The Ein Kerem Eden

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Picture yourself seated in a lush, green garden, shaded by grape vines heavy with ripening fruit. Your comfortable wicker chair is drawn up to a colorful tiled table, and there’s a glass of homemade kumquat liqueur by your hand. Breathe in the fresh country air, looking out over the magnificent view complete with ancient stone terraces rimming the Jerusalem hills.

You’re in historic Ein Karem, just below Hadassah Hospital. Considered the traditional birthplace of John the Baptist, this sleepy and picturesque community of some 2,000 full-time residents attracts pilgrims from all over the world, who visit the town’s churches and monasteries.

The area remained settled through the ages, and during Israel’s War of Independence, most of the local Arabs fled the area during the fighting, leaving Ein Kerem’s historic buildings intact. In the early years of the state, the government settled new immigrants in the area, mostly Moroccans and Yemenites, with a few Eastern Europeans to round out the mix. They lived, cheek by jowl, in the Turkish-styled local buildings; stone structures with domes and arches, with some newer, flat-roofed buildings. Interiors were insulated from the summer heat and the winter winds by virtue of the thick walls and the floors were painted in the style of the Levant, with designs that echoed the look of Persian carpets. Infrastructure was minimal; it wasn’t until the late 1950s that  water and electricity arrived and another twenty years for septic tanks to be replaced with sewage lines.

Following the 1967 Six-Day War, Ein Kerem grew, as a younger group of artists and students began to move in, attracted by the affordable real estate. The Moroccans and Yemenites were dubious of their new neighbors, whom they termed “the New Americans,” laughs Yaron Abramov, who bought one of the houses in 1970 with his then-wife, Tziona, as well as another one for his sister. “We were white and crazy about these old and ruined buildings.”

They renovated and expanded the house over the course of many years, and it is currently divided into two separate homes. The downstairs apartment, which opens onto a large and green garden, is a quiet oasis of white plastered, domed ceilings and arched windows with an antique air. Floored with reclaimed tile and wood throughout, the upstairs — now Tziona’s home —  includes a dramatic master bedroom with an attached sunken sitting area and a country-styled kitchen – Tziona catered professionally for many years – with a magnificent wall of windows in the living room overlooking a dramatic view of the nearby hills.

Outside, the gardens reflect the name that the Abramovs gave their home, Plantation. They grow all the produce mentioned in the bible, including grapes, figs, olives, pomegranates and  almonds, as well as many herbs, a verdant pecan tree, and, kumquats:

Here’s a kumquat recipe from Tziona Abramov’s very active kitchen.

Kumquat Schapps

  • Fill a glass jar 2/3 to 3/4 full with a plain alcohol (vodka works well)
  • Take 1 ½ – 2 pounds ripe kumquats and put them in a cheesecloth bag
  • Suspend the fruit from the top of the bottle so that it does not touch the alcohol
  • Close and tighten the cap.
  • Leave for at least 2-3 months, even up to a year.
  • Remove and dispose of the the fruit that remains.
  • Boil water and sugar at a 1:1 ratio and fill the jar, sweetening to your taste.

L’chaim!