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"Jerusalem the Golden," Israel

Where to Stay

King David Hotel

Some weeks ago as we passed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, my taxi driver, a recent émigré to Israel from the Soviet Union, remarked, "This hotel is not for everyone; this is a place for special people." I smiled. He was half right and half wrong. Like the Ritz in Paris, the Carlyle in New York, Claridge's in London and a handful of others throughout the world, Jerusalem's King David Hotel occupies the pinnacle of hoteldom. It has been host to royalty: King Abdullah of Transjordan, King Alfonso VIII of Spain, Emperor Haile Selassi of Ethiopia and heads of state: Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Francois Mitterand, Margaret Thatcher and Anwar Sadat. To international business tycoons like Cyril Stein, former CEO of Hilton Hotels, whom I noticed seated in a corner of the living room-like lobby; and movie stars like Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, whose photograph hangs in the manager's office. To generals named Wavell and Dayan and diplomats named Kissinger and Christopher. But always -- and this is where the cabbie was mistaken--to "real" people. The reason for its renown lies in the fact that all its guests are treated with exquisite care and thoughtfulness.

"We want our visitors to feel that this is a second home," explained the former, long-time manager, Avraham Weiner. For Mr. Weiner, now a senior consultant to the hotel, home is where one feels most comfortable, totally at ease, secure and likely to be surrounded by people who know both your preferences as well as your idiosyncracies and handle all with considerable aplomb. Home is where nothing is too much. My own introduction to King David service took place many years ago. I'd arrived from Italy and a day-long ride on the Amalfi Drive. For all the dramatic beauty of the bends and hairpin curves there was a price to pay— my back went out. Room service brought my dinner— white damask napery, silver-domed plates, a flower in a bud vase. That I was flat on the floor mattered not a whit. The tray was placed at my side and served as punctiliously as if I had been seated at a banquet table.

Nothing has changed and everything has changed since the hotel first opened in 1931. Built by the Mosseri family, a clan of Egyptian Jews whose holdings included Egyptian Hotels Ltd. (the legendary Shepheard's in Cairo and Mena House in Giza), it became the first modern hotel in what was then called Palestine. In addition to the Mosseri family, shares in the new Palestine Hotels were held by Baron Edmond de Rothschild's Palestine Jewish Colonization Association and the Palestine Economic Corporation, established in the United States by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, financier Felix Warburg and others. For $150,000 they purchased four and one-half acres of land from the Greek Orthodox Church and proceeded to build the rectangular, four-story building. Its Swiss decorator was instructed to "evoke by reminiscence the ancient Semitic style and the ambiance of the glorious period of King David." Thus the spacious lobby, restored in 1948 after the bombing by Irgun, the Jewish underground in the post W.W. II years, bears the original Assyrian, Hittite, Phoenician, Egyptian and Greek-Syrian motifs on its pillars and on moldings around the ceilings. In fact, every subsequent renovation and improvement undertaken by the Federmann family, owners of The Dans of Israel Hotels and Resorts, who purchased the hotel in 1956, has maintained the integrity of that decor. Here the intense colors of the Middle East–azure and brick red -- as well as the creamy beige of Jerusalem illuminated by a combination of discrete gilt edging and soft yellow light aglow in Art Deco lamps, create an environment at once elegant and alive. Marble floors in the lobby, parquet in the reading room, tapestries on the walls and bowls of flowers arranged by the resident floral designer, Rafi, all combine harmoniously into a perfect backdrop for the intrigue, the tough negotiations and the lively parties that are part of King David's mystique.

Without ever leaving the premises, the hotel's guests could discover paths to stroll and niches in which to chat quietly—the terraced gardens at the rear of the hotel were in full color. The athletes among them could either swim -- there is a large pool ideally situated within the park-like grounds -- or play tennis. There is a fitness center in which to exercise and enjoy a massage, a sauna in which to relax and a shopping arcade that invites browsing and inspires buying. From the terrace (or from their rooms if they were fortunate enough to have one overlooking the Old City), they could experience one of the most memorable views in the world: the walls and homes of the ancient city punctuated by minarets and golden domes and beyond it the Mount of Olives, Mount Scopus and the Judean Hills. Even for visitors from the great cities of the world -- from the seven hills of Rome and from Paris, the City of Light, "Jerusalem the Golden" inspires awe. Its light is sublime. What the hotel has brilliantly achieved is a synthesis of the best of past and present, sacrificing none of the elements that made its reputation. A new Israeli-trained executive chef, "thirtysomething" Jossi Haddad, has introduced a lighter, international cuisine to the several restaurants within the hotel.

King David Hotel, 23 King David Street, Jerusalem, Israel 94101. danhotels-israel.com/kingdavid

– Elaine B. Steiner

Tour Guide

Mooly Brog not only guides but teaches other guides. Israel is justifiably proud of the rigorous two-year course its guides must complete to earn accreditation. Mooly, a Sabra, has an encyclopedic trove of information. Art, history, music, architecture, religion and current affairs figure in his conversation. To boot, he is blessed with the temperament and skills of a diplomat and a delightful sense of humor.

Mooly Brog, Licensed Tour Guide, 7 Pinhas Rosen, Ramat-Sharet, Jerusalem 96920. Tel. 02-431442.

Where To Dine

Jerusalem: Down the street from the King David Hotel is Minharet, an Oriental restaurant serving Lebanese and Middle-Eastern cuisine and featuring familiar salads of all sorts, falafel, koubeh, shishlik, kababs, fish and sweets. What is unfamiliar is the combination of flavor and fragrance. Prices are moderate. The clientele is both Israeli and international.

Tel Aviv: In the heart of Tel Aviv is Forel–a light, bright, refreshingly uncluttered restaurant where the emphasis, as its name suggests, is on trout prepared as you prefer, from bleu to grilled to stuffed to broiled. Of course there is a broader menu—crisp fresh salads, fowl, crusty bread and desserts like poached pears in wine and biscotti. You might be in Italy or California. The chef is a young Croatian.

Technically, Babai at the port is not in Tel Aviv, but the port in Jaffa is close enough and the food exceptional enough to warrant the ride. Fish and shellfish are the specialties of this restaurant and the first and last courses–as artfully presented as any in France–must not be missed either. The setting beneath a canvas canopy out-of-doors offers a view of the marina.

Minharet, 8 King David Street. Tel. 02-234470. Forel, 10 Frishman Street. Tel. 03-5222664. Babai at the port, Jaffa Port, Hanger #1. Tel. 03-6818789 or 6813871.


When Yitzhak Rabin's wife needs a gift for her counterparts abroad she calls Amitai Kav. His jewelry in both gold and silver is an art form and commands prices ranging from less than a hundred dollars (a silver dove bearing an olive branch in its beak) to several thousands (a sculpted, wide, heavy gold bracelet of museum quality).

In Tel Aviv the glass art of two Venetian-Jewish brothers, Loredano and Dino Rosin, as well as that of several noted Czech glassblowers, is to be seen at the Arte Vetro Gallery. Like its contents, the shop is jewel-like.

Gideon Oberson is known in the United States solely as a designer of bathing suits. In Israel, too. But, Israelis have the advantage; they can buy his made-to-measure clothes. As close to haute couture as it comes, Oberson's daytime dresses, suits and evening wear can be ready to wear home within four days to a week's time.

At A Touch of Silver ceramics, fabrics, gold jewelry, paintings and paper goods of contemporary and traditional design vie with silver objects. Again, the work of artists and artisans.

Amitai Kav, 113 Malha-Ha-Ayal Street, Jerusalem. Tel. 02-794749. Arte Vetro Gallery, Hilton Hotel, Independence Park. Tel. 03-5227538. Gideon Oberson Boutique, 36 Gordon Street, Tel. Aviv. Tel. 03-5243822 A Touch of Silver, 10 Kikar Kedumim, Old Jaffa. Tel. 03-6828889.

And remember the markets: in Jerusalem; Carmel in Nahalat Binyamin, Tel Aviv; and the museum shops.

–Elaine B. Steiner

Fall 1994