A crush on Abraham

Steve and I haven’t been big hostel patrons. The idea of sharing a dorm room with 4 or 6 or more young revelers has never appealed to us. But in recent years we’ve become aware that many hostels offer private rooms, many with private bathrooms. I’ve also noticed they’re showing up more often in the search engines I use such as TripAdvisor and booking.com and in guidebooks like Lonely Planet. One such source made me aware of the Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem. The enthusiastic reviews of it, coupled with the high cost of hotel rooms in Israel, prompted me to book a private room for 6 nights there.

Not much to look at, but it's working for us.
When we checked in Thursday night, exhausted from our long day and high-adrenaline arrival, my first impression of our third-floor room was that it was plain, but serviceable. Since then, my admiration for the place has been growing daily. The location is excellent. A 20-minute stroll down a lively pedestrian street takes us to the Old City. Our room is not only clean and quiet, but the lighting is excellent, and the simple furnishings and room layout have made it easy for us to get organized (two things I can’t say about every hotel.) Breakfast is included in an Abraham stay, and again, it’s not a vast and varied spread, but what’s available is all good: excellent granola and cornflakes, hard-boiled eggs, decent cheese and yogurt, and a wondrously efficient Swiss espresso machine that makes excellent cappucinos. This you consume in the huge common room — part refectory, part lounge, part bar (where flights of local beers and daily mixed drink specials fuel the lively interaction.
Breakfast at the Abraham
One of the most likable things (to us, at least) is the range of ages in evidence — traveling 20-somethings mingling with young families and a handful of retirees ranging from early to almost geriatric. Last Friday night maybe 100 of us guests (many Jewish but some not) shared a traditional communal shabbat dinner that was delicious.

When I got up early Sunday morning to blog, I went down to the common room. It was empty, except for a guy who was setting up the breakfast. Although the Swiss Jura was still warming up, he invited me to help myself to hot water and instant coffee. We chatted a bit, and I learned he was the visionary behind the Abraham. He had opened it four years ago, and it was such a huge success, he would be opening a second one in Tel Aviv in about two months.

The founder of the Abraham
I told him that the thing I most admired, besides the jolly, homey atmosphere, was how efficient the hostel is at dispensing touristic information. Large maps given away at the front desk answer just about every question I can imagine: where are nearby restaurants? pharmacies? bars? How can you get from the Abraham to Ben Gurion Airport? More extraordinary is the Abraham Travel Center in the lobby, which offers an assortment of tours that sounded so interesting I booked several online in advance.

We’ve now devoted the last four days to them. Friday we spent pretty much the whole day touring the Old City and the pilgrimage sites that dot the nearby Mt. of Olives: the churches commemorating the spots where Jesus is believed to have ascended to heaven, and the Virgin Mary may be buried…

The place that folks believe is Mary's grave
…the Garden of Gethsemene (where Jesus was arrested before being tried and crucified)…
The Garden of Gethsemene is so beautiful. Lonely Planet says scientists have established that some of the trees are 2000 years old. (And who knew the roses were so lovely?)
…the Jewish cemetery (largest in the world) where everyone reportedly is buried with their feet facing the temple wall (so they can pop right up and follow the Messiah into the temple, when he shows up and goes through the so-called Golden Gate.)
Some of the Jewish graves facing the temple (and the golden Dome of the Rock.) The stones on the graves are a sign of veneration.

My feelings about being here in Jerusalem changed noticeably throughout that day. I was raised a Catholic; taught by nuns throughout primary and secondary school. In a sense, I spent part of my childhood in the Holy Land (in my head). Later, in adulthood, I came to understand that all the stories I grew up with were situated in modern Israel, a real place. But it wasn’t until our flight from Amman was descending over Israel (9 days ago) that I realized how mythological the Holy Land felt to me. Shortly, I would be walking in the same streets where I’d envisioned Jesus walking, when I was a child. It seemed as weird as an imminent arrival at Mordor International Airport or the King’s Landing Hyatt.

When I got my first good look last Friday at the Dome of the Rock (revered by Muslims as one of the holiest places on earth because the Prophet ascended to heaven there) or the Western (aka Wailing) Wall (revered by Jews because of its proximity to where the second temple once stood), I felt that jolt that accompanies seeing a really famous sight for the first time with one’s own eyes. But those ancient olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemene affected me differently; they made the mythological garden in my mind melt away, and they took its place. All this has nothing to do with faith; I suspect that a lot of people, both believers and infidels, might react the same way.

It’s a progressive experience. A dozen or so mythic Christian sites have now transformed into real ones for me, and there are more to come. I’m starting to feel jaded. And we still haven’t been inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (where the crucifixion and resurrection are believed to have occurred.) We’ll do that tomorrow. In the last three days, we shifted our attention away from the Bible and to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (first) and some of Israel’s most famous natural wonders (second). Those deserve posts of their own.



4 thoughts on “A crush on Abraham

  1. wes May 4, 2015 / 6:11 pm

    I admire your style of travel. I wouldn’t have chose that hostel, but if I ever go back to Jerusalem, I’m staying with Abraham.

    • jdewyze May 4, 2015 / 6:14 pm

      It’s right around the corner from the splendid Mahaneh Yehuda Market, an epicenter of some amazing food!

  2. Kris Laverty May 4, 2015 / 9:28 pm

    excellent piece Jeannette….takes me to that old city I have heard so much about yet never been

  3. Donna W. Guthrie May 5, 2015 / 6:40 pm

    Staying in a hostel…opens a whole new list of possibilities. Great post, keep them coming.

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