What’s New in Jerusalem for Hanukkah?

Hanukkah in Jerusalem is always a busy time, filled with events and family gatherings, nights with candle lighting, and plenty of oily, fried foods.

This year the week started off with glorious weather outside. The stone walls of the Old City were under a blue sky as colorful flags flew over the Cinematheque.

Inside the Isrotel Orient Hotel, on November 29, IMPROVATE launched its first Forum to introduce Israeli future technology to world finance leaders.

Champion Chess Player Garry Kasparov was one of the special guests. The former President of Bulgaria mentioned that after flight delays he arrived in Israel five minutes before the midnight closure to tourists.

Of the 300 invitees, only 3 were unable to attend the live conference which ended with a Black-Eyed Peas performance at the Jerusalem Pais Arena.

Kaf Tet–November 29th in 1947, the UN voted for the Partition Plan of Palestine, recognizing Jewish rights and leading to the establishment of Israel.

In 1977, the UN General Assembly called for the annual observance of 29 November as the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.

In her opening remarks Irina Nevzlin, Cofounder and Chair of IMPROVATE recognized the importance of November 29 in her life, for she was born in the former Soviet Union and was able to move to Israel – ‘to come home.”

Annually Hanukkah in Jerusalem means sufganiyot, each year new fancy flavors are produced and millions of donuts are consumed.

The large chanukiah (menorah) was back in Mamilla Mall

and at Jaffa Gate near the entrance to the Old City.

The traditional menorah stood at the Kotel, Western Wall.

The new US Ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, lit the candles on the seventh night at the Kotel and tweeted, “As the Hanukkah song goes, we come to banish the darkness,ׁ and together, we shine a bright light. Hanukkah sameach!”

This year, for the first time, a lighting ceremony took place on top of the new Western Wall Heritage Center, built at the back of the Kotel Plaza.

As night fell, politicians and other invited guests who were honored at the ceremony stood on the rooftop overlooking the Kotel.

I was there on the second night when these flames were lit.

MK Miri Regev was impressed enough to share the event with her fans and followers with her phone.

The view of the Kotel Plaza from above was impressive as always.

However, in the new building, the view below was fascinating also. For years the area was a construction site, as archeologists carefully dug down and the site was covered from view. Now those digs are exposed and are seen here in the new educational building.

But there is much more to see underground. New levels of history have been revealed under the Western Wall Tunnels.

Before going on the new Big Bridge Tour there is a video to help explain with multiple drawings.

The blue mark shows where we were standing.

And here is how the area of arches looked in the time of the Romans.

The steps down show the new/old mikvah, but it is not a colorful image.

However, with new technology, the Roman waterfalls flow for visitors.

The arched rooms and columns are impressive, but not easy to photograph.

Workers were finishing up the wooden bridge for the opening the next day.

The main underground area we visited in August 2019 has been prepared for the public to see on the new Big Bridge tour.

This new spacious area of the old Western Wall has been exposed.

Also new is the ‘Chain of Generations’ tour, which begins with stories of Abraham and Sarah, and their descendants,

and continues with the story of the Exodus from Egypt and Moshe

leading the 12 Tribes of Israel into the Land of Israel,

and includes the 70 names of Jerusalem

and the destruction of Jerusalem,

the longing to return, the devastation of the Shoah, Holocaust,

providing names of early pioneers, ending with an inspirational video,

describing the Chain of Generations.

Only sharing a few snippets so you will appreciate the experience when tourists are finally allowed to return!

For those who support the UN’s denying a Jewish connection to Jerusalem, these tours will upset your day and misguided beliefs.

And on the eighth night of Hanukkah, the new US Ambassador to Israeli lit candles at Beit Hanasi, with the Israeli President and his wife.

Hanukkah Sameach!

How Many Jerusalem Sights Do You Recognize?

If you have not been to Jerusalem, Israel, for the past year, you are in for big surprises when you return to the Jerusalem streets!

Jerusalem on Rosh Chodesh Nisan 5781, is not as you remember it. You will not recognize many of the Jerusalem streets as they emerge from coronavirus lockdowns and closings

Today a new initiative was announced by the Mayor’s Office,  “ברוטינה” or ‘Be’rutina” as in return to routine. Hundreds of thousands of shekels will be invested to help revive the local cultural and creative scene and promote internal tourism by Israelis, as the airport is still closed to foreign nationals.

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It’s spring and feels like it today. Beginning on Rosh Chodesh Nisan there is a special blessing to say when seeing the budding fruit trees.

Last week, Jaffa Gate was open as COVID-19 restrictions lessened on Sunday.

People were at the Orient Hotel this week.

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The doorman was back at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. He would not let me inside, but was happy to pose for a photograph.

Banks are closing and moving online, and here on Palmach Street, a new supermarket is on its way. However, it remains to be see seen just how cheap it will be.

The carousel was turning again at Takhana Rishona, First Station.

The kiddie train was on the track with people and bikers on the path.

Sports and Culture Minister Chili Tropper spoke at the Run 4 Afikim start before runners left from First Station on the charity run to Eilat.

Benjamin Netanyahu hosted Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. The Czech Embassy opened an office in Jerusalem and they discussed vaccine distribution.

The Ivory Coast property is still available if any country is interested.

Cafes in Mamilla Mall had lines of customers again on Monday.

Even the tourist train was running again as the Old City opened up.

School groups were touring and learning about the Jewish Quarter.

By the Kotel, Western Wall, dividers kept the still-limited numbers of worshippers allowed for prayer services apart. Thousands were coming during the whole day on Monday.

This is one of the new water fountains for washing hands. There was also a new row of taps for drinking water installed near the restrooms,

Restoration work on the stones of the Western Wall is still underway. I keep watching that scaffolding as it moves from one location to another.

On Monday, there was one bar mitzvah celebration after another, all day long with music and balloons and festivities. It felt like the good ol’ days.

Workers on the major building project in the Armenian Quarter should send more customers to this small shop nearby. The Old City shops were shuttered for so long, it will take time to recover.

Jaffa Road cafes were busy, with chairs lining the Light Rail tracks.

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The Light Rail stops were filled with passengers waiting for the next train, as people converged upon Jerusalem’s central shopping area.

When tourists return to Jaffa Road they will not recognize the area. Look up, and tall buildings tower over the Machane Yehuda Market , the shuk.

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At least the piles of ripe strawberries look familiar in the shuk.

It was announced that Paris Fountain in France Square is getting a major makeover.

This is the simulation published by the Mayor’s Office last week.

Near the Jerusalem Theater, Chopin Street is open to traffic at last. It will take a while for drivers to get used to the major changes.

And after all these years, the Ohel Nechama synagogue on Chopin Street finally got an elevator up in time for Disability Month in March.

The Hansen House has reopened with signs for ‘Spring in Jerusalem’. The gardens inside the gates welcome visitors, with masks and social distance.

More signs for the outdoor nature event are along the Jerusalem streets.

Multiple new children playgrounds have been developed over lockdowns.

Building and construction continued over the past year.

For the first time in a very long time, someone I did not know on a Jerusalem street asked me to take a photo.

It’s been quite an unusual year for sure!

Too many have been sick and died.

Certainly, not everyone is happy with the construction, as building new projects often involves the loss of smaller older buildings, like this Sephardi synagogue.

There was a lot happening on the Jerusalem streets and though some are getting a slow start preparing, excitement is building with anticipation of families together this year for Passover.

And oh yes, another election! Number four in two years on March 23rd.

Outside the Knesset Building they are preparing to count votes – again.

it would be nice if the next Knesset would finally pass a budget.

That’s it for now, though more was happening on Jerusalem streets.

Book a zoom photo tour for your group or a Jerusalem photo walk.

Jerusalem 2021 New Year, New Beginnings

As 2021 begins, Israel has a population of 9.3 million. Already over one million Israelis have received vaccinations, while the number of those ill with COVID-19 keeps rising over 6,000 daily.

Sun set in Jerusalem Tower of David viewed from Jaffa Gate

For the third corona lockdown, traffic was heavy as the sun was setting.

Mamilla Mall was closing down with people doing last-minute errands.

The full moon was bright over the plaza inside Jaffa Gate.

Main streets usually filled with vehicles were quieting down.

Lights and holiday decorations were shown brightly at Kikar Safra, Jerusalem’s Municipal City Hall.

However, only blue decorative lights were on over Yoel Salomon Street.

The popular tourist areas again, or still, were closed to the public.

Jaffa Gate was shut again as in the previous coronavirus lockdowns.

Jerusalem’s Old City was one area where the lockdown was visibly enforced. IDs were checked, movement of more than half a mile from home was not allowed. Over 9,000 fines have been issued by Israeli police.

Inside Jaffa Gate, businesses were shuttered. The Post Office was open, but for a change, there was no line of people outside waiting to enter.

Construction work has proceeded apace during the entire time of the coronavirus restrictions. This man would not let me take his photo, but I was more interested in showing how those safety surfaces are crafted.

The Kotel, Western Wall Plaza, had more birds than people.

The divisions for limited prayer groups were intact, but there were no worshipers to be found in most of the sections.

Ah, but even on the most limited days, there was at least one selfie taken.

From the Old City, I decided to walk home by way of Jaffa Road.

The few shops that had been open the night before were now closed.

Street decorations were colorful, but with no one to appreciate them.

Finally, I got a photo of the large duck on Ben Yehudah Street without people in my way. Sadly the businesses in this popular tourist area was hit again hard by the lockdown.

I was not the only photographer out looking for lockdown scenes.

A woman was dropping off items for someone in one of the Jerusalem quarantine hotels where returning Israelis were required to stay.

It was reported 8,000 Israelis traveled to Dubai for the holiday weekend, escaping Israeli lockdown limitations.

Last week UAE guests were at the King David Hotel, and this week United States flags flew over as the Moroccan normalization negotiations proceeded.

At times it seemed as if there was no lockdown, traffic was moving along.

But at Takhana HaRishona, First Station, those clever plastic igloos were mostly empty, as take out food service is not allowed and restaurants closed.

One man found a warm and quiet location for his standing computer work desk at First Station in the midday sun.

With home food delivery allowed, motorcycles have been zooming around the Jerusalem streets, much more than in the past.

Small business owners had time to take end of year inventory, with no customers allowed, uninterrupted once again.

There was a big open sign, but even Aroma Express in Mamilla Mall was closed. No people. No reason to open.

The Teddy Park across from Mamilla has also been empty for days.

But, Thursday afternoon, Machane Yehudah Market, the shuk, looked alive.

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Returning to the Old City on Friday, one could see and feel the lockdown.

Imagine having the opportunity to power wash the steps normally filled with people on Fridays.

Here is the food court in the Jewish Quarter without customers,

the entrance to the Kotel, without a line waiting to go thru security,

and no traffic at Sha’ar Ashpot, Dung Gate, near the Kotel entrance.

Photo credit: ADI

Vaccinations have been going at a rapid pace. ADI, formerly ALEH, inoculated 1,500 people in two days, and in a party atmosphere. Their residential students with severe challenges were some of the most vulnerable in the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Taking your dog for a walk has been allowed in all the lockdowns.

More and more people are out enjoying the pleasant weather and walking in the sunshine, with and without masks.

The signs above the Jerusalem streets advise for safety at home.

The Jerusalem streets give safety and health advice.

However, in many families there is still a revolving door situation with one family member or another in bidud, isolation.

Not just Bubby and Zayde (grandparents) in bidud.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, MDA teams have sampled more than 3,500,000 people.

Photo credit: A Y Altshul

With efficient testing and vaccinations, most Israelis are anxiously waiting for the revolving door situation to end.

The hope is in 2021, the beginning of the end of the coronavirus is in sight, this the last lockdown, and new light at the end of a year-long dark tunnel.

Take care and stay well, hope to see you soon on the Jerusalem streets.