Today’s “Wartime Diary” takes us to a place that is, under normal circumstances, one of the most visited sites in the entire country – Jerusalem’s Biblical Zoo, or as it’s officially known, ‘The Tisch Family Zoological Gardens.’ Since the start of the war, the city of Jerusalem has welcomed more than 30,000 evacuees from both the North and the South. With such an influx of people, and especially of kids, there was a real need to create new programming and activities. The Jerusalem Foundation stepped in and launched “Double Impact,” an initiative that sent tens of thousands of evacuees (as well as the city’s school children) to various cultural and recreational institutions such as museums, theaters, the aquarium and, of course, the zoo. The result benefitted not only the kids themselves, who got a day of fun and enrichment, but also the city’s struggling institutions.
The first animal in the Jerusalem Zoo arrived in 1940, brought by a group of British soldiers. It was a desert monitor (which, in case you’re not up on your reptiles, is a sort of gray lizard). Since then, and even amid the drama of the 1948 War of Independence, the zoo, in its various locations, has served as a home to a wide and growing variety of animals. Today it is truly one of the few places in town that is welcoming to every sector of society – Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, secular and religious, young and old. It’s open every single day of the year, except for Yom Kippur, Yom HaShoa and Yom HaZikaron. But that – of course – changed on the morning of October 7th. For the next 18 days the gates of the zoo were shut. Thanks in no small part to the “Double Impact” program, however, the zoo was able to reopen, and has emerged as a source of solace and life here in Jerusalem.