and Ein Kerem, once produced a large series on trees and plants from his yard, and Tzfati displays a few of them on her walls. Also on exhibit in her living room are works by other Israeli artists, including lovely musical instruments built by Shmuel Gafnan (who designed the “Crazy House” on Hayarkon Street in Tel Aviv.) When people stop by, Tzfati tells them how she experiences Jerusalem and relates stories about Jerusalemites who, she says, never stop amazing her. Among them is Yitzhak Sasson, who never studied art, but nevertheless designed and sold jewelry from a simple stand in the pedestrian mall and today owns one of the capital’s most successful jewelry shops. Or she may talk about Tzippora Bar- Rashi, a convert to Judaism who lives on a narrow lane in Ein Kerem.
Bar-Rashi, who manages without electricity, proudly sows and reaps her own grain, and then grinds it into flour on a millstone.
(Yitzhak Greenfield in his studio.)
Tzfati is famous for her hospitality, and for a small fee shares coffee and homemade cakes along with her stories. She also enjoys guiding groups through what she considers the most picturesque neighborhood in Jerusalem.
Exit the complex through the main entrance on Ein Kerem Street. Cross the busy road carefully, and turn right to reach through a blue gate with a faded sign that reads Ruth Hand-Painted Tiles and Gifts. While you are strolling through the yard and climbing up to the second floor, note the way artist Ruth Havilio utilized old, authentic materials to restore what is both her home and studio.
Havilio has been painting since she was very young; her brother owned an antique store and she would create designs on the furniture. Later, although she studied environmental design at the Bezalel School of Arts and Design, Havilio ended up in Paris perfecting the art of painting on porcelain tiles.
While Armenian artists first paint on clay and add a glaze afterwards, Havilio’s technique is different: she paints on top of the glaze and then burns her tiles at 425 degrees. The final product, as you will see when you stop in, is superb. Because she lives next to the studio, it is almost always open and she welcomes visitors.
Return to the sidewalk, turn left, pass a very narrow alley (to which you will return) and stop at an ornamental blue gate. It was here that sculptor Aharon Bezalel both lived and worked until his death four years ago.
Born in Afghanistan in 1925, Bezalel immigrated with his family at the age of 13. He began his artistic career by creating miniature figures and went on to produce fantastic monolithic sculptures made sometimes of bronze, but mostly of wood. The winner of several prestigious prizes, Bezalel exhibited his work all over the world.
(Artist Rahel Tzfati)
Take a look at some of his environmental sculptures as you walk towards the entrance, especially the rooster; actress Faye Dunaway bought one just like it! Then enter to view dozens of stunning creations by the winner of half a dozen prestigious prizes.
Also on display are works by artist Miriam Mass, who runs the gallery inside the building. Her complex productions are based on netting and synthetic fibers, created without the use of paints and brushes. Some of her works are found on walls of the Jerusalem Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Visitors are welcome from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day except Wednesday and Saturday.
Now backtrack to that tiny alley you passed earlier and turn right. Directly across from the entrance to St. John in the Mountains, descend an alley full of tourist shops that ends in a coffee shop. A favorite neighborhood watering hole it is called Chocolate House and offers homemade chocolate prepared at a tiny factory right here in the neighborhood.
Walk-ins are fine, but it is far better to call before you come.
Contact information Yitzhak Greenfield: (02) 641-6097 Alegra Hotel: (02) 650-0506 Behefetz Kapea: (02) 652-5802 or 054-251-1128 Tzadok Yehuda: (02) 644-8515 or 054-572-8999 Ruth Tzfati: 054-772-6726 Ruth Havilio: (02) 641-7912 Miriam Mass (Bezalel): 050-456-6247