A visit to Jerusalem Neighborhoods

Mamilla

The Mamilla neighborhood was established in 1890 by Muslim and Christian Arabs, later in the 1920s they were joined by Jewish residents. The neighborhood is located west of the Old City near the Jaffa Gate. Mamilla was a thriving commercial and business area with several municipal buildings including the first post office built outside the Old City walls. When the 1948 Arab-Israeli War (War of Liberation) broke out the neighborhood suffered heavy shelling and many of the buildings were destroyed or damaged. From 1948 to 1967 and the Six Day War, Mamilla found itself along the armistice line between the Israelis and Jordanians. The area became deserted and rundown as a result it was inhabited only by the poorest residents of Jerusalem.

An urban renewal project gave the area a new lease on life with sections being designated residential and others commercial. Mamilla experienced a full make-over and today is one of the up-and-coming luxury areas of the city. Within the neighborhood are several historic landmarks including a historic Mamluk cemetery where the Mamilla Pool Mamilla Pool is located, this was one of three reservoirs constructed under Herod in the 1st century BC. The cemetery is the site of the controversial Museum of Tolerance which is not yet competed. Visitors to Mamilla can see the Stern House, where Theodore Herzl stayed during his visit to the city in 1898. The house was built in 1877 and the room where Herzl stayed has been turned into to museum with photos of Herzl, documents and artifacts. Public demand insured that the house was preserved even when it stood on prime real estate. Today the Stern House is located in the Mamilla Mall between a café and a book store.

Video by tour guide Zahi Shaked 

The resurgence of Mamilla really kicked off in 1990 when a number of prestigious projects were developed in the area. Mamilla is divided into four areas. David’s Village, now known as King David’s Residence, is a luxury gated community with the public areas designed to blend with the ancient architecture of the Old City.

The Mamilla Mall has multi-storey underground parking, an open air mall boulevard (Alrov Mamilla Avenue) which leads to the Old City and a number of buildings with 3 to 6 stories used for various functions. The mall has been likened to Rodeo Drive as it is home to many luxury brand stores. On one end there are terraced residential buildings and on the other two luxury hotels. The Mamilla Hotel is one of the most luxurious hotels in the city; it overlooks the Old City and has a stunning roof top outdoor lounge and restaurant.

Yemin Moshe Neighborhood

Yemin Moshe

The Yemin Moshe neighborhood is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Jerusalem; it is located just outside the Old City walls, close to Mount Zion, south-east of the ancient Old City. Yemin Moshe is named after the philanthropist Moshe Montefiore, and the literal translation is “Right Hand of Moshe.” Moshe Montifiore, an influential British Jew died in 1885 but his foundation financed the settlement of this neighborhood in his memory. Yemin Moshe was established in 1891 for a group of 130 Jews who decided to venture out of the protective Old City walls to establish a new neighborhood. The conditions inside the walls were becoming progressively cramped and unsanitary, while beyond the walls the settlers would be at the mercy of Arab marauders. For this reason the original homes built in Yemin Moshe had walls surrounding them and gates which were locked at night. As the conditions within the walls became more unbearable, and diseases like cholera were rampant more people wanted to move into Yemin Moshe.

Playlist of Yemin Mosh tour videos by tour guide Zahi Shaked 

One of the landmark structures in the neighborhood, and one which all visitors to Jerusalem notice as they drive past, is the distinctive and rather incongruous windmill. At the time the Montefiore Windmill was a necessity, to provide the community with flour and make them less reliant on charity. In addition to the windmill Montefiore financed a printing press and textile factory as well as several agricultural endeavors. The new community was hindered by Ottoman laws which forbade the sale of land to non-Muslims.

Yemin Moshe can be visited together with the adjacent Moshkenot She’enanim (Peaceful Habitation); the first Jewish houses built outside the Old City walls in 1860. They consisted of two rows of houses with two floors; there were 28 apartments each with 1 and a half rooms on the lower floor and a hospital, community center, bakery and synagogues on the upper levels. The community also had a water cistern which provided water through an iron pump; a ritual bath (mikvah) and a communal oven.

Today visitors to Yemin Moshe can explore the windmill both inside and out, and see informative exhibit about the settlement beyond the Old City walls. Moshkenot She’enanim has been fully restored and houses the Jerusalem Music Center, Jerusalem Center for Ethics and a guesthouse for visiting international artists. The prestigious neighborhood has beautiful stone buildings from the 1890s and quaint gardens and Alley ways.

Rehavia

RehaviaRehavia is one of Jerusalem’s neighborhoods; it is a quaint and charming upscale area between the city center and Talbiya with She’ary Hessed to the west and Nachlaot to the north. Rehavia was established in the 1920s when Jerusalem was expanding and new settlements were being built for the ever growing number of residents. German architect Richard Kaufmann was commissioned to create the neighborhood modeled after the garden cities of Europe. The narrow streets were deliberately constructed this way to deter large vehicles and keep the neighborhood peaceful. Trees were planted the length of the neighborhood’s main streets like European avenues. The neighborhood maintains its village feel as the buildings cannot be more than four levels high and the surrounding areas are rich with greenery and trees. The rich foliage has earned Rehavia the name “Garden City.” The stone homes, many of which are 90 years old, add to the neighborhood’s charm. Rehavia is not far from the Old City and has been compared to New York’s Upper West Side of Manhattan because of the vibrant atmosphere and many English speaking residents and vacationers.

Rehavia is a popular choice for those staying in vacation rentals as you can immerse yourself in the true Jerusalem neighborhood life. The busiest street of Rehavia is Gaza Street it is a dynamic area of cafes, bars, restaurants and stores. Two of the most popular establishments are the Humus Shop and the Rehavia Sushi and Restaurant Bar. For more shopping there is HaPalmach shopping area where there are grocery stores, shops and restaurants.

Rehavia has been home to many of Israel’s most famous personalities including David Ben-Gurion, Arthur Ruppin, Golda Meir and Daniel Auster. Exiled Ethiopian leader, Haile Selassie stayed in Rehavia when he arrived in Israel in 1936. The attractions of Rehavia include the Ratisbone Monastery, the Prime Minister’s official residence (Agion House) and the famous windmill on Ramban Street. However most visitors don’t come to Rehavia for the attractions but rather looking for a relaxed, village feel and accommodation in historic homes full of character.

Mea Shearim

Mea Shearim is one of Jerusalem’s oldest neighborhoods and is inhabited by Orthodox Hassidic Jews who still live according to ancient laws. The neighborhood was one of the first settlements outside of the Old City walls, established by a society of 100 shareholders who were part of the Yishuv HaYashan. The Yishuv HaYashan consisted of Jewish communities living during the Ottoman period who settled in Palestine prior to 1882. These communities were almost all ultra-orthodox Jews, and many of the present day Mea Shearim residents can trace their ancestry back to the original settlers from Eastern Europe. The neighborhood was designed by Conrad Schick, one of the city’s best loved architects in 1846 and established in 1874; in 1880 the first 100 homes were assigned to families according to lots. By 1900 there were 300 homes in the settlement.

The name Mea Shearim (hundred gates or a hundred fold) was derived from the Torah portion which was read the week the settlement was founded: “Isaac sowed in that land, and in that year he reaped a hundredfold; God had blessed him” (Genesis 26:12). Another source of the name could be that the many gates and doorways I the labyrinth of narrow lanes. Mea Shearim was built as a traditional courtyard community with enclosing walls which were locked at night.

Today the residents of Mea Shearim live a simple life, with very little contact with the outside world. You won’t find TVs, bars, modern music or restaurants in Mea Shearim and not even much Hebrew as the residents choose to speak Yiddish, the language of their ancestors. Life here revolves around religious studies and living a poise life. The neighborhood has many synagogues and on Saturday there is no traffic or electrical devices used in Mea Shearim.

Due to the traditional lifestyle of the community and their desire to strictly observe Jewish law certain guidelines must be followed when visiting the neighborhood. In particular a dress code of long sleeves, long skirts, closed neck lines and loose fitting clothing for women should be observed. On the street walls you may see signs that read: ” To women and girls who pass through our neighborhood, we beg you with all our hearts – Please Do Not Pass Through Our Neighborhood In Immodest Clothes-please do not disturb the sanctity of our neighborhood and our way of life as Jews committed to G-d and his Torah.” What may seem modest to you may very likely not fit with the Mae Shearim community’s idea of appropriate dress. The female residents you will see here wear wigs or head coverings if married and simple shoes, thick stockings, long skirts, long sleeves and high necklines. The men in Mea Shearim usually wear traditional black frock coats or black suites with a hat or yamaka.

In addition to your mode of dress the community of Mea Shearim asks that you not smoke, photograph or use mobile phones when in the neighborhood. It is a good idea to visit during the week and not on Saturday when the community is at rest. Visiting Mea Shearim is an unforgettable experience; here you will truly get a glimpse into how Jerusalem was 100 years ago.

Nachlaot

NachlaotNachlaot District is one of the quaintest in Jerusalem, it consists of 32 small neighborhood including Mishkenot Yisrael, Mazkeret Moshe, Sukkat Shalom, Shevet Ahim, Ohel Moshe and Nahalat Ahim. The district has narrow winding lanes, hidden courtyard homes and historic houses; it is a village within a city only minutes from many famous sites. Nachlaot has a unique blend of Yemenite, Syrian, Iraqi, French and Iranian Jewish residents who enjoy the quaint and historic surroundings. Like many of Jerusalem’s older areas Nachlaot has been gentrified and the restored, quaint historic homes are now in high demand. Recent restoration work in the area has included the addition of information plaques on many of the historic buildings and courtyards.

The Nachlaot neighborhoods were established outside the Old City walls in the 1870s when conditions within the walls had become over crowded. Some of the first Jewish residents were Syrian immigrants who constructed the Ades Synagogue in 1901. The classic interior of the synagogue has murals dating back to 1911 representing the 12 Tribes of Israel. The synagogue is famed for its liturgical singing (hazzanut). For a real treat visit the synagogue in winter during the early hours of the morning on a Saturday to hear the traditional Baqashot (kabalistic sung poetry).

At one point Nachlaot had an estimated 300 synagogues and today the neighborhood still boasts about 100 places of worship. To experience the spiritual side of Nachlaot you can attend the Friday night services at the Kol Rina Synagogue or the Kabbalat Shabbat service at the N’vei Shalom Synagogue. At Reshimu you can join in Friday night prayers under the stars with Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz. At the Zoharei Hama Synagogue you can see a large sundial on the face of the building and two mechanical clocks showing the time in Europe and Israel. The Or Zaruaa Synagogue (1926) is a National Historic Preservation Site is another interesting place of worship in Nachlaot neighborhoods.

Video by tour guide Zahi Shaked 

Among the sites of Nachlaot is Mahane Yehuda, the large outdoor market, which strictly speaking is just outside the neighborhood. Here you can get fresh product, sample specialty foods and enjoy famous market restaurants. Nachlaot has several small art galleries and artist’s studios. The Barbur Gallery hosts temporary exhibitions by contemporary artists as well as musical performances, screenings and other cultural events. Among the cobbled streets and stone houses are many small cafes and unique restaurants.

The best way to see Nachlaot is to simply wander the narrow streets and enjoy the ambiance and interesting sites along the way. If you want to explore the area alone start at Agrippa Street and meander through the streets in the direction of Jaffa Road ending up at the Mahane Yehuda market.  It is possible to take a walking tour of the neighborhood and stop off at many of the above mentioned sites.