As Jerusalem’s Israel Museum unveils its entire 20-acre campus after a three-year, $100 million renovation, director James Snyder opens his little black book on the Holy Land.

Credit: Ariel Jerozolimsk

During his 14 years at the recently renovated Israel Museum, James Snyder has helped shape the institution into the Middle East’s most important repository of biblical and modern art. Case in point: A restored 18th-century synagogue from Suriname is juxtaposed with new works by Anish Kapoor and Olafur Eliasson. “The Israel Museum helps deliver a message about common heritage,” says Snyder, formerly of New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. “The fact that we present our treasures from the vantage point of Jerusalem makes what we do that much more consequential.” A Pittsburgh native, he has become a go-to source for the region’s lesser-known spots. Here, some of his favorite local experiences.


“At the Ottoman-era Jaffa Flea Market, in Tel Aviv, you can find remnants of Israel’s successive waves of immigration. I buy vintage items such as 1920’s light fixtures, and we always stop for lunch at Dr. Shakshuka (lunch for two $20), for shakshuka (a Tunisian egg, tomato, and red pepper stew) or the Old Man and the Sea (83 Kedem St.; 972-3/681-8699; lunch for two $30), for grilled fish.”

Arab Cuisine

“The large 13th-century Arab town of Umm al Fahm lies between Tel Aviv and Haifa. On the highway just across from the town’s entrance is Al Babor (Ein Ibrahim Junction; 972-4/611-0691; dinner for two $40), where you’ll want to try the rice-stuffed roast leg of lamb.”

Food Market

“Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda (Jaffa Rd. and Agrippas St.), on the shop-lined Jaffa Road, is where everyone goes for fruits and vegetables. It’s a melting pot of social and cultural commerce. For lunch I always order a chopped salad with feta, peppers, onions, and olives and a side of house-made hummus at Café Mizrachi (12 Shezif St.; 972-2/624-2105; lunch for two $20), an informal restaurant in the heart of the market.”

Dinner with a View

“Nataf is a settlement in a small valley outside of Jerusalem, near the Arab village of Abu Ghosh. At Rama’s Kitchen (Nataf; 972-2/570-0954; dinner for two $65), everything is anchored around a taboon [stone oven]. I love the baked breads and whole fish. The veranda at Rama’s overlooks the Mediterranean and the West Bank’s Judean Hills.”


“The Church of the Redeemer (24 Muristan Rd.; 972-2/626-6800) is an 1898 Lutheran church around the corner from the better-known Church of the Holy Sepulcher. While the latter is dark and mysterious, the Redeemer is inspired by light. To see where Old City meets new, climb the 186 stairs to the top of its tower.”


“I love to head 60 miles north of Jerusalem to visit the ruins of Capernaum. I always check into Hotel Spa Mizpe Hayamim (Rosh Pina; 972-4/699-4555;; doubles from $400), a resort with a farm that supplies its two restaurants.”


“Nazareth is best known for its Christian sites, but it’s also one of Israel’s most vibrant Arab cities. Stop at El Babour (HaBankim St.; 972-4/645-5596), a family-owned mill that’s been grinding thousands of grains and herbs for more than a century.”

Dr. Shakshuka

Stop here for shakshuka (a Tunisian egg, tomato, and red pepper stew).