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Taking Fast Track to the Past

600-jaffa-road-1548785700 This was the Egged Central Bus Station in Jerusalem from 1933 to 1961
Jerusalem Info bus

An old truck perched on wooden blocks, three long metal steps leading up to an "Open for Business" slot cut out of the side, certainly catches the eye from quite a distance when walking along Jaffa Road (Rehov Yaffo) in Jerusalem.

Parked across from the main entrance to the eponymous Mahane Yehuda market, one could easily assume the parked-on-the-pavement vehicle was another of the increasingly popular food trucks that seem to be popping up everywhere in Israel of late.

However, the blue and yellow truck, with a red canvas canopy stretched over its side steps and a round table with a few chairs beside it, was peddling neither food nor beverages but up-dated information about places to visit and people to meet whilst visiting the Golden City.

Written across the lower part of the truck in large white letters was a hash tag, itraveljerusalem, and in large red letters in English appeared MEET, under which - in smaller letters - the people. The Jaffa Road innovative Tourist Information Booth, created by The Jerusalem Development Authority, is one of two in the city promoting sights, sites and culinary experiences. Countless sites date back thousands of years: as far as culinary experiences and taste buds are concerned, scores of eateries – new and old, pubs and wine bars - can be found dotted throughout the city.

A rack attached to the outside of the bus offers a number of interesting pamphlets and extremely good, free maps of Jerusalem and surrounding region.

Historically the main link between Jerusalem and the ancient port of Jaffa sixty or so kilometers away, the highway – paved in 1869 in honor of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef's visit - sets out from the Mediterranean harbor and ends at the aptly-named Jaffa Gate leading in to the Old City. The highway was given another serious overhaul in 1898 in honor of yet another European royal visit, this time by Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany.

These days, from the western entrance to the city, the tracks and trams of the Jerusalem Light Rail have transformed the historic road where, these days, private vehicles are banned. Pedestrians enjoy wide-open spaces to stroll between the plethora of smallish businesses on either side of the road as Jaffa Road descends from Machane Yehuda toward the Old City.

Exiting Jerusalem's Central Bus Station at the entrance to the city, the passing electric trams are completely out of sync with the Ottoman architecture of the mostly uninhabited and boarded-up buildings on the opposite side of the road. Most likely, as in other areas on either side of the historic road, new buildings will eventually appear but hopefully part of what is visible today will be incorporated into the new-builds. Unfortunately, many oranate and exceptionally eye-catching buildings further down toward the market came under the wrecker's ball before the importance of preserving the past as much as possible in modern times was fully realized and protective laws implemented.

However, many a building with a rich past, built on plots of land only affordable to magnates, moguls and property developers these days, are not only still standing but, if one takes time out to read the bright blue and gold plaques affixed to wall or gate, a sense of the greatness of days long gone washes over one.

At No. 64 Jaffa Road is the 1908-built impressive Mashiah Borochoff House, today a branch of the Mercantile Bank but originally a private home.

Attached to one of the stone pillars of the front gate is a large Jerusalem Blue Heritage sign, with a brief history in Hebrew, Arabic and English: "A magnificent private residence built in 1908 by the Bukharan merchant Mashiah Borochoff for his family. The eclectic style features an arcade with corinthian columns on the façade and a representational gate with sculpted lions. The building is part of the Bukharan settlement outside of the Bukharan Quarter."

Unfortunately, only one of the two original lions is keeping guard at the gate but the building - constructed of white Jerusalem stone with pinkish hues - is beautiful, the architecture magnificent and artistic stone work more than impressive.

However, stretching skyward immediately behind the building are a number of cranes and one wonders how long this icon of days long-gone will stand its historical ground.

Further down on the other side of the road, two pillared lions are still intact and another blue plaque on the wall alongside tells us that in the past this particular building was the residence of the British Consul. Today it is used by the Israel Police.

Here the sign states: "This building was erected in stages during the 19th century and was the residence of the British Consul Noel Temple Moore (served in Jerusalem 1863-1890). The pair of lions at the entrance were apparently sculpted by Simcha Janower, a Jerusalem artist of the 19th century. Since the British Mandate period the building has been a police station."

Directly across the road from the former British Consul's residence, another historic sign affixed to the side of a rather unattractive building housing shops with small balconies above, also catches the eye. Here the text is only in Hebrew and English and tells of Tnuva's first dairy in the city.

"This was the site of the first dairy established by Tnuva in Jerusalem. In 1927, Tnuva Jerusalem joined the Tnuva cooperative, becoming one of the first three dairies. These three formed the basis for the largest food cooperative in Israel. In 1935 the dairy moved to a new location in the Geula neighborhood, and in 1964 the modern dairy was established in Romema. Tnuva marketed dairy products from farms in Jerusalem and the environs and was an integral part of the city, playing an important role in Jerusalem during the riots, the Mandate, the siege and the wars."

Wow, now that's a blast from the past especially as a portion of the massive Tnuva company had been sold to the Chinese in later years!

On a narrow wall wedged between a clothes shop and a money-changing business, is yet another blue sign, also in three languages, this silent guide-on-a-wall sharing information with regard to what was the original site of the capital's main bus station. The sign also sports an intriguing copy of a black and white photograph taken in the 1950s of rather rickety Egged buses entering and exiting the bus station in its early days. The text reads:

"This is the site from which the first "Egged" Central Bus Station operated in Jerusalem between the years 1933 to 1961. From here Jerusalemites embarked upon their journeys throughout Israel. At the time of the siege on Jerusalem, during the War of Independence, the station served as the departure point for the armored convoys to Tel Aviv."

Stepping back to take a photograph of the sign, an elderly genetleman asks, "Why are you interested in that sign?"

Satisfied with the explanation, he proceeds to tell me his name is Moshe, a Jerusalemite with roots in the city going back quite some generations, whose father drove one of those buses.

"When my father was driving buses he knew nearly all the passengers personally and my mother used to say that she didn't need a newspaper because my father brought home all the important news, and local gossip, before the ink was dry on the paper."I want to hear more but Moshe's carer, impatient to continue to wherever it was they were headed, gently pulls him along.

"Nobody has time for anything or anybody any more," he mutters almost inaudible above the tooting of the tram.



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Monday, 18 October 2021

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