Modern Pilgrimage: Jerusalem by Car

The ancient custom is to ascend to Jerusalem on foot, but we’ll go by car, stopping at five sites along the way

A Road with Seven Sisters

Our first stop is the Road of the Seven Sisters, which has been the subject of legends since it was built way back in the time of the British mandate. From Road Number 1 turn at the Harel Interchange in the direction of the Castel, then turn left immediately at the traffic light in the direction of the gas station (Maoz Tzion). From there, turn in the direction of Motza onto the Road of the Seven Sisters.

Seven bends in the road gave it its name. The most plausible of the stories surrounding the name says that the Scottish architect who planned the road named it after a similar road by that name in Scotland. But the most amusing story is that the truck drivers of the Palmah drove this way to Jerusalem in the pre-state period, and, finding it difficult to negotiate those seven bends with their heavy trucks, would curse someone’s sister with the well-known Arabic curse each time they came to a bend in the road.

The Road of the Seven Sisters passes through Motza, near what was once the famous Arza convalescent home. David Remez called the home “Arza” because of the tree that Theodor Herzl planted there on his visit to the Land of Israel in 1898. By the way, though the tree was supposed to be a cedar (“erez” in Hebrew, and so “Arza”), in reality it was a cypress, but why spoil a good story with facts?

Try to count the bends in the road as you drive. Try as I might, I was never able to find seven.

A with Three Toes

At the end of the Road of the Seven Sisters turn right onto Road Number 1 in the direction of Jerusalem. Immediately after the Motza turnoff make two right turns in the direction of Moshav Bet Zayit. This moshav, established in the mountains in 1949, is known for its water reservoir and the impressive dam on its western side. The dam in the ravine of Nahal Sorek is also visible from Jerusalem’s Ein Karem neighborhood, but we’re on our way to somewhere else: The only site with dinosaurs in the entire country, and one of the strangest, most fascinating, and unfortunately most neglected sites in Jerusalem.

Leave your car in the center of the moshav, near the water tower. To the south, there is a courtyard with trees and a sign pointing in the direction of the dinosaur site. In the rock in the abandoned shelter under the trees you will be able to see the footprints of three-toed dinosaurs, to see how they walked, and to see the path they made. Part of the drawing showing the dinosaurs have been damaged, but you can still see what the dinosaur was like.

Studies have shown that the dinosaurs could run on two legs. Professor Avnimelech of the Hebrew University believed that they were Struthiomimus dinosaurs. These ostrich-like dinosaurs were about 13 feet tall and weighed only about 330 pounds. A resident of Bet Zayit and his neighbor, veteran tour guide Motke Sofer, discovered the footprints of the first Zionist dinosaur

A Bench with Four Languages

Let’s return to the road to Jerusalem and drive across the city on the Begin Highway to the Malha Mall. From there we will drive to the Gilo intersection, and then turn left onto Derech Hevron. About 100 yards north of the intersection, in the direction of the Old City, is the Mar Elias Greek-Orthodox monastery. Our visit here will focus on the stone bench in the church, located across from the entrance gate.

The bench has biblical inscriptions in Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, and English. This is the spot where British painter William Holman Hunt liked to sit and paint the Judean desert. Hunt, who is buried at St. Paul’s Church in London alongside other great Englishmen, came to Jerusalem for the first time in 1854 and returned a number of times, sometimes for extended stays. He had a house at 64 Prophet’s Street in Jerusalem, in the same courtyard where the poetess Rachel later lived. A religious Christian, Hunt believed in the importance of the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, and toward the end of his life even supported the ideas of Theodor Herzl.

In 1910, several years after his death, his widow came to the Holy Land and had the bench placed in the church as a memorial to her husband in the place he loved so well.

This bench is an excellent spot to take a short break. The view of the desert from here is fascinating. It includes Herodion, Mount Montar, and the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa.

Four Guard Posts

Let’s continue northward on Derech Hevron for another several hundred yards. At the intersection with the traffic light leading to the Talpiot Industrial Zone (near the NDC building), or to East Talpiot, there is a British guard post, or “pillbox.”

The pillboxes throughout the Land of Israel were built by the British after the 1936 Arab riots. They were built to protect the main roads, and were made of concrete with a steel door, a slit from which to fire, and a flat roof. They were called “pillboxes” because of their shape. In Jerusalem there are about four more pillboxes, one on Emek Refa’im Street, one on Derech Hevron, one on Chernichovsky Street, and one in Sanhedria.

A Sculpture with Three Trees

Let’s go north now to the Ramat Rachel Kibbutz. We’ll bypass the kibbutz from the east and park near the kibbutz cemetery, where we will see one of the most unusual and impressive environmental sculptures in the country. The 33-foot high sculpture, created above a metal and concrete post, was dedicated in 1992 by artist Ran Morin, who was born on the kibbutz.

The three olive trees, three posts, and three steps symbolize the past, the present, and the future. Some people see the trees as a symbol of the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, and I think that you can also think here about peace, which is so near and yet so far.

The entrance gate to the area is called the “Herodian Gate,” and is made from two olive trees and stone pyramids. Around the hanging trees are 17 rows of olive trees facing in four different directions. To the right of the sculpture is an observation post named for Ofira Navon, wife of former Israeli president Yitzhak Navon. From this post you can see the Judean desert, Herodion, and Bethlehem. Nearby is the Jordanian military post known as “the bell,” which has a monument to the IDF soldiers who died in battle in the area during the Six Day War.