The good life, in Jerusalem and Bayonne



Visitors inspect the crafts for sale at the old-new train station in Jerusalem.


A boy reads about the history of the Jaffa-Jerusalem rail line at the old Jerusalem station.


Jerusalem has finally found a use for its old train station, in the heart of the city. The gabled stone building with arched doorways and the surrounding compound are the capital’s newest entertainment spot, offering cafes, restaurants, shops, crafts and food fairs, a small history museum, and free entertainment for children. A variety of tours, including a self-guided hybrid-bicycle tour, set out from the souvenir shop.

Blessedly, everything there is open on Saturday

Although I was afraid that the city would not have the good sense to preserve the memory of its first train (completed in 1892), I was pleasantly surprised. True, the old train station lay abandoned and neglected for many years, but even before the new entertainment area opened this month a very pleasant park was built alongside the old tracks, running west from the train station for several kilometers. It has become very popular with bike riders and walkers.



I thought there had to be a reason for my chocolate addiction, and now I’ve discovered it. According to a recent Times of Israel article, Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 and fleeing the Inquisition in Portugal starting in 1536 brought the knowledge of chocolate processing to France, settling on the outskirts of Bayonne, in southwestern France.

After they taught the secrets of the trade to local workers, the chocolatiers guild barred Jews from producing the sweet stuff.

This month, 500 years later, Bayonne has paid homage at its Chocolate Days festival to the Sephardic Jewish chocolate pioneers.

Michèle Kahn, the author of the novel Cacao, told the Times that little is known about how Jews got into the chocolate trade in the New World, but surmises that some must have sailed across the Atlantic with Cortes. I would look at the Jewish involvement in the sugar trade as a possible connection.

So what are my chocolate genes? There’s a family legend (on my mother’s side) that places an ancestor in Amsterdam, where many of the Jews were Sephardic. It’s as good an explanation as any.



For centuries, European aristocrats sent tributes to Catholic churches in Jerusalem but these precious gifts were hidden away for safekeeping by the Franciscan Order in the city. Now, according to the daily Ha’aretz, these treasures—ritual objects and works of art—are to be displayed in three museums in the Old City starting in 2015. Among the items are a 13th century Mongolian bell, an inscribed golden goblet from the Spanish king Philip III, and a ceremonial silver scepter from the Italian king Victor Emmanuel II.


Text and photos copyright 2013 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text or photos may be used without written permission of the author.      






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4 Responses to “The good life, in Jerusalem and Bayonne”

  1. David Bennett Says:

    Do you think it the beginning of a revolution, as Haaretz suggests it might be? If it is as busy as the article suggests, then plainly there is a demand.

    I thought half of Columbus’ crew were Jewish, so why not Cortez’s crew also?

  2. Sandi Says:

    Now I get it! I must have some Sephardic genes as well!

    Nice reading about the old train station too. thanks!

  3. Tana Stremel Says:

    The good life, in Jerusalem and Bayonne | Esther Hecht

    […]Does anyone ever experience three or more of these for sugar?[…]

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