topics: ; labaneh (food), Beni van Vlymen (People of the Day), Jerusalem by ofnayim/bike, Yad Vashem (Holocaust Museum), Cinematheque, metal monies and symbols, jump to dispatch

BikeAbout Log


Rider Notes: January 14, 1998

Food of the Day: Labaneh

Labaneh is a white paste that is usually served with olive oil pooled on top of it. An extra plate with green spices (mainly thyme) is a common accompaniment. Labaneh tastes like a cross between sour cream and cottage cheese. You eat it with a big pile of pita bread, dipping it first into the labaneh and then into the spices. Not unlike humus, labaneh is served as an appetizer.

Tech Fact of the Day: Jewish symbols

Symbols are important when defining the limits of one's property. Coins are symbols. One of the most ancient symbols of the Hebrew people — and today the emblem for the State of Israel — is the menorah, the candelabra with seven or eight branches, as shown on the 10 agorot coin. click to view a photograph The symbol of the people of Israel is the white lily, or iris, also known as the fleur-de-lys. click to view a photograph An important essence of perfumes and major spice of ancient times, the lily, commonly regarded as the "wisest" of flowers, is also a sign of purity. (The prophets said "blossom like the lily.") It is often used for sacred purposes.

Person of the Day: Beni van Vlymen click to view a photograph

Our bike guide for today's ride, and one half of andrEa and Corinne's host family, is an avid bicyclist and wealth of historical information named Beni van Vlymen. Born in the Netherlands in 1942 (during World War II), Beni and his parents were eventually discovered to be Jewish. While his parents were taken to a Nazi concentration camp in Poland, he and his older brother were successfully hidden separately at two different Christian family farms in the Netherlands, where they stayed until the war was over. Remarkably, unlike six million other victims of the concentration camps, both of Beni's parents returned alive and the whole family emigrated to Israel.

This year is Beni's 50th anniversary of living in Israel, the same amount of time that Israel has existed as a state. Together with his country, Beni has lived through many struggles against Britain, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and the Palestinian Intifada.

Beni's life story serves as creative juice for the English-language writing course he's taking right now, and, in fact, his brother is writing a chronicle of their plight as children hiding during WWII and their new beginning in Israel. Also interested in art and travel, Beni paints commemorative pictures and makes sculptures about the trips he takes abroad with his wife, Esther, who is a fabulous cook specializing in soups! click to view a photograph Esther was born in Alexandria, Egypt, but also moved to Israel when she was very young.

Beni and Esther are both retired, but maintain a sprightly youthful spirit. Beni, Esther, and andrEa drove to Beit Sahour in the West Bank on one afternoon. It was the first time that Esther had crossed the Green Line (the former United Nations–patrolled dividing line between Israel and the former Jordanian West Bank), which lies a mere five km (three mi) from where they live. Asked whether she felt insecure about being "on the other side," Esther was shy, giggled a little, and said, "No, but I'll be glad to be back home soon." Yet, it sounded as though another visit to this "newly discovered" area might happen again. No one threw anything or acted strangely toward the Israelis visiting this Palestinian town, even with Beni's typical yellow Israeli license plates standing out among the blue Palestinian plates on all the other cars.

Beni always seems to have been on his bicycle and has seen over 80% of Israel from the saddle. Twelve years ago he and fellow bicycle commuters founded the Jerusalem Bicycle Club through which friends and families could meet and go for fun rides in the area. Now he's part of Jerusalem for Bikes, which was founded two years ago for both pleasure and politics, lobbying for recognition and respect for cyclists in Jerusalem.

Place of the Day: Jerusalem Cinematheque (JC)

The JC is a film-history, film-café, film-gallery, film-festival place, and host to the Israel Film Archive all wrapped up in one. The JC screens both local and international film program — four films per night, every day, all year round. The staff are super-cool film appreciation hipsters, and the prices are more than reasonable (meaning BikeAbout-pocket friendly). The annual highlight of the JC program is certainly the Jerusalem Film Festival, with an internationally known clientele and guest filmmakers from abroad. Look for details on their Web site:, available in both English and Hebrew.

The JC is located in a five-story house actually built into Mount Zion, the hill flanking the Kidron Valley just outside the Old City. (If you ever get the chance, don't miss the view from the terrace to the enchantingly lit Jerusalem by night.) Corinne and andrEa, who knew nothing about the location, assumed that since a building's name ends with "-tique," it must refer to a big visible house. This is not necessarily so in Jerusalem.

After passing and missing it several times, sweating up and down the hill into which it is settled, we finally noticed a stone wall separating the street and pavement from the valley. We had already been confused about an overhead pedestrian bridge that spanned the gap in which we found ourselves (that and the ever-present random motor traffic and too many honking horns). Maybe we should have brought our flashlights (we hadn't thought we would enter such a dark space), or maybe we should at least have learned to read a few Hebrew letters. But we certainly never imagined that we would end up looking for an invisible five-story building! Eventually we decided to try rolling down the sidewalk and looking over the fence (actually, the wall).

This was when the daffodils finally fell from andrEa's eyes and she found the answer to her question, "Why are cars in Israel constantly parked on sidewalks?" It's not just the lack of parking lots (as the car lobbies will assure you), or the really crazy number of cars in general (as the BikeAbouters can attest to); rather it's because people are desperately looking for indicators pointing out the location of Jerusalem Cinematheque (just kidding)!

So there it was, visible but almost invisible . . . entirely built into the hill! Even upon entering the building, it never occurred to us that we were walking through the doors of the fifth floor. "That's so cool," Corinne said merrily.

Big thanks go to Maia for the tour she gave us through the house and its impressive archives, and for taking us down the lift and deep into cinematic heaven. This place is highly recommended, but the film we saw isn't, so we won't mention it! (If you can't say something nice . . . you know the story.)

For more details please contact:

Jerusalem Cinematheque
11, Hebron Road
Jerusalem 91083
Tel: +972-2-672.4131
Fax +972-2-671.3044

Group Dispatch, January 14
picture of andrEa

Today is the day of the event that we have all been looking forward to: a guided bike tour through Jerusalem, one we think of as our outside-in tour to complete the picture begun by yesterday's inside-out tour! The idea of an alternate (bicycle-bound) Jerusalem tour was hatched when Corinne and andrEa first came to Jerusalem when the "break" began and they did an off-road Saturday morning tour with some people from the former Jerusalem Bicycling Club. We were so happy with the ride that Beni van Vlymen, now a member of Jerusalem for Bikes and our Person of the Day, was willing to be our guide for a 35–40 km (22–25 mi) tour of the city.

So, with another early start putting us on the road, we had no choice but to wake up. To be honest, the numerous hills, valleys, and gorgeous landscapes through which we pedaled were a wonderful welcome to the day.

Our first trek was up to Kibbutz Ramat Rahel, at the southernmost point in Jerusalem. Established in 1926, the kibbutz has been the site of many struggles, and been handed back and forth between warring people and governments, alternately destroyed and rebuilt by each party. Located halfway between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, this area saw intense fighting during the Israeli 1948 War for Independence. Beni explained that as a child after the war, he would bike up here from the German Colony in Jerusalem (where he grew up and still lives today). From this hilly land overlooking Beit Sahour and Bet Jala, both of which are located just inside the West Bank, he could watch the Jordanian soldiers across the Green Line (the former United Nations–patrolled dividing line between Israel and the then Jordanian West Bank) and ponder the future. click to view a photograph Today, the kibbutz has an area developed for tourists called the "Heights of Rachel."

From the Kibbutz Ramat Rahel, we pursued an up-and-down track following the southern hills outside of Jerusalem. First we were treated to a quick visit of Armon Hanaziv, also known as the "Hill of Evil Council" believed to have been where Judas was supposedly convinced to betray Jesus. Today, the top of this historic and strategic hot spot, one that probably offers the best view over the city, is occupied by the United Nations center. Isn't that ironic? We could also see the half-Arab and half-Jewish settlements in the valley. It all looked quite peaceful there from where we were. The nearby Haas Promenade and sculpture garden, stretching its stone balcony for about a kilometer along a ridge overlooking the tumbling hills of the city, was another excellent spot from which to take in panoramic views of Jerusalem and its environs. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph The most impressive artwork that andrEa saw on these grounds was a 1984 piece from Lynn Chadwick, called The Walking Couple. If only the weather had been more kind; the low clouds obscured so much. Still, it was quite beautiful. And only the beginning . . .

An even better wake-up call than the brisk wind on the downhill stretches was a breakfast of humus, labaneh (see the Food of the Day), tahina, pita bread, and Arabic coffee in the Old City.

People on bikes entering through the Jaffa Gate in the magnificent walls of the Old City is apparently a very unusual thing to see. click to view a photograph Actually being on the bikes is even more unusual. But we were glad to be in among oddities as we passed right next to the graves of the two architects of the Old City's walls who were beheaded because they "forgot" to enclose the Church of the Dormition click to view a photograph (the place where Mary, mother of Jesus, is said to have gone to sleep and then ascended to heaven).

We took our morning break at "The Best Shwarma Place in Jerusalem" (one of the many, according to the numerous other places advertising the same). Waiting for serious portions of this great Middle Eastern breakfast, andrEa started daydreaming about eating the plastic table cloth, which showed bright, real life pictures of the dark bread and European fruit and muesli she misses so much. click to view a photograph

Her thoughts also turned to how much we had learned since yesterday when we were just across the street in the Tower of David Museum.

Throughout the morning, from the tops of Jerusalem's surrounding mountain- and hilltops, Beni had explained how the borders and landscape were altered every time Jerusalem changed political hands. He also explained why Jerusalem is so monochromatic (something about which we had wondered). Apparently, by law, all buildings must be made with an outer façade of a certain kind of stone found in the area. When asked where all the rock comes from, Beni's laughing comment (echoing one we had heard earlier) was "The one thing Israel has plenty of is rocks!"

Using the strategic overview from top of the Mount of Olives, which it took LOTS of effort to cycle up, Beni also helped us understand the growth and expansion of the city and its outer settlements, which seem never-ending! click to view a photograph Incidentally, the Mount of Olives is the world's oldest and largest Jewish cemetery, with approximately 70,000 graves. Jews from around the world pay to have their remains brought to this area since it is so close to the most sacred Jewish place in the world. From the top of the Mount of Olives, it is also possible to see the Muslim cemetery just opposite this graveyard, along the outside of the walls of the Old City and Temple Mount. click to view a photograph With clearing skies, we could even see Mount Zion, where the earlier mentioned Church of the Dormition is located. On Mount Zion can be found the grave sites of King David and Oskar Schindler (the man with the list).

Like all the other high and hilly points, Mount Scopus — from the Greek word scopeo, meaning "to look over" — provided still another "scope" of Jerusalem and its surroundings, with views both west to the city and east to the Judean desert. Holding this area as part of the Israeli border was of incredible strategic importance during Israel's earliest years, explaining why it remained an Israeli enclave even during the period from 1948 to 1967 when the West Bank was Jordanian.

We continued exploring more of the interesting neighborhoods of Jerusalem with Beni as our leader until, after several hours, we had to bid him goodbye. We could not have said "Toda, rabat" or "Thank you, VERY much" often enough.

Our afternoon visit for the day was to Yad Vashem, site of Israel's famous Holocaust Memorial, Holocaust Museum, and Research Center found up and over Mount Herzl. Mount Herzl is the burial place for important Israeli public figures such as the founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, and other hailed political leaders like Menachim Begin, Golda Meir, and the recently assassinated Yitzhak Rabin.

The Holocaust Museum itself is called Yad, meaning "Memorial," and Vashem, for "the Names," a title taken from the Isaiah 56:5 passage regarding remembrance and the teachings of the plight of the Israelites through time:

"To them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off." Isaiah 56:5

The horror of the persecution of Jews at the hands by the Nazis has not been forgotten. The Yad Vashem complex is a constant reminder of this, should anyone challenge the truth of history or try to forget it. The world must never again let similar events occur. To this end, the grounds are scattered with memorials and monuments recalling people and places that must not fade from memory.

For example, the Valley of the Destroyed Communities is a winding maze installation that has been dug into the ground and lined with rock carved with lists of all the names of known communities from which Jews perished during World War II. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph The Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations makes people aware that in every nation there were many people who fought against the persecution because they felt it was wrong. These people and families are the righteous that remind us of the good to be found everywhere. Carob trees line this avenue, planted in memory of non-Jews who risked everything to save the lives of their Jewish friends and neighbors.

The entire Yad Vashem complex is huge and beautiful, set in a very green and spacious area great for walking and reflecting. There is a tremendous amount of technical and emotional information to register here, and we appreciated the physical space between each exhibit, building, and commemorative structure. The grounds are planted with trees, and replete with inscriptions on dedication plaques remembering loved ones lost and/or donors to the facility. Yad Vashem as an experience speaks for much more than just the havoc and horrors caused by the Nazis. It also speaks of the reason why the State of Israeli was formed. In fact, because the place itself has so much to say, we were all rendered speechless.

It's very difficult to write about what is experienced in this facility, since the number of photographs, personal affects, documents, and reproductions referring back to what the Holocaust was like is so overwhelming. Everything from children's toys and drawings from their time in concentration camps, to handwritten notions of thanks to the builders of the museum create an air of respect and sadness. It occurred to andrEa that six million people — the same number of Jews killed during the Holocaust — today make up the State of Israel. If the memory of the Holocaust still lives in the heart of every Israeli, and is one common thread among all Israelis who may have a variety of opinions, backgrounds, and political orientations, then Yad Vashem is this country's greatest shrine.

Our last stop before tonight's live online Chat 'n Debate was the Jerusalem Cinematheque (see the Place of the Day) for Corinne and andrEa, an afternoon of writing for Anthony, and required visits to extended family members for Ethan.

At 8 p.m. Israeli time, we settled down to the weekly Wednesday Chat 'n Debate, our first since the end of our break. This chat was particularly interesting because we were in three different locations, attempting to answer the many questions in some kind of orderly fashion. Padraic was online in New York, and the two groups in Jerusalem were tuning in from their respective host homes during their dinnertimes. Thus BikeAbouters had to shift between keyboards and dishes full of vegetables, humus, and tahina, enjoying talks with our readers and mouthfuls of food at the same time, calling out the questions and responses to our ever-curious hosts. After the very lively and interesting chat, we welcomed the end of a very full day, and all hit our pillows with heads still spinning like the wheels of our bikes.

Go to Previous Rider Notes PageGo to Next Rider Notes Page

Questions? Ask andrEa Go To andrEa's Page!

Return to Fast Facts

BikeAbout Itinerary & Journal Discussion Groups About Israel eDscape Projects BikeAbout Scrapbook
Discussions About

About BikeAbout Mediterranean Journey BikeAbout Partners Resource Library

AquanetInternet access and Web hosting while in Israel were provided by Aquanet.

Daedalus Design Group Computer Curriculum Corporation Compaq

Copyright 1997-2004 BikeAbout. All rights reserved.