The path of justice

Though it lacks even a sign to introduce it, Rehov Rothschild is home to such prominent institutions as the Supreme Court and the Jerusalem Bird Observatory.

Jerusalem Rose Garden 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jerusalem Rose Garden 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel’s Supreme Court justices are constantly being called upon to make weighty decisions that affect us all. Yet until the current majestic edifice in Givat Ram was completed in 1992, the court convened in an almost primitive structure inside the Russian Compound. In winter the kerosene heaters that were used to warm the otherwise unheated building gave off a horrible smell. But when the windows were opened to air the rooms, the cold rushed in to freeze judicial fingers and toes.
Money for construction of the Supreme Court was donated very discreetly by the Rothschild Foundation. In the best of Jewish charitable traditions, the Rothschilds are not mentioned by name on the sign located at the entrance to the courthouse. And, perhaps by design, Rehov Rothschild – adjacent to the building – lacks even a single sign.
This week’s Street Stroll features unusually diverse attractions ranging from a courthouse enveloped in symbolism to a view of the valley from which a famous love story came to its final, and tragic, end. In order to get the most out of this jaunt, it is best to take it from Sundays to Thursdays. But if that doesn’t work out, there is still much to see and plenty to do the rest of the week.
Begin directly across from the Leom parking lot, located on Sderot Yitzhak Rabin between Sderot Herzl and Rehov Bezalel. Immediately after you turn into Rehov Rothschild (look for signs directing you to the Jerusalem Bird Observatory and Wohl Rose Garden), a wide asphalt path descends steeply to a parking lot. Follow it only as far as the gate leading to the city’s biggest dog park – wonderful fun for your pet all week long. Then turn right and walk as far as a flight of steps.
In front of you stands one of several small cemeteries situated, strangely, in the heart of Jerusalem. When the first bodies were buried here in 1948, the city had not yet stretched this far west. In fact, the entire area now covered by the Knesset, government offices, the Bank of Israel, museums and the Crowne Plaza Hotel contained an Arab village called Sheikh Bader.
Villagers evacuated their homes during the War of Independence, which began immediately after the United Nations voted to partition Palestine on November 29, 1947.
For millennia, Jerusalem’s main burial ground had been on the Mount of Olives. To get there, however, you had to pass through hostile territory, a dangerous undertaking during the war. Instead, several plots in western Jerusalem were set aside as temporary cemeteries: the largest in Sanhedria; one across from old Shaare Zedek Hospital and a third in the quarry that had served the abandoned village of Sheikh Bader. It became so crowded at Sheikh Bader that, to save room, some caskets were piled one atop the other.
If you climb up to the top step and look down, you will be gazing at a portion of the Valley of the Cross. During the War of Independence, it held the Rehavia landing strip, used for bringing food, medical supplies and weapons to besieged Jerusalem. It was from here that Zohara Levitov, age 20, met her death.
Raven-haired Zohara was exceptionally brilliant, popular and beautiful. After graduating from high school, she joined the Palmah and eventually became a company commander. She and fellow commander Shmulik Kaufman fell in love – with the kind of devotion that you only read about in books. Their love story was later immortalized in the theater and by famous author Dvora Omer as well. Soon afterwards, they decided to get married and study abroad.
On May 2, 1947, the day they were released from the Palmah, Shmulik was asked to replace another officer who had taken ill and participate in a field exercise involving live hand grenades.
Although he was now officially not a soldier, Shmulik agreed, and was killed when a grenade exploded in another soldier’s hand. Zohara sank into a melancholy so deep it seemed she would never recover. Eventually she traveled to the US, and began studying medicine – but as a pale and withdrawn shadow of her former self.
Zohara finally emerged from her depression during the War of Independence, when she participated in a pilots’ course in California. Returning to Israel upon its completion, she flew mission after mission that brought desperately needed supplies from the coast to beleaguered settlements all over the country.
Finally, one day, she got leave to visit her parents in Jerusalem.
She was to return to Tel Aviv on August 3, 1948, with a second pilot.
That morning, with her comrade sitting at the controls, their small aircraft took off from the Rehavia landing strip. Almost immediately, the plane developed a glitch and crashed into the Monastery of the Cross. Both pilots were killed. Zohara was buried here, in the cemetery (and later re-interred on Mount Herzl).
ABOUT HALFWAY through, you will notice over a dozen tiny graves with no inscriptions – babies whose names are not known. On your right are steps almost completely hidden by the trees. They lead up in the direction of the main road to the tomb of a hassidic rabbi: Gedalia Moshe Goldman, the Admor [a Hebrew acronym meaning “our master, our teacher, our rabbi”] of Zvhil [in the Ukraine].
Gedalia Moshe came to the Holy Land in 1936 after spending eight years in Siberian exile. He inherited the title of admor after his father, the saintly Shlomo Goldman, died in 1945.
Gedalia Moshe died five years later, and was buried in the Sheikh Bader cemetery. Recently, a tradition sprang up in which people who pray at his grave on Monday, Thursday and the following Monday will find their prayers answered. Little by little, a faucet, candles, a metal oven, white canvas walls and a little shack have appeared next to his tombstone.
If you are here on a Monday or a Thursday, you will run into petitioners of all ages, sexes and religious (or secular) leanings lighting a candle and praying. Those whose prayers have been answered leave a message about it posted on the walls. Nearby, you will see ugly plastic bags tied around branches on a little almond tree – supposedly, this will help their owners find a mate.
Next, follow the path to the left to the Jerusalem Bird Observatory. The JBO belongs to the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and is a breath of fresh air in the middle of the city. How peaceful it is to sit in the bird hide (open 24/7) and watch nature undisturbed. At night, you will gaze at porcupines and hedgehogs; in the daytime, the observatory hosts all kinds of birds (at least 200 species are known to have visited here), turtles and other small animals.
The JBO’s Visitors’ Center (complete with restrooms) is open Sunday to Thursday (9 a.m.-3 p.m.) with nature photos, wildlife movies, bird books and a shop featuring nature-related pamphlets, souvenirs, bird feeders and binoculars. Some mornings, if you get here early enough, you can watch volunteers ringing a few of the birds before returning them to the wild.
WHEN YOU have had your fill of Mother Nature, continue on the path, and when it ends, turn right. You will end up outside the Knesset. Follow the sidewalk to steps leading up to the famous five-meter-tall bronze monument that faces the gate of the Knesset: the Menora. Reminiscent of the candelabrum that illuminated the interior of the Temple sanctuaries, the Menora was chosen as the symbol of the State of Israel. On closer examination, you will discover that the beautifully crafted bas-reliefs covering its seven branches depict over two dozen of Israel’s most significant historical events.
Continue on the sidewalk to reach the entrance to the Wohl Rose Garden, to which various countries have donated lovely gardens. If you have time, wander around a bit; if not, follow the sidewalk inside the garden and parallel to the road until you reach a map of the park, then take the steps all the way to the top where you will find lovely pergolas, benches, a little pool.
From here, you have a lovely view of the Supreme Court.
Note the combination of straight lines and circles, a theme that is repeated over and over both inside and outside of the courthouse.
They are meant to visually express the concepts of law and justice. Tour guide Nikky Strassman, who led us on a fantastic tour of the building, suggests you decide for yourself which represents which. The architects, Ram Karmi and Ada Karmi-Melamede, took their answer from Psalms: “You are righteous... and Your laws are straight” but “He leads me in circles of justice.” You can take a guided tour (Hebrew at 11 a.m.
or English at 12 noon) or wander around on your own on Sundays from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. To reach the courthouse entrance, take the path right next to the wall.
Pick up a pamphlet about the courthouse, available in English, Hebrew and even Amharic for information on the different wings you will be visiting. Then begin with a large photo collage of VIPs involved in planning the courthouse, whose design is meant to give you the feeling that you are at all times both inside and outside the building. That is because what happens within these walls has a huge effect on the lives of each and every one of us.
From here, you take a massive stairway, lined on one side with a wall of Jerusalem stone. Together with old-fashioned lanterns, the wall makes it seem as if you are on a Jerusalem street. Mirrors at the bottom of the wall give the illusion that you are looking at foundations – not of the building, but perhaps the laws that guide us daily.
A gigantic panoramic window offers a stunning view of Nahlaot. Then, continuing to notice variations in the circles/lines and the inside/outside themes, you continue on to the “pyramid area” – where a structure far above suggests Zechariah’s Tomb in the Kidron Valley.
After the unusual circular library, move into a wide, well-lit foyer with splendid entrances to five courtrooms. They suggest an era thousands of years ago, when people were judged at the gates to the city. You may enter any courtroom that is in session, unless the case concerns either state security or an issue involving a minor.
To return, pass the first courtroom, and take the corridor leading to the Courtyard of the Arches. Finally, you reach a small museum of the History of the Israeli Legal System from the Ottoman era until today. Most interesting to me were the blown-up photographs on the walls and the red robes on display.
These were worn by Gad Frumkin, the only Jew on the Supreme Court during the British Mandate, when the case before him carried a possible death penalty.
Stop at three TV screens, where actors present (in Hebrew) three cases of burning national interest. Finally, exit the building’s hallowed walls, imbued with a sense of having visited the site where history is being made.
For information on nature walks with the Jerusalem Bird Observatory, see