Travel just 15 minutes southwest from the center of Jerusalem, and you will find the postcard-perfect village of Ein Karem nestled in the foothills. Often a stopping-off place for visitors exploring beyond the bounds of the city, Ein Karem offers European-style hospitality with quiet cobblestone alleyways and charming homes surrounded by lush green hills and thick forest.
Translated from Hebrew to mean “the spring of the vineyard,” Ein Karem is an oasis of gardens, almond trees, and vineyards, untouched by modernity. Visitors can wander endlessly through the streets and alleyways, stopping for respite at any number of spots for fine dining and shopping. Boutique hotels and comfortable bed and breakfasts pepper the area for those who wish to extend their stay. One of Jerusalem’s prominent culinary hot spots, you’ll likely find everything your heart—and palate—desires.
Ein Karem holds great spiritual significance as well, most notably as the place where Elizabeth, cousin to Mary, the mother of Jesus, miraculously gave birth to John the Baptist (Luke 1:1-25) in her old age. There are two churches which commemorate this event, both named the Church of St. John the Baptist.
Visitors to the area can also experience the Church of the Visitation. Located on the slope of a hill just south of Ein Karem, the church commemorates the biblical account of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth and Zechariah’s summer home. An elaborate mosaic of the story is depicted on the front of the church. Ceramic plaques adorn the walls of the church, each inscribed with Mary’s canticle of praise, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) in 50 different languages.
Near the Church of the Visitation is a spring called the “Fountain of the Virgin” or “Mary’s Spring.” According to tradition, it is here where Mary drank from the spring, en route to meet her cousin Elizabeth with the news that she, too, was not only with child, but that she would give birth to Jesus, the Son of God. These waters are considered holy by some pilgrims and often bottled.
If you’re in the mood to visit a hospital while you’re here—for reasons other than medical ones—stop by the Hadassah Hospital to see the magnificent stained glass windows in its synagogue by the famed artist, Marc Chagall. Each window depicts a different tribe of Israel. Stay a bit longer to take a tour of the newly renovated hospital grounds and learn about its history and medical advancements.
Whether you’re in-town for a few hours or an entire weekend, Ein Karem is an ideal place to steal away, yet close enough to Jerusalem to make it easy and convenient. If you’re driving, street parking is free, and public transportation is readily accessible.
While Ein Karem may look sleepy, it’s anything but.