Majestic architecture and delicate flora make Jerusalem’s Givat Ram a must-see

Until the Israeli Supreme Court moved to more luxurious premises in 1992, it was housed in a rather primitive 19th-century hospice for Russian Orthodox pilgrims — my late father, a lawyer who attended many of the meetings, told me that the building’s main “features” were no heat in winter and no air conditioning in summer.

Yet Supreme Court justices are constantly being called upon to make weighty decisions that affect us all. The current edifice reflects the court’s importance: It encompasses a combination of straight lines and circles, meant to visually express the concepts of law and justice. But which represents which?

On a visit to the courthouse — located in the Givat Ram neighborhood of Jerusalem — prior to the coronavirus pandemic, tour guide Nikky Strassman told us that architects Ram Karmi and Ada Karmi-Melamede took their answer from Psalms: “You are righteous… and Your laws are straight” but “He leads me in circles of justice.” (Psalms 119:137; 23:3).

Money for construction of the Supreme Court was donated very discreetly by the Rothschild Foundation. In the best of Jewish charitable traditions, the Rothschilds are not mentioned by name on the sign located at the entrance to the courthouse.
Inside, a massive stairway is lined on one side with a wall of Jerusalem stone.

Together with old-fashioned lanterns, the wall is reminiscent of alleyways in the Old City, as well as the Western Wall. Mirrors at the bottom of the wall give the illusion that you are looking at foundations — not of the building, suggested Strassman, but perhaps of the laws that guide us daily.

A gigantic panoramic window offers a stunning view of the 19th-century Nahlaot neighborhood across the highway. Nearby, a pyramid built into the roof is reminiscent of the pyramid-shaped prophet Zechariah’s tomb in the Kidron Valley. Strassman feels that the presence of old and new symbols represents the history of Jerusalem as well as Israeli laws that are based on legal precedence but have had to come to grips with modern times.

A view of the Supreme Court building in Jerusalem. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

A small museum of the history of the Israeli legal system from the Ottoman era until today contains blown-up photographs on the walls. Also on display are the red robes worn by Gad Frumkin, the only Jew on the Supreme Court during the British Mandate when a case tried by the court carried a possible death penalty.

Our favorite spot for an exterior view of the Supreme Court is from Jerusalem’s fabulous Wohl Rose Park, called Gan Havradim in Hebrew. Originally named President’s Park, it was used for official government gatherings.

A gigantic panoramic window offers a stunning view of the 19th-century Nahlaot neighborhood from the Supreme Court building in Jerusalem. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

The park was part of the National Precinct, developed soon after the establishment of the state in 1948 and meant to host Israel’s main government institutions, including the parliamentary Knesset building, the Bank of Israel and the Supreme Court. Following a public outcry in the early 1960s, it was opened to the public.

Well before the State of Israel was born, people all over the country were growing and cross-breeding roses, says the park’s rose curator Dalit Kaslassi. On a recent tour, Kaslassi told us that Israelis admired the fragrant blossom so much they founded the National Society of Roses and dreamed of one day seeing them on display in one dedicated site.

Plans began for a special National Rose Garden in the mid-1970s. At the same time, upkeep for President’s Park — by that time quite neglected — was transferred from the government to the Jerusalem Municipality.

Allgold roses at the Wohl Rose Park in Jerusalem, April 2021. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

In October 1981, the World Federation of Rose Societies held its fifth convention in Jerusalem’s President’s Park. In preparation for the occasion, the park was redesigned with added roses, lawns and waterfalls. British philanthropists Vivienne and Maurice Wohl funded its development in cooperation with the Jerusalem Foundation and the Jerusalem Municipality. During the convention a ceremony was held in which President’s Park became the Wohl Rose Garden.

The largest rose garden in the country, Wohl Park is almost overwhelming in its beauty. Spanning 19 acres, the park is chock full of fragrance and color with 15,000 roses exhibited in vastly different platforms. Making the park particularly Israeli are Second Temple-era burial caves found on the site.

The Wohl Rose Park’s French Garden in Jerusalem, April 2021. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

Countries around the world contributed to the Garden of Nations, established by The Jerusalem Foundation in 1984. France was the first, establishing a plot boasting white, latticed pergolas, benches and stunning roses. Nearby, the Switzerland plot is a faithful copy of the Rose Garden for the Visually Impaired in the city of Raperswil, and donated by its residents. Just as they do in Raperswil, visitors follow the fragrances to signs that are written in Braille. One difference: In Raperswil a fountain stands in the garden, while here there is a Callery pear tree, native to the Far East and with white flowers that bloom in early spring.

A Callery pear tree at the Wohl Rose Park in Jerusalem, April 2021. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

A crew of workers sent from the Vienna Municipality created Austria’s garden using equipment brought from home. They lodged in a nearby hostel and worked for over a week on the garden, which is dedicated to Viennese-born former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek. The marble sculpture in the garden is shaped like a rose.

Nearby, a California Redwood towers over the park. An evergreen tree that can grow up to 100 meters (328 feet) in height, it has a life expectancy of 2,000 years.

Approaching the Argentina Garden, one’s gaze quite naturally fixes on a tall, white obelisk from Buenos Aires, a shorter model of a much higher obelisk in the Plaza de la República. The Argentinean version was inaugurated in 1936 and celebrates the city’s 400th anniversary. It is from here that you get a fantastic view of the Supreme Court and its unusual blue window.

A view of the Supreme Court building from the Wohl Rose Park in Jerusalem, April 2021. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

Roses grow naturally only in the northern hemisphere, so those in the Argentinian garden are from Israel. Wohl Park landscaper Yisrael Drori designed them to combine the three colors in the Argentinian flag, composed of blue stripes, and a white stripe in the middle with a depiction of the sun.

Some sources say the modern game of chess (the game’s origins date back nearly 1,500 years) came together in 15th-century Spain. That’s why the Spanish garden boasts three sturdy chess tables made of stone, with wooden chairs. On Saturdays, said Kaslassi, a regular competitor rents out pieces to visiting players.

‘Tete,’ meaning ‘Head,’ a bronze sculpture by Spanish artist Joan Miro at the Wohl Rose Park’s Spanish Garden in Jerusalem, April 2021. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

There is also a bronze sculpture by famous Spanish surrealistic artist Joan Miro and a colorful tile relief from Toledo, Spain, that was a gift to Jerusalem. Spain’s King Juan Carlos and Queen Sophia cut the ribbon across the relief in 1993.

Meant to remind visitors of an English park, the City of London Garden is partially paved, and has a number of benches. Tranquility reigns, and sitting here the chirping of the birds is all that’s heard against the silence. Among the flowers in the garden is the Queen Elizabeth Rose — one of the hardiest of its type in the world. And, at one end, the city of London’s coat of arms is on display.

‘Door Opening,’ found in the German Garden at the Wohl Rose Park in Jerusalem, April 2021. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

The German Garden features a stark sculpture called “Door Opening,” which lends itself to all kinds of interpretations. Gazed at from the back, the walls turn into mirrors.

The Israela rose developed by Israeli mathematician Binyamin Amira, at the Wohl Rose Park in Jerusalem, April 2021. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

Well-known Israeli mathematician Binyamin Amira spent a lot of time with his roses. One of them, developed in the 1930s, he named for his newborn daughter Israela. It is on view on the top level of the Israel Garden, together with the Jerusalem Rose — white, and with no thorns — developed by psychiatrist Arnold Holtzman, who also bred the bright yellow Ramat Gan Rose.

Ramat Gan roses at the Wohl Rose Park in Jerusalem, April 2021. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

The bottom level of the Israel Garden boasts several burial caves dating back to the Second Temple era, between 516 BCE and 70 CE. Nearby, two plots display miniature roses, with tiny leaves and flowers but a regular-sized stalk.

In spring, the round planter in the garden seems to be covered in snow. Actually, what visitors see are tiny white roses called Snow Carpet. Nearby, the Fortuniana variety, known for its ability to climb, has fixed itself onto a cypress tree. The bloom was first spotted in a Shanghai garden by Scottish gardener Robert Fortune in 1850.

Second Temple-era burial caves at the Wohl Rose Park in Jerusalem, April 2021. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

Visitors can become so overwhelmed by the roses that they might forget to look at the trees. But the vast diversity of the Rose Garden’s trees are indeed something to admire. In addition to the redwood and pear trees are the Syrian Ash, London plane, cypress, olive, Judas trees, Holly and Cork oak, Cedars of Lebanon, Japanese Pagoda, eastern plane, pine and lilac trees.

When the Rose Garden was first landscaped in 1981, the little pond that was originally part of President’s Park was enlarged and the sides reinforced. Above this charming pond, reflecting the rich surrounding foliage, is a second body of water built inside a quarry. Pinkish with occasional streams of metal oxides, the quarry’s flat, limestone rocks were used to build New Jerusalem’s neighborhoods in the 1950s.

Japanese Garden at the Wohl Rose Park in Jerusalem, April 2021. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

It is thought that it was the beauty of these rocks that caught the eye of wealthy businessman Rikhiru Madarame when he visited the garden with a representative from the municipality. Excited, Madarame decided to donate money for a Japanese Garden to be located in the former quarry.

Features include two typical Japanese lights with openings for candles, a small statue, and a larger one made of natural bluish-grey rock. The back reads: “In comparing the essence of nature to the essence of mankind, water is essential to a flower as love and peace are to the human spirit.”

The park offers free Hebrew language tours in spring. Tour information can be obtained at the local Israeli number (02)-563-7233. Restrooms are not wheelchair accessible.

Aviva Bar-Am is the author of seven English-language guides to Israel. Shmuel Bar-Am is a licensed, tour guide who provides private, customized tours in Israel for individuals, families and small groups.

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