The best booksellers in the Holy City are often hidden in picturesque alleyways and just off Jerusalem’s main thoroughfares. Culture Trip uncovers a book-lover’s haven in the heart of the city.
It’s no surprise that a city as storied as Jerusalem – for centuries a source of inspiration for generations of visionaries, artists and writers – is home to an excellent selection of bookshops, selling everything from rare books and antiquarian editions to graphic novels and travel maps.
It’s easy to miss this cramped old shop, tucked away between restaurants and cafés in Jerusalem’s Downtown Triangle. Founded in 1908 by a German bookseller of the same name, Ludwig Mayer Books is one of Jerusalem’s oldest bookshops. Its location and much of its interior have changed little since 1935 when the store opened in the Armenian Quarter. Its shelves are packed full of academic books in English, Hebrew, German and French, covering humanities, philosophy, archaeology, history, Jewish studies and physics. Also available are collections of maps, travel guides and books on Arab-Israeli history as well as numerous antique editions of scholarly works. What makes this place particularly interesting is its expertise in locating hard-to-find and out-of-print books and shipping them abroad to institutions, private collectors and libraries.
M. Pomeranz Bookseller has one of the largest selections of Jewish holy books in English, Hebrew, French, German and Spanish in Jerusalem. Among the topics broached are biblical studies, the Holocaust, Jewish mysticism and music as well as travel, health and education. The bookshop’s American-born owner, Michael Pomeranz, decided to open the store after he and his family moved to Israel in 1991, to encourage and promote Jewish religious studies. The shop also stocks rare and out-of-print books and doubles as a venue for religious classes, book launches and lectures.
The Educational Bookshop in East Jerusalem specialises in English and Arabic-language books on Middle Eastern history, culture and politics. In addition to non-fiction titles, the shop sells an impressive selection of graphic novels inspired by Israeli-Palestinian relations, books by Palestinian authors and a notable collection of newspapers and magazines in several languages, plus music and films on socio-economic and political issues in Palestine. The bookshop covers three levels and includes a reading balcony, a café and a function room for workshops and seminars.
If any bookshop could be described as a bibliophile’s dream, it would be the Book Gallery. Located just off Jaffa Road, it stocks a large collection of second-hand and rare books displayed over two floors on floor-to-ceiling shelves. There are four browsing areas and a separate section for antiquarian and out-of-print books, and the online catalogue offers more than 40,000 books on subjects ranging from Judaica, poetry and art, to philosophy and history in many languages, including Hebrew, English and German. The Book Gallery has a small area dedicated to books that sell for as little as £1 each.
Tucked away amid a myriad of clothes boutiques and electronics stores, Holzer Books is a hidden cultural hub that specialises in rare and vintage works of fiction, Jewish thought, philosophy and politics. Packed tightly with thousands of books in Hebrew, Latin, Greek, English, French, German, Yiddish and Italian, the store has a comfy reading area on the second floor and hosts regular evening workshops and readings.
The owners of Adraba Books, a small bookstore that thinks big, select every book they stock with great care. Founded in 2010 and located a few minutes from the city centre in the trendy Rehavia neighborhood, the bookshop carries an impressive selection of quality comics, graphic novels and children’s books in English and in Hebrew. In addition to the latest fiction and non-fiction bestsellers by international authors, the shop has a sizeable collection of books on poetry, art, Judaism and Islamic thought. There is also a second-hand section and monthly special offers.
Sipur Hozer (which means ‘returning story’ in Hebrew), a chain of second-hand shops in Israel that includes a branch in the Downtown Triangle, is a community-led project with a broader social purpose. It provides employment opportunities and rehabilitative vocational training for people with disabilities. The books – mainly popular works of fiction and non-fiction – are for readers of all ages and are sold at a fixed price of NIS 20 (roughly £4 or $5.50). The majority of the books are in Hebrew, but there is also a good selection of works in English. You can show support for the cause by buying online or donating books.
Within the confines of the historic American Colony Hotel, on the seam between East and West Jerusalem, lies a bookstore with a treasure trove of works by renowned Arab authors and their English translations. Owned by Mahmoud Muna, a Palestinian bookseller and cultural leader, the bookshop is a well-known hub for intellectuals and activists. Although the bookshop is small, it is well-stocked with books about the history of the region, politics and religion. Visitors are welcome to sit and enjoy reading a chapter or two over a drink in its cosy little café or at the hotel’s Cellar Bar, celebrated for its selection of spirits and as a popular meeting spot for journalists, diplomats and writers.