16 Uniquely Israel Things to Buy in Jerusalem
The Eilat Stone, Israel’s national stone, is mined near the city of Eilat (hence the name) at the southern tip of the country. When polished, it reveals different shades of green, blue, and turquoise. A mixture of azurite, malachite, turquoise, and chrysoccola, the stone is reputed for calming and balancing one's spirit and even providing inspiration. It is, therefore, often used in pendants.
Yemenite filigree, a 3000-year old technique, is hugely popular in Israel. Historically, Muslims in Yemen were forbidden from working with precious metals, so they had to buy jewelry from non-Muslim artisans; the Jews were only happy to deliver. The traditional designs include symbols of fertility and prosperity for new brides. Filigree is particularly used in silver necklaces, bracelets, and earrings with semi-precious stones.
The Ethnics Artist Co-operative, at 34 Jaffa Road, was established in 1995 by a group of Israeli artists. Among their products there are tonnes of jewelry. On offer, in particular, are copper-, brass-, semi-precious stone- and glass bracelets at $100.00, brass pendants with beads at $70.00, silver Hamsa pendant with turquoise at $120.00, and a ring featuring gold and silver mosaic at $68.00. The store is open Sunday to Thursday from 9:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
GRAS (www.gras.co.il) is a leading Israeli designer of sterling silver and gold jewelry. Their branch in Mamilla is open Sunday to Thursday from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., and Saturday evening until 11:00 p.m. There, you can find silver earrings for $24.00, a silver necklace for $26.00, and silver filigree earrings with embedded Roman glass for $69.00.
2. Armenian Pottery
Today Jerusalem is the only place in the world where this type of ceramics is still being produced. But beware of cheap, fragile copies of Armenian pottery, which are mass-produced in factories in Hebron. Authentic Armenian pottery of the Karakashian Brothers is unique and each piece is hand-painted and hand-signed.
Note that the dishes can be used for serving only and must not be micro-waved or heated in the oven.
There are plates, bowls, mugs, and platters, wooden trays with embedded tiles, all brightly colored, with floral designs, Persian-style hares or deer. Prices range from $19.00 for a plate to $93.00 for a wooden tray with embedded decorated tiles. A custom-made name-plate is $25.00. Other authentic sources of Armenian pottery are Garo Sandrouni (www.garosandrouni.com) at 87 Armenian Patriarchate Road, and Baslian Armenian Ceramics, at 14 Nablus Road (http://www.armenianceramics.com/).
The Baidun family has been collecting and selling antiquities for three generations. The store has a unique collection of rare artifacts from all over the Middle East and from the many civilizations that have dwelt in this region. Numerous thank-you letters from prominent world figures, such as former US president Bill Clinton, grace the store’s wall. The priciest item on sale here - $35,000 - is a Roman marble sculpture of Venus, the goddess of love. For less you can buy a Roman glass perfume bottle, a Roman fibula or toga ring, a 1st century AD bronze arrowhead, or a bronze Roman sheep’s bell. An authentic oil lamp is offered for $150 to $200. Another gift idea is a bronze Greek or Roman coin ($50 to $200) or an Imperial Roman silver coin ($200). A pendant with a coin, Roman glass, or silver design will set you back some $100.
4. Traditional Palestinian Embroidery
In cross-stitch, a piece of loosely woven canvas is basted to the cloth (usually a dark color like black) and dense rows of X’s are embroidered on it, using different colors of thread, with red being the base color. Then the threads of the canvas are pulled out, exposing the design on the dark background. Each region has its own recognizable designs combining geometric patterns (triangles, stars, and squares) with motifs from nature, such as the moon of Bethlehem, Damask rose, serpent, bird, and cypress tree. A black velvet coin purse with a cross-stitch embroidered design sells for $12.00.
In couching, developed in the Bethlehem area, a string is basted to the cloth and fastened in place with tiny stitches. Gold and silver cords twisted into delicate floral and geometric patterns are often used in this type of embroidery. A zipped Bethlehem evening bag, fully embroidered on both sides with couching stitch, costs $52.00. A 17x17-inch embroidered cushion cover costs $100.00.
Sunbula, founded in 1996, is a Jerusalem-based NGO whose motto is “Empowering Palestinian artisans by promoting traditional handicrafts. Sunbula works with 18 craft-producing organizations, employing over 2000 artisans. All products are made by hand, helping to preserve Palestinian craft traditions. Their crafts are sold online (www.sunbula.org) and at two shops in Jerusalem. One of them is called the House of Palestinian Crafts and is located at 7 Nablus Rd., in a renovated traditional stone house in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, north of the Old City. The store is open Monday to Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., or by appointment (02-6721707). The other store is at 1 David Remez Street, open Tuesday through Thursday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., or by appointment. Among other crafts sold by Sunbula there are patchwork, weaving, olive wood carving, mother-of-pearl carving, olive oil soap, ceramics, and basketry.
Peretz’s stained glass fish hamsa of blue and orange glass and sterling silver ($20.00) is decorated with a silver fish. Peretz refers to Genesis 1:28 which says, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth…” noting that hanging a fish hamsa in your home blesses you with many children. The small-eye hamsa ($26.00) of blue, purple and green glass with sterling silver protects your home against the evil eye, while the large-eye hamsa (also $26.00) provides reinforced protection.
Peretz’s studio is not that far from the Mahane Yehuda market, in the refurbished Nahlaot neighborhood, at 2 Rabby Arye, a narrow lane off Shomron St. The sign outside the store says, “Art, Judaica, Jewelry”; their hours are 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily, except Friday, when it closes at 1:00 p.m. Peretz recommends phoning first (054-7281593) to make sure he is in. His website is http://israelvisit.co.il/ChaimP-SG/hamsa.htm.
6. Ahava Salt Sea Products
There are numerous Ahava factory outlets, including one on the Midrachov, at 5 Ben Yehuda Street. Several other companies produce cosmetics from Dead Sea salt and mud. Some are reputable and others are simply cashing in on the popularity of Ahava’s products. Over twenty years ago, Ahava was the first company to create cosmetics based on the Dead Sea, and since that time the company has maintained its high quality standard. There is a broad range of products for men and women on offer, including those for rejuvenation, cleansing, and detoxifying. There are mineral botanic soaps, Dead Sea mud, hypo-allergic products, and sun care creams. Creams run from about $35.00 to $75.00, and a set of creams in a case makes a lovely gift. A gift pack with a hand cream, foot cream, and body cream retails for $35.00. All products are brought fresh from the factory on a weekly basis. The store is open from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. (8:00 p.m. in winter) Sunday to Thursday, and Friday from 8:00 to 3:00.
7. Israeli Olive Oil
A soft white cheese, called labani, is traditionally served with olive oil poured over it and a spice mixture, called za’atar (consisting of ground hyssop, sumac, sesame seeds, and salt), sprinkled on top. The mixture is scooped up with pita bread. Za’atar can be purchased at any spice shop in the Mahane Yehuda market, such as Pereg at 79 Eitz Hahaim St. (Tree of Life Street) (http://www.pereg-spices.com). Pereg recently opened a second store in the Mahane Yehuda market, appropriately named Rak Shemen Zeit (Only Olive Oil).
The Pereg olives are hand-picked and cold-pressed. Prices range from $3.50 for a 100 ml bottle to $70.00 for a 5 liter can. The shop is open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. daily, except Friday when it closes at 3:00 p.m. If you are a connoisseur, try the olive oil produced by a company called Eretz Gshur. In an international competition it was designated one of the best olive oils in the world. Eretz Gshur olive oil can be purchased at branches of the Teva Anis Health Food store (76 Jaffa Road or 32 Emek Refaim) or any other major health food store in the city. A 750 ml bottle costs $15.00 and a 5 liter can is $67.00.
8. Israeli Wine and Beer
The Avi Ben wine store is located in the Nahalat Shiva area, at 22 Yossef Rivlin Street. It is open from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Sunday to Wednesday, Thursday from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., and Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The store is well stocked, its floor to ceiling shelves is lined with neat rows of bottles. Both, Israeli and foreign wines and beers are sold here. The manager is knowledgeable and will help you find a wine or beer that suits your taste and budget. When asked to recommend a wine in the middle price range, he suggested the Agur Kessem red table wine, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Peitit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc, at $26.00 a bottle.
The best Israeli boutique beer is Malka, which sells for $4.50 a bottle. Also popular is Taybeh beer, costing about $2.50 a bottle. The Taybeh Brewery was designated by Newsweek Magazine as “The best microbrewery in the Middle East.”
9. Middle Eastern Halva
In the Mahane Yehuda market, at 12 Eitz Hahaim St., there's a shop called Mamlechet Hahalva (The Kingdom of Halva) which has been producing and selling halva since 1947. The sign is in Hebrew only, but look for the crown above the lettering. Prices range from $10.00 to $32.00 per kilo, depending on the additions, which include white Swiss chocolate, coffee, pecans, and pistachio nuts. Mamlechet Hahalva also produces stone-ground organic tehina and sugar-free halva. The shop is open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. daily, except Friday, when it closes at 3:00 p.m. Another place to buy halva is the fruit and vegetable market in the Old City. Ask for halva from Nablus, which is reputed to be the best halva available.
10. Bedouin-Woven Rugs and Cushions
Genuine Bedouin rugs can be purchased at Qaissi, 107 Christian Street, open from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily. In the front of the shop foreign rugs are displayed, but let Qaissi take you into the back room where he keeps the Bedouin rugs, which range in price from $150 to hundreds of dollars. From floor to ceiling, there are rolled up rugs of every size and pattern. You can also purchase striped cushions, or cushion covers, which are easier to transport.
11. Israeli Ceramics
12. Kakadu Artisans
The Kakadu factory is in the vicinity of Jerusalem; they regularly hold workshops for tourists, where they can learn the process, explore the colors, and decorate their own souvenirs to take home. For details see http://kakadu.co.il/. Kakadu’s products are sold in stores, such as King David’s Treasure, at 14 Ben Yehuda Street on the Midrachov, which also sells a range of souvenirs. A decorated wooden tray costs $35.00 to $70.00, a set of six coasters is $20.00, and a hamsa is $23.00. The store is open from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. (8:00 p.m. in winter) Sunday to Thursday, and Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
13. Books on Jerusalem
Steimatsky is the country’s oldest and largest bookstore chain. Founded in 1925, the first store was on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem. Steimatsky now has over 160 branches all over Israel. The tiny branch on the Midrachov, at 7 Ben Yehuda Street, has a broad selection of books in English. It is open from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. (8:00 p.m. in winter) Sunday to Thursday, and Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The obliging store manager recommended the following two coffee table books for gifts:
Skyline Jerusalem ($40.00), by Duby Tal and Moni Haramati, is a book of stunning aerial photographs of Jerusalem. This is one of the books often given by Israel’s Prime Minister to visiting world leaders. Modern Jerusalem is shown in juxtaposition to the ancient city, and various architectural styles and historical periods are illustrated.
Jerusalem: Places and History ($21.00), by journalist Roberto Copello. This book of aerial photos and maps depicts the religious sites of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, presenting a generous amount of historical detail about the city’s heritage. Other books suitable for gifts are translations of short stories and works of fiction by popular Israeli writers, such as Meir Shalev, David Grossman, Amos Oz, and Etgar Keret.
A 14” X 14” platter is based on 19th century Belgian lace. A square, fluted serving dish is reminiscent of Palestinian embroidery. Flower vases have contemporary floral designs and glass inserts, and a golden color brass bowl is patterned after 19th century Romanian lace. There are also delicate, lacy picture frames of various sizes. Prices range from $108.00 to $250.00. A shop, called Set Gifts, features Metalace products in its display window. It has a branch at 34 Emek Rafaim and one in Mamilla. In addition, Set Gifts sells products by fifty Israeli artists and crafts people.
15. Puzzles and Games
If you like puzzles, visit a store called Gaya (http://www.gaya-game.com), located at 7 Yoel Moshe Solomon Street, in the Nahalat Shiva area. It is open Sundays to Thursdays from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., Fridays from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., and Saturday evenings from 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. Since 1996, Gaya has been producing hand-made puzzles and games in natural wood, either stained or painted with non-toxic colors. The store has over 700 puzzles to choose from. In addition to browsing, you can try your hand at some of the puzzles in the store. The company’s motto is “We mixed a cup of strategy, a dose of intuition, a spoon full of bluff and a pinch of luck.” Prices range from $5.50 for a puzzle on a key chain to family games for $22.00 to $44.00. One popular gift item is a little bottle of Red Label or Absolut with a wooden puzzle you need to solve in order to open the bottle.
16. Michal Negrin Jewelry
Her jewelry combines materials, such as brass, lace, and leather, with glass beads and Swarovski crystals for a romantic look. Stud flower earrings cost from $15.00 to $34.00, hanging earrings from $44.00 to $68.00, necklaces $68.00 to $345.00, and rings $35.00. There are three branches of Michal Negrin in Jerusalem, one in Mamilla, small but well-stocked. The other two Jerusalem branches are at 12 Yoel Solomon Street in Nachalat Shiva and the Malha Mall.
Other Interesting Souvenirs from Israel
If you are away from Israel and have no plans or opportunity to visit the Holy Land, or you don't want to carry extra luggage back home, these days you can find a wide selection of authentic and truly interesting Israeli souvenirs online. Presented here are some of the prominent Israeli items sought by foreign visitors, now available online for your convenience.
2.Israeli honey - It may well be not all “milk and honey” in the Promised Land yet, but the locally-made Kosher honey - a true nectar of wildflowers and even avocado – is a good precursor to that.
3. Bamba -Israeli national snack made of peanut butter available in a variety of flavors: corn, hazelnut, strawberry, and more.
4. Shabbat candle -Lighting Shabbat candles on a Friday evening, to usher in the Jewish day of rest, is done traditionally by the lady of the house. Lighting the first candle is done with a match and then this first-lit candle lights up all the others.
5. Israeli spice -A regional favorite, hard-to-find anywhere else, is a full line of authentic ethic gourmet seasonings - a combination of Thyme, Sumac, and Sesame Seeds, commonly used in bread but also for baking or grilling of chicken and other meats, as well as fish. Ideal salt substitute that works well with a sprinkle of lemon juice.
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