Who’s Who on the Train to Jerusalem

“The Train to Jerusalem” was a performance and workshop for all ages at the First Station in Jerusalem and the David’s Tower Museum. In a Train Theater production for the International Puppetry Festival in Jerusalem, 2013, stories about world leaders who came to Jerusalem by train and influenced its destiny presented the history of the city through contemporary artistic and theatrical means.

For 70 years after the tracks to Jerusalem were laid in 1892, riding the train was the fastest way to get to Jerusalem. Everyone rode the train, poor peddlers alongside heads of state. Theodor Herzl came to Jerusalem in 1898 to chase down Kaiser Wilhelm II in order to recruit the German emperor to the idea of a Jewish state. To his regret, Herzl did not meet Wilhelm in Jerusalem and he was also disappointed by the city itself, where he encountered “Hideous, miserable, scrambling beggary,” as he wrote in his diary. “If Jerusalem is ever ours, and if I were still able to do anything about it,” he noted, “I would begin by cleaning it up  and I would build an airy, comfortable, properly sewered, brand new city around the holy places.”

In 1900, Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf arrived in Jerusalem by train and she too was shocked by the filth and the poverty. For her novel “Jerusalem,” which was about Swedes who came to live in the city, she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1909. In 1936, Emperor Haile Selassie alighted from the train in Jerusalem. It was his first stop as an exile from his country, which had been occupied by Fascist Italy. He rented a villa in Rehavia and had a pleasant time in Mandatory Jerusalem, This stay was also the start of his wonderful friendship with the Jews of Israel.

Through the simple means of color and paper and the advanced means of video and a projector, participants in the workshop brought 100 years of Jerusalem’s surprising history, its inhabitants and its dramas to life.