Jerusalem’s King David Street represents heart of city

It’s a sunny day on Jerusalem’s King David Street and the scene is lively. Tourists with cameras admire the distinctive stone tower of the Jerusalem YMCA. A father in Chassidic garb pushes a baby carriage. Students stand talking outside Hebrew Union College.

While pedestrians stroll, and others wait for buses, Mustafa Mabad is coming down the street in quite another way. Moving at a leisurely pace, he sits high on his handsome white horse, Gandu.

Mabad is heading toward Liberty Bell Garden, where he’ll offer rides to youngsters. He lives in the Old City, and often travels by horseback along King David Street. “I come this way all the time — why not?” he asks as he ambles along.

Whether the visitor arrives on horseback or on foot, King David Street is one of Jerusalem’s most interesting roads to explore. Distinctive architecture. A famous hotel. An observation tower with a stunning view. Galleries and shops. All this and more can be found on a street that typifies the variety of the city itself.

That’s why, on a recent visit to Jerusalem, I decided to plan a sightseeing excursion focusing entirely on King David Street. On an earlier trip, I had been so busy with all the city’s well-known attractions — Yad Vashem, the Israel Museum, the Old City, the sites on Mount Scopus — that I hardly had time for everyday pleasures like enjoying a street imbued with Jerusalem’s ambiance.

I started my tour with a visit to the prestigious hotel that gives the street much of its prominence.

The stately stone King David Hotel has an eventful history. Built in 1934, it was bombed in 1946 by Israeli underground fighters who wanted to drive the British out of the country. The attack indeed hastened the Britons’ departure. The entire right wing of the hotel was completely rebuilt afterwards.

Illustrious guests — presidents, kings, diplomats, celebrities — all have stayed in the hotel, with its grand lobby and Old World atmosphere.

But despite its formality, I also found the place friendly and welcoming, even to casual visitors who are not hotel guests. Bellboy Gershon Draiman had a cheerful smile and a friendly greeting when I approached.

The Brooklyn native is spending a year in Jerusalem studying, and was glad to land a job at the King David.

I headed for the café with its large picture windows affording views of the hotel’s spacious gardens and swimming pool.

The host, wearing a formal black tuxedo, led me to a table with a view. It was tempting to linger extra-long over my coffee, but there was much more on King David Street to explore.

Nearby was Frank Meisler’s gallery. Several days earlier, I had visited his headquarters in Old Jaffa. This Jerusalem branch gave me another chance to admire intricate sculpted objects in silver and gold created by Israel’s most prominent sculptor.

Next stop: the Jerusalem headquarters of Hebrew Union College, with its striking architecture.

Inside the spacious grounds, set back from the street, I felt I’d wandered into an elegant Spanish villa, complete with central courtyard, balconies, arches and lush gardens with palm trees and flower beds.

I continued walking until I reached the foot of King David Street, where the walls of the Old City were clearly visible.

Reversing my direction, I stopped at the Jerusalem International YMCA, a landmark stone building with a 152-foot central tower.

The amenities of this unusual YMCA include an outdoor courtyard and café and an ornate indoor lobby with Oriental rugs and vaulted ceiling. This Y is actually a three-star hotel with 56 newly renovated rooms.

It also has an observation tower, and reservations clerk Najat Rofa offered to take me to the top.

From every direction, there was a panoramic vista, with maps posted at several spots on the outdoor decks. From one position, we saw modern Jerusalem. From another, we saw the walls of the Old City, East Jerusalem and Mount Scopus.

Stepping onto another lookout, we were facing the towns beyond Jerusalem. Rofa, a native of the city, pointed out Beit Safafa, an Arab town, and Romena, a Jewish town. Both had the Judean hills as backdrop.

And we could also see all of King David Street and beyond.

Seeing the city from on high reminded me of the beauty of this distinctive street and the city it reflects.