There isn’t a whole lot that I haven’t seen in Jerusalem, though I’m always surprised to see something new. I’ve always been curious about the Nachlaot neighborhood and took a tour there with a guide who used to live there. Yossi was a charming young British man who has lived in Israel for 9 years, most of that time in Jerusalem, and for about 5 years in Nachlaot. Nachlaot is a neighborhood of narrow alleys right smack in the middle of Jerusalem and you might not even notice it is there unless someone takes you. (Note just noticed this was never published/sent even though I’ve been home for a couple of weeks). Sorry about that.
A bit of background, in the mid to late 1800s the Ottoman Turks began to make life difficult for Jews in Jerusalem and they began to seek other places to live while remaining close to their roots and holy places. Hence the Nachlaot came to be.
This is a typical tourist map for Jerusalem today. The red area of the old city is where EVERYONE lived in the 1800s. The rest of what you see on this map was built after that time. The population of Jerusalem at the end of the 19th century was 20,000. In 2003 total population was close to 700,000.
This is a perfect view to show how these neighborhoods, which meander from one to the other are right in the center of the city. When Jews no longer felt comfortable in the Old City they moved outside the walls, though you can see this is a compound with an arched entrance at the far end. If you look on the map you’ll see a large green area to the west. These neighborhoods are the meandering alleys on the map between that green area and Ben Yedudah Street. Outside the walls of the old city people felt vulnerable to wild beasts, bandits, and many many many rats. Hence, the British introduction of cats which have multiplied beyond belief throughout the city of Jerusalem.
An ingenious way to prevent buildings from collapsing in earthquakes- the eyeglass style bolts holding the building together somehow. This is exactly the kind of thing I would never notice without a guide.
The alley where Rabbi Aryeh Lev lived. This rabbi was a humble man who was truly righteous. The story goes that a former pupil would see him walking and run away every time he saw the rabbi coming. When Rabbi Lev finally cornered him one day, the pupil said, “I didn’t want you to know that I am no longer religious and have become an atheist.” Rabbi Lev reassured him that he did not think any less of him for that, we are all human beings, holy to G-d.
The Gemach: one of my favorite things in the religious Jewish community is the Gemach- it’s like a free store. Anyone can come in and get/leave what they want/don’t need anymore. No money is exchanged. Gemachs exist for goods you might need (extra chairs for a party, boxes for moving, and even a snake catcher in my daughter’s neighborhood).
Sephardic synagogue financed by Moses Monefiore a British financier who very generously established Nachlaot outside the old city walls. At its height these neighborhoods boasted 400 synagogues in one square mile (the most in the world for such a small area).
The charity slot on the outside of the synagogue. The slots along the top (left to right) say charity, gemach, anonymous donations, oil for lights (paying the PGE bill…)
If you ever saw the film “Ushpizim” this is where it was filmed. Worth seeing. This is the neighborhood of the people from Munkatch (sp?) Hungary, an important Jewish community that managed to make it to Israel unlike many of their fellow Hungarian Jews and resettle together in one of the Nahlaot.
Perfect example of something you would walk right by- the white structure in the front with the corrugated top is a bread bakery. Orthodox Jews don’t cook on the Sabbath and prepare everything ahead of time. When the bread was done on Fridays people brought their Sabbath food to leave inside the bakery to keep it warm over the Sabbath time. In exchange the baker got a sample of each person’s food.
This looks like a decorated dumpster but it’s really a geniza- a place where you leave old books that you no longer want and any papers that have the name of G-d on them for proper disposal/burial.
Stained glass window seen through the grate of a synagogue window.
Most unusual synagogue is in the neighborhood bomb shelter. Our guide attended here when he lived in the neighborhood and described an eclectic mix of participants. These neighborhoods have been home to Jewish people from all over the world and from many different backgrounds all coexisting peacefully and in a cooperative manner. How unusual.
Most unusual of all, Kol Rina is likely to be one of the smallest synagogues in the world.
Always nice to meet a local- this man’s family came from Yemen 7 generations ago and has lived in Nachlaot his whole life. As is often the case he talked about how things “ain’t what they used to be”. This was a low income group of communities all living together peacefully and the area has now gentrified. What else is new?
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2 thoughts on “Sometimes it pays to have a guide”
Thank you Mina. I look forward to reading this!
Sorry- just saw this…enjoy!