The Nicest Spot in Jerusalem

When tourists come to Jerusalem, they go to the Old City. They don’t go to the zoo. For a zoo, you go to San Diego. San Diego doesn’t have 3,000 years of history. It doesn’t have holy places. It has giant pandas.

Maybe I shouldn’t let the tourists know they’ve goofed. On holidays, the Jerusalem zoo is already crowded enough with locals who know that it’s absolutely the most enjoyable place in town. I really shouldn’t send more people there.

All right, the Jerusalem zoo doesn’t have giant pandas. It does, however, have red pandas. Red PadaUnfortunately, this picture from the zoo’s website doesn’t show the big fluffy red and white striped tail that makes the creature look like it was designed by Dr. Seuss. Unless you are a Jerusalemite, I bet you’ve never seen a red panda.

When my kids were younger and I took them to the San Diego zoo, they wanted to see the penguins. There weren’t any. San Diego is too warm, someone in a zoo uniform told us. As far as I can tell from the San Diego Zoo’s online catalog of beasts and birds, penguins are still absent.

In the meantime, however, the Jerusalem zoo got its own penguins, a species from South Africa that seems quite happy in the Jerusalem climate. (If you will it, it is no dream.)

All together, I’m sure that San Diego has more kinds of creatures, even it seems to lack a cotton-top tamarin, and I’m not entirely sure why anyone would bother going to a zoo without these micro-monkeys. But for visitors, the main difference may be this: The Jerusalem zoo has lovely lawns, and a rushing stream, next to which you can sit to eat lunch. In the lemur enclosure, if you stand still enough, one of the creatures might just come up and hold your hand (my son once pulled off this trick). At the prairie dog exhibit, you can climb into a tunnel that comes out in a little plexiglass dome an inch or two away from where the animals are playing.

Moveover, the Jerusalem zoo has only one shop, and only a couple of very small kiosks. That is, once you are inside, no one is trying very hard to sell you food or toys or souvenirs. In San Diego, I sometimes felt I was in a large mall with some animal exhibits.

The zoo, it’s true, doesn’t have any holy places. It does, however, have oryxes:


Notice the horns. They are the biblical symbol of grandeur, as in Psalm 92:10, “You will raise my horn like an oryx.” (The King James mistranslates “unicorn” but I assure you, each animal has two of these magnificent lances on his head.) Until you’ve seen the real thing, you won’t understand the verse.

The zoo also has people: Arabs and Jews, secular and ultra-Orthodox. They are not fighting. They are busy looking at animals. If the tourists had sense, they’d come here.

7 thoughts on “The Nicest Spot in Jerusalem”

  1. I’ve never been to San Diego, but I do know that several religions consider their places of worship holy places, and SD must have several of those, though outside the zoo, and less than 3000 y/o…

  2. we always wondered what the animals “thought” about the furry streimels that many of the hassidim wear during hol hamoed.

  3. It’s my favorite place to take my son. We’ve been to the zoo several times, and he’s been to Ein Yael across the wadi, which I’ve wanted to see but haven’t yet. But the zoo is very crowded during the Choel Hamoed. Tip for visitors–go at sunset. That’s when many of the animals are fed, and the crowds are thinner, and the weather cooler.

  4. Another vote for the Zoo. My kids love it, my niece and nephew do too. It’s really one of the best zoos around, and certainly in Israel. Another neat animal there is the Jacob sheep. And you didn’t even mention the playground!

  5. I have never been to the J’lem Zoo. Perhaps on my next visit.
    The National Zoo in Washington, DC, my home town, has two very pretty red pandas.

Comments are closed.