On June 7th, 1967, East and West Jerusalem were reunited. When the Israeli flag was proudly raised above the Western Wall, some of the battle-weary paratroopers who had fought to regain the Old City from Jordanian control were overcome with emotion — and burst into tears. Army Chief Chaplain Shlomo Goren blew the shofar as in the days of old. He recited hymns of praise and thanksgiving, and prayed, in a whisper, for those who had died to make this historic day possible.
This excerpt from Aviva Bar-Am’s “Jerusalem EasyWalks” is a fitting example of how she weaves moving pieces of history into her tours. The book’s 17 circular routes include bits of legends, anecdotes, folk tales and detailed descriptions of excavated sites, including the Ophel Gardens adjacent to the Western Wall.
Compelling routes throughout the city, from Ammunition Hill and the century-old Bukhara neighborhood to Yemin Moshe and Machane Yehuda, feature user-friendly maps and color photos.
“Jerusalem EasyWalks” ($24.95) is one of five English-language guides to walking tours within Israel produced by Bar-Am at her home on Jerusalem’s French Hill. Her first, “Guide to the Golan Heights,” appeared in 1995, followed by four others covering Israel’s southern landscapes, various walks throughout the country and Jerusalem churches. Her next will cover 50 tours throughout Israel that are accessible by “foot, stroller, wheelchair and cane.”
“The best thing about these books has been going to all kinds of new places and learning about Israel,” Bar-Am told The Jewish Week. “I learned much more about my roots than I ever had and I met hundreds of unusual, learned people, archaeologists, professors, historians and biblical scholars.”
A native of Minnesota, Bar-Am moved to Israel in 1968. After earning a degree in social work at Hebrew University, she went to work for the Jerusalem Post. She began her series of guidebooks when she left the Post in 1995. You can still see her work in El Al’s inflight magazine and the international edition of the Jerusalem Post.
Bar-Am’s efforts have involved several collaborators. Her first two books were written with the late Yisrael Shalem, an experienced guide and fellow American oleh who lived in Safed. Her Israeli husband, Shmuel, shoots all the photos for her books. (They have two children, Guy and Naama.) And “Jerusalem EasyWalks” was written with South African-born tour guide Gershon Rechtman.
An abbreviated version of Bar-Am’s tour of the Ophel Gardens begins next to the Dung Gate, near stops for bus lines 1 and 2. The first stop is within the Ophel complex, at the corner of the western and southern walls surrounding the Temple Mount.
“The bottom half of the wall dates back to King Herod,” Bar-Am explains. “A whopping 485 meters in length, it includes a small section commonly known as the Western or Wailing Wall, which attracts worshipers and tourists from all over the world.”
“Two thousand years ago the stones at your feet were part of a busy street. Here stood the lower Jerusalem market, in which jostling crowds bargained furiously with the merchants who offered their wares. To the newcomers the air seemed charged with excitement and was full of exotic fragrances.”
At the Ophel, as at many sites, Bar-Am highlights the architecture. Herodian stones are identifiable by their signature recessed margin. The interrupted curving stones of Robinson’s Arch, named for the famous American biblical scholar Edward Robinson, are believed to be the basis for a gigantic staircase to the enormous Royal Portico that occupied the entire southern area of the Mount. And the stone remains of the arch serve as mute testimony to the tragedy that befell the Jewish people when the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in 70 CE and the arch came crashing down.
On the other side of the plaza, visitors spot steps leading down to a mikveh, one of dozens uncovered in this area that served pilgrims before ascending the steps to the Temple. The nearby steps to the Hulda Gate are irregular in size, perhaps to force crowds to walk carefully and slowly, meditating on the sanctity of the site.
Bar-Am explains that some scholars believe the gates were named for the prophetess Hulda, who helped delay the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem with a prophecy that led King Josiah to undertake comprehensive reforms. From here, Bar-Am leads readers to the Kotel Maaravi, the small section of the Second Temple retaining wall whose proximity to the lost Sanctuary “has bestowed upon it a hallowed status.”
Frequent contributor Lisa Alcalay Klug has written for the New York Times, Forward and many other publications. She is the author of Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe. To learn more visit www.lisaklug.com
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.