Bring Jerusalem Home With Souvenirs that Evoke the Time of Jesus
If you’re like most visitors to the Holy Land, you are probably hunting for some great souvenirs to bring back home to your loved ones. However, before you buy a T shirt that says Jesus is my homey and I met Him in Jerusalem, we’d like you to consider something a little more unusual, something that really speaks to what the Holy Land is and that evokes the times when Jesus walked the land.
It is commonly known that Our Lord was a carpenter and so what more fitting souvenir could there be from the Holy Land than a gift from the Olive Wood Store? The Olive Wood Store has been a Jerusalem institution for a great many years. Tourists from all over the world shop there, if they are lucky enough to find out about it. Otherwise, you can buy their products in a great many tourist shops all over the country (at greatly inflated prices of course). The Olive Wood Store is located in the heart of the ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim. We’ll give you directions on how to find it in a moment, but first, a bit more about what they sell:
At the Olive Wood Store, you will find dozens of souvenirs that can be personalized for your friends, family and coworkers. The materials range from the positively kitsch (a key chain with an olive wood camel) to the exquisite, such as a pair of hollowed out Olive Wood candlesticks (they have metal cups for the candles) with a scroll pattern running down the length of the candlesticks. Go to the back of the store, down a few more steps and you’ll find even more amazing treasures. The store has been there for years and you can find all kinds of amazing wood objects down there. On a recent visit, we found a breathtaking wooden vase which was hand carved from some kind of tropical wood (as the owner told us) and another unusual piece, an accordion bowl which was made of wood (it’s a bowl which collapses when it’s not in use).
Almost everything is made in the factory behind the store and most objects can be personalized with whatever you want them to say, both in Hebrew and in English. They have skilled artists on hand who will instantly use permanent markers (don’t let the fact that they are using markers fool you by the way – the materials is as permanent as paint – we still have a plaque from the Olive Wood store purchased more than 20 years ago and it has not faded a bit) to draw both a picture and your name or whatever phrase you desire in calligraphy. The pictures tend to be of ordinary Jerusalem landmarks, such as the Western Wall or Rachel’s Tomb, however they do add distinctive character to the works. They can also draw flowers or palm trees if you want something more generic, though sadly, no Christian iconography.
If wood is not your thing, then you should consider instead looking into Neker Glass. The Neker brothers immigrated to Israel from Iraq in the early 1950s and have run a Jerusalem workshop about a five minute walk from the Olive Wood Store ever since. All glass is manufactured on the premises by master glass makers from the Neker family and the work is done in the same style as ancient glass from the time of Jesus. Visiting the Neker glass factory is always an experience since the shop has an ever changing selection of glass art depending on what mood the owner, Shimon was in that day. Mainstays of the collection however include delicate perfume bottles with a hollow area in the middle and bud vases. We have also seen candlesticks, spinning tops, serving plates and even glass birds for sale at the shop.
Now here’s the best part of all: In both cases, you will be paying a fraction of what it would cost for the same object elsewhere. Remember those key chains we told you about from the Olive Wood Store? They cost just 10 shekels, or around $2.50 at current rates. The hollowed out carved candlesticks? 100 shekels for a small set and 140 shekels for a large size set. Neker Glass’ prices are even crazier – we bought a rose glass bud vase from them for just 25 shekels (around $8) and those perfume bottles? They cost around 35 shekels. If you were to look for similar stuff at other stores, you would be paying as much as four times the price (Don’t believe us? Google Neker Glass and see the prices that are being charged for the small objects from this amazing factory – never mind the larger and more impressive stuff you can’t even find online).
Now, here’s the hard part: how to get there. Forget about addresses – they are pretty much useless in this neighborhood. From the Old City of Jerusalem, travel north, toward the Central Bus Station on Jaffa Road. Take it to Strauss Street and then turn right. You’ll eventually come to a junction known as Sabbath Square. You’ll know it because there are banks on three corners. Turn right onto Mea Shearim street and keep going. The street will narrow considerably about halfway down. At this point, keep your eyes open to your right. There is a small sign for the Olive Wood Store, but it’s very easy to miss it. Watch your head as you walk inside since you will be going down several steps to get into the store. The store is open 5 days a week, Sunday- Thursday, approximately 10AM-6PM.
Neker Glass recently moved and is even harder to find. Once you leave the Olive Wood Store, walk a few feet and take the stairs on the left side of the street. Start looking for Hanagar Street, which should be on your left. If you don’t see it, ask around – there are a lot of English speakers in the area who can tell you where it is. Once you find Hanagar street, walk up a few steps and on your left you should see a bustling dormitory for the Mir Yeshiva, an ultra-orthodox school of higher learning (Warning: Women may not enter and men should probably wear a skull cap if they are curious to see inside). On your right, you should see a stationary store. Right next to the dormitory is a red door leading into the Neker Glass factory. Don’t bother looking for a sign – you won’t find it that way. Just use the landmarks and when you walk in, ask if you’re in the right place. If you get lost, ask in the stationary store – the owner speaks English and knows exactly where Neker Glass is. The Neker Glass factory is only open 10AM-2PM Sunday-Thursday, so be sure to plan your visit accordingly.
A word of warning before you go wandering around the Mea Sherarim neighborhood: This is a very strict Ultra Orthodox enclave in Jerusalem. While visitors are welcome, they are requested to adhere to standards of modesty that the community requires. Therefore, men should be wearing pants and shirts with sleeves, women should not wear tight fitting blouses or T-shirts and the sleeves of your blouse should cover your elbows. You should also wear a skirt (no pants) that reaches below the knees. These rules may sound by turns quaint or ridiculous, but trust us, following them will mean the difference between a pleasant experience and a possibly nasty encounter with some over-hyped youth who think it’s their duty to protect the sanctity of their neighborhood.
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