Saturday, May 12, 2012

Breakfast in Ein Kerem

The sun is shining brightly on the golden onion domes of the Russian Orthodox church on the hills overlooking the picturesque village of Ein Kerem. Down in the valley, tourists from all over the world flock behind their guides to Mary’s Spring or up the hill to the traditional birthplace of John the Baptist. While walking through the colorful and serene alleyways one can easily forget that the village is actually a neighborhood of the city of Jerusalem.

It’s Friday morning, and Jodie and I have a coupon for a free breakfast for two. Our chosen destination is Karma, a restaurant located in the very center of the village. Parking is a challenge, though, as the two levels of free underground parking lot across from the restaurant are completely full, a fact that is unknown to the guard who keeps signaling visitors to drive right in. Above the lot, tour buses are circling around and discharging their visitors. We’re lucky to find a tight spot under a tree not far away.

The coupon entitles us to Karma’s Israeli Breakfast for Two. We sit down at a table by the windows, a spot that proves a bit warm until the waiter turns on the air conditioner. The breakfast, on the menu for 89 shekels, includes freshly squeezed orange juice; a large focaccia bread straight from the over and sprinkled with rosemary, olive oil and thyme; eggs cooked according to our choosing; a large vegetable salad; small dishes of cheeses, tuna and avocado; and coffee. The meal was very filling and we enjoyed our window view of village traffic and activity.

Breakfast coupons are occasionally given by Israeli companies to their employees to mark birthdays (which is how I received mine) or to recognize other accomplishments, (which is how Jodie received a coupon after a year-end fund-raising campaign). It’s nice to know that we have one more coupon for future use at another unfamiliar restaurant.

Ein Kerem has attracted Christian pilgrims for centuries and the village is home to a number of churches and monasteries. Jodie and I had never visited the churches before, so after our breakfast we followed an Italian tour group up a narrow passage flanked by tourist shops to the entrance of the Church of St. John the Baptist, which houses an ancient mosaic floor and a cave where John the Baptist is said to have been born. According to tradition, John’s mother Elizabeth met Mary at the fresh-water spring in the village center.

The church bells rang precisely at noon and visiting hours were over. We tagged behind a Hebrew-speaking group that veered away from the main streets to reach one of the village’s many artists’ studios. We climbed a steep stone stairway and reached the home studio of Ruth Havilio, an artist who paints on ceramic tiles.

Ruth gave the group and us an explanation about her multi-storied home and how she has been slowly renovating it. Before 1948, the home belonged to Palestinians, who housed their animals in the lowest level and slept one floor above. That family emigrated to New Jersey and has since come back to see how Ruth renovated their former home.

Ruth’s painted tiles were striking, and included designs for kitchens, bathrooms, wall hangings and nameplates for doors. Some were similar to Armenian ceramics that we had seen in the Old City, while others were prepared at clients’ requests and included elephants, pomegranates or geometric patterns. Some were framed while others could be pieced together to make the artistic pairings that Jodie began imagining for our walls.

The breakfast we enjoyed on Friday gave us an appetite for more. There are churches, sites, and studios we have not visited in Ein Kerem, and additional restaurants with interesting menus. We have another breakfast coupon and we look forward to our next outing.

The image is from Wikimedia Commons, attributed to Gila Brand and used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.

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