Coming home to Jerusalem

The new grassroots nonprofit 100% Jerusalem wants to turn homes into tourist attractions.

Kineret, a Yemenite woman (photo credit: Courtesy 100% Jerusalem)
Kineret, a Yemenite woman
(photo credit: Courtesy 100% Jerusalem)
Madelaine Black’s group of friends was the inspiration for 100% Jerusalem, the grassroots nonprofit launching next month.
Black felt that tourists, visitors and new immigrants could benefit from the varying experiences of a diverse group of women who have at least one thing in common – they each fell in love with Jerusalem and made it their home.
Now, she wants to make it feel like home to the 10 million tourists a year that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has aimed for over the next decade. Black is the dreamer of the group; she has vision and believes that what she can show people is what they need to see. The appeal of Jerusalem for her is its straddling of two worlds – the historical vs the modern. Black explains, in her reserved British way, that since she made aliya six and a half years ago, it’s the diversity of the city that still enthralls her today.
“This is the most multiethnic country in the world. Those very people that call us an apartheid state, they should just look at my street and realize that half the people are refugees and the rest are children of Holocaust survivors.”
Jerusalem is often described as having certain magic. Too often, visitors can become overwhelmed with the mustsee sites. The idea of 100% Jerusalem is to provide an opportunity for people to tap into a different aspect of the Holy City – because its not always about visiting the Western Wall or the City of David, or the craziness of the Mahaneh Yehuda market. Sometimes it’s something more simple that resonates, like a conversation with a stranger you would never have otherwise encountered, or discovering a modern society within a city of thousands of years of history.
The first events, which begin October 6, focus on the idea of the home as an educational space, to better understand the different ethnic communities that make up Jerusalem. Black’s organization had the opportunity to take advantage of a project the municipality had already invested in, which teaches women from different sectors of society how to host tourist groups in their home – providing them with a unique experience as well as the chance to make some money.
“We came up with the idea of introducing Jerusalemites to Jerusalemites and tourists to Jerusalemites,” says licensed tour guide and partner Helen Cohn.
Cohn leads the home encounters and says they enable participants to meet people they wouldn’t normally, if they were staying in a hotel. One of their first encounters involves visiting the home of a Yemenite woman, learning about a rich culture of food, folklore and dance.
“People have come across Yemenites but don’t know the history of how they came to the country, the hardships that they suffered and the folklore and rich tapestry of Judaism that they have, their customs, their food,” Cohn continues.
The group has also set up an encounter in the haredi neighborhood of Mekor Baruch, to learn halla baking and hear about the ultra-Orthodox way of life. The cost of an encounter is NIS 110, and pricing for other activities is set to cover the cost of expenses and administration.
A large target audience for the group is people who own holiday homes in the city and guests of olim. “We want to give them activities and experiences which are about more than being a tourist,” Black says.
One event Black is very proud of, and that typifies the overall message of the organization, is a weekly lecture series starting October 29 called “Sects in our City,” an obvious play on the appeal of the popular US TV show Sex and the City.
“We live in a world where people often don’t know who is living next door to them,” Black says. “It’s a pleasant surprise when you find out the story, and you learn something about the person and the society from which they came.
It makes you love Jerusalem even more.”
Running through November, the first lectures focus on the different sects of Judaism, set up as a Q&A-type interview moderated by Hebrew University lecturer and anthropologist Shalva Weil. The first event will tell the story of the Ethiopian journey to Israel, taking place before the Sigd festival, what started out as the Ethiopian name for Yom Kippur. Black says she hopes the lecture will give residents the tools to appreciate and understand a people they might have very limited personal interaction with.
“We see them in the streets and on the bus and the market, and we have no idea of their story,” Black says.
Making the First Station complex the homebase of operations and the venue for the lecture series was a multilayered decision. Black liked the metaphor of starting out a tourism experience from a hub of travel. “When you get off the train somewhere you want to approach and connect and experience the place to which you’ve come,” Black says.
The starting point of the railway station also provides a nice segue to the official home of 100% Jerusalem, at the kosher restaurant Kitchen Station. With its large picnic tables, rustic atmosphere and open kitchen, Black wants to invite attendees for a glass of wine, to schmooze, building community and fraternity, in a safe and comfortable place to welcome strangers.
“Everything starts in a home, and this is our home,” Black says.
For now, the organization is marketing by word of mouth, the local community council and social media. A trained team of “welcomers,” working with the municipality, plans to go to hotels to try to identify people who would like to see Jerusalem the way a local would.
They aim to find out where the visitor is from, his or her interests and match those with an experience.
Whether it’s a cocktail at a local bar, a thought, a new recipe or a place to watch the sunset, Black wants Jerusalem to resonate on an individual level, for each person. “What we want to offer you is the possibility to find your home.”