King David Hotel lobby
Photo Courtesy King David
For Royal Tour of Holy City
Start at King David Hotel
Story and Photos by Tim Boxer
HERE was an extra foreign flag in the lobby when I recently checked into the stately King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Besides the permanent American standard, to honor the on-site residence of the American ambassador, there was the Norwegian banner, saluting the presence of the deputy foreign minister.
During the mandate period, the British requisitioned part of the hotel for headquarters.
Ever since the country achieved independence, the hotel continued to be a magnet for royalty, heads of state, diplomats and assorted dignitaries. Those included Jordan’s King Hussein, America’s Bill Clinton and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.
Benny Olearchik at historic table
During my six days at the hotel I ran into Nobel peace laureate Elie Wiesel, Edgar Bronfman and Israel Singer of the World Jewish Congress, and Yeshiva University president Norman Lamm among other notables.
Director of Sales Benny Olearchik praises Clinton as one of the most down-to-earth gentlemen of all boldface types who’ve passed through these doors.
The U.S. president was here for Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral. As he walked through the lobby he shook hands with everyone in sight, much to the consternation of his security detail.
“He called up one of our managers to his suite and thanked her personally for the hospitality the hotel provided on a last minute notice. It was very moving.
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“We always get letters of gratitude,” Olearchik added, “but to be thanked in person was not done before. That was amazing.”
Actually the King David premium service begins right off the plane. If you booked a minimum of three nights at the Presidential, Royal, Deluxe or Duplex suite, a representative will meet you at the airport and escort you to the Masada VIP lounge where your passport is processed and baggage reclaimed.
Madonna once tried to join this illustrious clientele. Of course she was welcomed at the hotel with open arms, but then the self-centered diva threw a tantrum and took to her heels.
Director of sales Benny Olearchik told me that the singing star had come to do a concert in Tel Aviv ten years ago, and naturally wanted to stay at the most prestigious lodging place in the country, even though it was an hour away in Jerusalem.
Gardens and pool at King David
“We cleared 20 rooms on the top floor for her entourage,” Olearchik said. “We gave her the Royal Suite.”
I inspected the Royal Suite on the sixth floor facing the Old City. It is huge, with connecting bedrooms, Jacuzzi bath, guest powder room, boardroom with electronic presentation screen, CD stereo system, VCR, DVD and fax.
If they give that to me, I promise I will not throw a fit.
As it happened, when Madonna went to her suite, a female guest popped out of a room and snapped a picture. How dare she!
The pop celebrity popped her cork and flew into a rage.
“She demanded that the entire floor be cleared for her personal use,” Olearchik said. “If not, she threatened to leave.”
After an hour, Madonna herself cleared out and found refuge at the Dan Tel Aviv.
Moslem Quarter is colorful
“We decided not to charge her for all those rooms they booked,” Olearchik said, “since they used another Dan hotel.” The King David is part of the Dan chain, so at least Madonna kept within the family.
You can see why the King David attracts the gold-plated traveler the moment you step into the high-ceilinged lobby. The reception desk at the right is staffed by the most courteous clerks you will find this side of Saks Fifth Avenue.
Olearchik said the hotel had recently undergone an extensive renovation that took three years and $25 million.
To the right of the lobby is the elegant Reading Room dominated by a formidable dining ensemble.
The ornate mahogany table played a key role in the peace process. It was brought to the Sea of Galilee where King Hussein and Yitzhak Rabin ratified the peace agreement between Jordan and Israel on November 10, 1994.
Dome of the Rock on the
When you make the King David your base, you have all of Jerusalem at your fingertips. With a driver and a guide, I was able to explore several parts of the Holy City that I missed on previous visits – including the Tunnel Wall and Ein Kerem.
Our guide, Moshe Mor, was quite cordial and full knowledgeable. He may be reached at 054 408 561.
He was very patient with my picture taking. When we drove past Moment Café, he had the driver back up so I could get out and record the scene. Business was normal following the tragedy. A plaque on the gate was dedicated to the 11 victims of a suicide bomber on March 8, 2002.
Across the street is the prime minister’s residence. No sooner did I aimed my camera than a soldier sprinted across the street demanding identification. My NYPD press card did not impress him. He made me delete three images in my digital camera.
Ein Kerem was formerly an Arab neighborhood, turned into an artist’s colony. We visited the studio of Yitzhak Greenfield, a native of Brooklyn. His son showed us some of the work. His father was away in New York for a showing.
Nina checks out olive press at
Yitzhak Greenfield studio in Ein Kerem
The Tunnel Wall, beneath the Kotel, caused a deadly confrontation with Arabs when it opened. We descended at the Western Wall for a long walk underground.
The tunnel is fully lighted, with descriptive plaques along the way. Behind the wall, our guide said, is the Holy of Holies from the Second Temple.
We emerged in the Moslem Quarter, where the exit was guarded by soldiers. Walking along Chain Street, we came to the Green Door, which leads to the Dome of the Rock. We were stopped by a contingent of troops. Entrance is forbidden to all except Moslems.
I look forward to the day, soon, when peace comes to the Holy City and we are welcome to walk on the Temple Mount and visit the Dome of the Rock.