In the 1950s, fellow students and I would leave school grounds, walk down Derech Bethlehem to the beautiful area then known as Julian’s Way (now King David Street). We passed the King David Hotel on our right and the gracious YMCA on the left. At the intersection, we turned left onto Mamilla Street. On one side was the remains of an old Muslim cemetery. Across the street, we passed the American Consulate building and the French Cultural Center, until we crossed the road at Keren Kayemet.
The American Consulate is still there and so is the French Cultural Center. The only change is the name of the street. Sixty-four years ago, it was known as Mamilla Street. Now it is called Rehov Agron.
When we travel from our home in Rishon to Jerusalem, our favorite stop is at the luxurious Mamilla Mall. It is so popular that garage parking is usually filled. Often, we have to look for parking somewhere on King David Street and walk a few long blocks to the entrance to the mall.
It is lined from side to side with exclusive jewelry shops, fine clothing stores, multitudes of cafes and first-class restaurants, gift shops with high prices and exquisite shops selling all kinds of first-class merchandise.
Our favorite restaurant is the Café Café next door to Steimatsky, Israel’s chain of number one bookshops. We enter Steimatsky and browse through many shelves and counters for the latest novels, gift albums of Jerusalem landscapes, history books and guide books for most of the cities of the world.
Israelis are inveterate travelers and books on Thailand, Nepal, Ceylon, Vietnam and China are lined on the shelves next to guide books to France, Italy, Greece, Germany, Russia and most of the European tourist cities. We turn the pages gently and compare suggestions as to where we should visit.
In the meantime, hunger reminds us that it’s time for lunch and Café Café joins Steimatsky in a large Jerusalem stone building. The menu is large, all dairy delicacies. My wife settles on a gigantic salad and I opt for the pasta primavera. She orders Neviot bottled water and I prefer the espresso. We both share a large portion of apple strudel with sweet whipped cream.
To walk off our meal, we begin the trek to the Kotel. It’s a long walk through the busy Mamilla mall and at the end there are many large stone steps to climb. After several turns, we arrive in the lines waiting for check-ins at the security gate. We empty our pockets of all metal objects and if we are cleared we begin our long winding way through the narrow streets of the Arab markets and the Armenian Patriarchate.
We have to walk single file hugging the ancient walls to allow taxis and cars to pass safely.
Arab merchants line the streets hawking their wares and inviting tourists to stop into their shops with the proverbial, “Come into my shop. I have a special price for you”.
We pass them by without looking at them. Occasionally, when a hawker stands outside his shop to invite us in to purchase with the “I give you the best price in Jerusalem”, I begin to get annoyed and without looking at him, I loudly respond in Arabic, “Shukran habibi. Nachnu min hun”… Thanks, buddy. We are from here.
At last we see the Kotel in the near distance and descend the steps leading to the Western Wall Plaza.
My wife goes into the partitioned section for women since religious law segregates male and female worshippers.
On our last two visits to the Kotel, I chose not to worship and I wait for my wife in the central plaza. For twenty-five years I have been praying there, inserting small notes into the crevices of the ancient walls. Petitions to a God who neither reads my tiny notes, nor sees my tears of frustration, nor hears the cries of my prayers. So I have given up. To quote the familiar joke, “it’s like talking to the wall.”
When my wife has finished her supplications, we climb the steep stones to the Jewish Quarter,passing the reconstructed ancient Hurva Synagogue, enjoying the interesting shops and refreshing ourselves with freshly squeezed orange juice. We leave the sacred plaza by the Dung Gate and make our way slowly back to our parked car, all the while hoping that we have not found a ticket on our windshield for parking too long.
On the one hour drive back home to Rishon we share our thoughts of the visit. And we agree to come again in a few month’s time. And we are both in agreement that our Mamilla Mall is a wonderful place to spend a day visiting. How magnificently it has changed since my first visit to the area in 1951.