Jerusalem from within

Whether it’s urban development, luxurious private homes, urban green spots, hands-on activities, or religious or state institutions that take your fancy, Jerusalem is the place to be next weekend.

The private home of renowned art collector Charlotte Bergman (photo credit: THE ISRAEL MUSEUM)
The private home of renowned art collector Charlotte Bergman
(photo credit: THE ISRAEL MUSEUM)
Open House Jerusalem has proven to be a popular event for one and all, young and old and plenty betwixt, and for Jerusalemites and Israelis from other parts of the country for over the past eight years. The ninth edition will take place October 22-24 and, as usual, there will be an inviting mix of the tried, trusted and beloved, with new items whose very existence remained a secret until the advent of this year’s citywide program.
For one weekend each year, Jerusalem joins a select group of cities around the world – including founder-location London, as well as New York, Dublin, Melbourne, Barcelona, Chicago and Rome.
The London event kicked off in 1992, and over 30 other cities have joined the definitively inviting roster over the years.
While this is not a competition by any means, and each city has its gems to unfurl each year, Jerusalem has nothing to be ashamed of, and offers the public as wide a variety of architecture, designs and cultural and historical baggage as one could imagine.
Naturally, religious edifices abound across the 117-item roster, with the sites in the Old City and its environs including St.
Mark’s Syrian Orthodox Church near Jaffa Gate, and the Notre Dame de Sion convent across the road from the New Gate. On the Jewish side of the denominational divide there’s the emerging reconstruction of the Tiferet Israel Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter.
In truth, there is a bewildering range of guided tours, discussion panels, lectures and other edifying items strewn across the weekend program. Some require prior registration and have limited capacity, while there are plenty of open, come-asyou- please slots. There are history-oriented events galore, as you would expect in this venerable city of ours, but there is also an abundance of intriguing forward- looking items that focus on the process of modernization that has been taking place across Jerusalem in the past decade or so, as well structures and facilities that are currently under construction.
Artistic director Aviva Levinson says it is not only the locals who are eager to get a handle on some of the city’s buildings, including urban secrets that have lain dormant and unnoticed by the populus at large for many a moon.
“At least half of the people who go to Jerusalem for Open House Jerusalem come from outside the city,” says Levinson, herself a Tel Aviv resident. “People come from the Negev, the Galilee and every which where, including kibbutzim.
They come in droves.”
However, as any organizer of a cultural event in Jerusalem will tell you, the big challenge is to get people to get in their car or catch the bus or train, and then make their way through the hills to the capital. In this case, the conundrum is even tougher, considering that Tel Aviv has its very own Open House lineup (although it normally takes place in May).
“Yes, Tel Avivians also come to Jerusalem for this,” notes Levinson. “Absolutely.”
The appeal of the Jerusalem weekend, she says, even stretches overseas.
“We get tourists coming to Jerusalem especially for Open House Jerusalem,” she states. “I get emails during the year asking me for the dates of the event.”
That, of course, translates into welcome revenue and gratifying “problems” for local hosting outlets, even for those that logically might avail themselves of some protekzia.
“I looked for a room in a hotel in Jerusalem a few days at the time of Open House Jerusalem, and I couldn’t see anything,” Levinson says with a laugh. “I’ll give it another look.”
Scanning the seemingly endless list of things to do and places to go in Jerusalem over the October 22-24 weekend, it really is a matter of nailing down your schedule and, in some cases, guaranteeing your attendance at the event of your choice. If, for example, you’d like to take part in the audio tour of the Jewish Quarter, which sets off from Zion Gate at 5 p.m. on October 22, you will need to reserve your place.
The same is true for the guided stroll around the Botanical Gardens on Mount Scopus and for the Ethiopian Connection slot at 10 a.m. on October 24, when Bezalel Academy Department of Architecture graduate Keren Kinberg will take a learned look at the Ethiopian Church compound, the Ethiopian Consulate and the home of the early 20th century Empress Taytu of Ethiopia, all of which are located on Hanevi’im Street and Ethiopia Street downtown.
The roster also features several items of a more educational orientation, and includes a talk by preservation architect Avi Mashiah (October 22 at 10 a.m.) about the various issues relating to architecture in Jerusalem. Participants in the open event are asked to gather at the concourse at the entrance to King David’s Tomb.
Anyone interested in getting into some local folklore should ensure they reserve a place on the A Tale of Love and Darkness guided tour, which sets off from the corner of Strauss Street and Mea She’arim at 1 p.m. on October 23. Shlomit Gross will regale her group with tales of the backdrop to acclaimed novelist Amos Oz’s childhood in the then-neighborhood of Avraham, which is now part of the haredi Geula area. Modest attire is mandatory.
Meanwhile, the I’m a Political Wall, a reservation-only event, clearly focuses on one of the most contemporary forms of urban expression – graffiti.
There will be two tours of the area near Davidka Square of up to 50 people, leaving at 5 p.m. on Thursday and Friday.
Each will take a close look at the spray-paint aesthetics on display and examine the interface between creativity and freedom of social and political expression.
It is safe to say that the Clal Building near the Mahaneh Yehuda outdoor market is one of the least appealing structures ever built in the city, but wonderful things are afoot there of late. There are all kinds of events lined up, with guided tours taking place on Thursday at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., and on Friday at 10:30 a.m.
Members of the public can gain some insight into the positive directions the building is taking, and get an eyeful of the art gallery, green park and urban beekeeping center on the roof, as well as the Adamahi Center for Earth-Based Sculpture. On Thursday at 8:30 p.m., the building`s amphitheater, which is blessed with exceptional acoustics, will turn into a revolving stage, with choirs emerging from the mall’s balconies.
The audience will be invited to enter and exit via different passageways so they can examine the vantage points and aural ranges of the singing.
Anyone with a mind for history and an eye for early photography should hurry to sign up for the In the Footsteps of the American Colony Photographers event, which will take place at the Photography Gallery at Hutzot Hayotzer on Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
“That will be a fascinating experience,” Levinson says. “There was a group of Americans who came over here, around the end of the 19th century. They were a special group – photographers and architects, and merchants and doctors.”
Photographer Yael Herman will show the lucky 22 who manage to register some highly evocative prints of Jerusalem of yore, and there will even be a brief hands-on snap-taking slot.
Anyone with the energy and requisite biking gear who fancies some getting into freewheeling around some of Jerusalem’s most important locations – taking in, for example, Nahlaot, Rehavia, Sacher Park, Jaffa Gate and the shuk – can sign up for the guided circuit led by biking enthusiast and lawyer Eitan Lipsker. The tour starts at 8 p.m. on Thursday and is limited to 30 riders.
There are also quite a few items with at least one eye on the future, including a rare opportunity to get a look at the tunnel that will, in 2018, be used by the express train link with Tel Aviv. Guided tours will take place throughout the day on Thursday, and participants – who have to register in advance – must wear long pants and closed shoes.
“The whole area at the entrance to Jerusalem will undergo a face lift,” enthuses Levinson. “There are some exciting and surprising things happening in Jerusalem.”
Whether it’s urban development, luxurious private homes, secluded urban green spots, hands-on activities for all the family or religious or state institutions that take your fancy, Jerusalem is the place to be next weekend.