Doors set to open on Jerusalem’s annual Houses from Within tours

Doors set to open on Jerusalem’s annual Houses from Within tours

A weekend of inside looks at private homes, famed institutions and public sites takes place October 18-20

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Exploring the public and private interiors of Jerusalem's better and lesser known buildings during the 2016 Houses from Within tour (Courtesy Houses from Within)
Exploring the public and private interiors of Jerusalem's better and lesser known buildings during the 2016 Houses from Within tour (Courtesy Houses from Within)

As autumn progresses and the weather, at least in theory, gets cooler, Jerusalem is preparing to throw open its doors for the annual Batim Mibifnim weekend event, in which tours are available in private homes, institutions and urban development sites

There’s a wide mix of sites participating this year from Thursday, October 18, through Saturday, October 20, including museums, churches, cemeteries, synagogues, libraries and urban planning projects.

“It changes from year to year,” said Aviva Levinson, who runs Batim Mibifnim in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa, the latter of which celebrated its first event this past July.

Levinson began Batim Mibifnim after her husband, an architect, attended an Open House New York event and suggested she start something similar in Israel. A former event producer and journalist, as well as a house tour junkie, Levinson loved the idea.

Aviva Levinson, founder of Batim Mibifnim, the Houses from Within event that now takes place in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa (Courtesy Aviva Levinson)

“I don’t see it as peeking in on someone’s private life,” she said. “It’s about appreciating design or like viewing an exhibition. I’m not interested in someone’s medicine cabinet, or who’s in the family pictures. I want to see how they hang their pictures, and maybe I’ll do something similar in my own home.”

There are always fewer private homes open for viewing in Jerusalem than in Tel Aviv, said Levinson, mostly because architects tend to turn to the Houses from Within planners more readily in Tel Aviv.

“It depends on the city; it’s all about the character of a particular city,” she added.

Tel Aviv is the largest Batim Mibifnim event, with at least 150 locations open for viewing and tens of thousands of attendees. Jerusalem is next in size and Haifa is still small, said Levinson, but unique.

This year, the emphasis in Jerusalem is on public spaces, spread throughout the city.

Visitors can see what the plans are for the Old City (October 18, 9:30 a.m., open to the first 25 people in line) and the additions to the new archaeological garden created beneath Jaffa Gate (October 20, two tours open to the first 25 people), as well as Santa’s House, a private home that will be open to the public and dedicated to all things Christmas.

There are several architectural viewing opportunities at the Hebrew University campuses on Mount Scopus and Givat Ram, two open tours of the newly renovated Tsarist hostel Sergei’s Courtyard in the Russian Compound, and a talk about the city’s unique use of building materials in Jerusalem Stone 2.0 on the evening of October 18 at Safra Square.

One of the restored buildings of Sergei’s Courtyard, the late 1800s hostel for Russian pilgrims, now renovated to its former glory (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Grab an advance reservation for a tour of the National Library’s new home under construction, and learn about preservation versus development on Friday, October 19, at 9:30 a.m. at the former Davidoff House on Haneviim Street.

Head back to Haneviim on Saturday for a grand tour of the Villa Brown Hotel with hotelier Leon Avigad, who’s giving five tours on October 20 to the first 100 people in line, no reservations required.

There is an open tour on Friday, October 19, at 10 a.m. of the Clal Center and the process of urban renewal taking place at this behemoth of a building, thanks to Muslala, an urban renewal group.

The Villa Brown’s Grotto Bar, set in the former underground well of the 18th century home (Courtesy Villa Brown)

See what the plans are for the Valley of Hinnom, tucked between the Cinematheque theater and the Old City, taking place on Saturday at 10:30 a.m., or take a tour of the graffiti that’s sprouted around Mamilla and downtown Jerusalem on Thursday, October 18 at 11 a.m. (That one’s in English and requires reservations.)

On Friday at 3 p.m. there’s an open tour of Teddy Park explaining the architectural plans for the park and a look at the underground machinery that runs the many underground fountains that delight children several times a day during the hot summer months.

Try the YMCA for an open event on Saturday, October 20, at 11 a.m. when sculptor Israel Hadany talks about the garden he designed on what used to be the famed soccer field used by Beitar Jerusalem.

Hiding in plain sight at the entrance to the YMCA (Shmuel Bar-Am)

The same field will be explained, described and discussed on Friday, October 19, at 10 a.m. and on Saturday at 4 p.m., when members of the Hapoel Katamon training department will talk about the legends and tales created on the storied field in two open tours.

Just across the street, Hebrew Union College is offering guided tours of its campus encompassing classic Jerusalem architecture on Saturday, October 20, from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m., every hour on the hour.

Sign up now for one of the four Thursday, October 18, tours of Jerusalem’s city entrance tunnel project. The 75-acre project will include the city’s fast train to Tel Aviv, two stations of the city’s light rail, bike and pedestrian paths, hotels and projected employment for 60,000 people.

The front door of HaMaaravim 11, in the HaMaaravim neighborhood, built in 1868 (Courtesy Rental Israel)

Try a tour of the classic HaMaaravim neighborhood on Friday, October 19, at 11 a.m. The tiny collection of alleyways and houses was the second Jewish neighborhood built outside the Old City, and dates from 1868, which became the name of the well-known restaurant on King David Street, which borders the interior neighborhood.

The tour will walk through Independence Park across the street, around the Muslim cemetery and into the streets behind the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, now flanking HaMaaravim, also known as Mugrabim, both names for the neighborhood’s first residents, who were immigrants from North Africa.

The rooftop suite of HaMaaravim 11, a residence dating from 1868 that is being shown as part of Batim Mibifnim 2018 (Courtesy Rental Israel)

There’s also the opportunity to stop in at House in Maaravim, one of the few privately owned residences in this year’s Batim Mibifnim tour in Jerusalem. While owned by a local French businessman, it’s not completely private and is rented out as guest suites.

The house, which dates from 1868, once housed three families in its five vaulted-ceiling rooms, with an age-old grapevine winding around its courtyard.

It’s now set up as a boutique set of guestrooms, available either as a unit or as three separate units on a number of rental sites, such as Airbnb, or VRBO. Occupants share the living room, kitchen, courtyard and verdant rooftop garden, where the best room, surrounded by four elegant windows, has a view of the neighborhood rooftops.

For more information about Batim Mibifnim and to make reservations, go to the Batim Mibifnim website.

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