Mount of Olives

March 22nd 2011

Among the most ancient sites in all of Jerusalem is the Mount of Olives. Situated to the east of the Old City of Jerusalem, the mountain has been home to a Jewish cemetery for close to 3,000 years. The cemetery is still in use today and remains the most important Jewish cemetery in the entire world. Tradition holds that when the age of the messiah begins, those buried on the Mount of Olives will be the first to experience resurrection. Rather than a single peak, the mount is actually a cluster of hills that historically protected the inhabited city of Jerusalem from the east.

Many well-known Jewish figures are buried on the Mount of Olives. Among the most famous are Henrietta Szold, who founded the Hadassah Women’s Organization and Menachem Begin, the 6th prime minister of Israel. Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak haKohen Kook, Israel’s first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, is buried on the Mount of Olives, as is Eliezer Ben Yehuda, who is known as the father of modern Hebrew. Leading rabbis from several Hassidic dynasties are buried there, as are the victims of Arab riots from 1929 and 1936-39, along with fallen soldiers from the Israel’s War of Independence in 1948.

The oldest graves in the area are situated at the bottom of the slopes, in the Kidron Valley. The grave of Avshalom, the rebellious son of King David, is located here, as are the graves of the priest Zechariah and the priestly Hezir family from the First Temple period. Other ancient burial sites are located in caves that date from Temple times. In general, these older graves are located on the southernmost slopes of the Mount. Visiting them is a thrilling way to connect with real personalities from Jewish history.

Themed tours of the Mount of Olives recreate the path taken by pilgrims to Jerusalem who offered sacrifices during the days of the First and Second Temples. Another themed tour illustrates the crucial significance of the Mount of Olives during the Six Day War of 1967. Jewish forces, under the command of General Motta Gur, were able to liberate the Old City of Jerusalem from the hands of the Jordanians and reunify the city as a result of their strategic location on the Mount of Olives.

An information center can help visitors locate any grave. For those interested, the City of David offers volunteers a chance to clean and restore ancient tombstones.