Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Israel Odyssey Day 8 Nahala'ot (part 1)

The neighborhood of Nahala'ot was one of my two favorite areas of Jerusalem (the other being the Old City, and especially the Kotel). It's a neighborhood rich in history and tradition, and a street photographer's paradise - especially the covered street market called Machaneh Yehudah. Showing the area to its greatest advantage will require several blog posts. For the purposes of this post here's some information (I suggest a search on Wikipedia for more).

In 1867 Mark Twain wrote of his travels in the Middle East in a book entitled Innocents Abroad. He wrote with his usual acerbic whit in describing the walled old city of Jerusalem (the walls were built in the early 1500's by the Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent): 'It seems to me that all the races and colors and tongues of the earth must be represented among the fourteen thousand souls that dwell in Jerusalem. Rags, wretchedness, poverty and dirt, those signs and symbols that indicate the presence of Moslem rule more surely than the crescent-flag itself abound. Lepers, cripples, the blind, and the idiotic assail you on every hand, and they know but one word of but one language apparently - the eternal "bucksheesh". To see the numbers of maimed, malformed and diseased humanity that throng the holy places and obstruct the gates, one might suppose that the ancient days had come again, and that the angel of death was expected to descend at any moment to stir the waters of Bethesda. Jerusalem is mournful, and dreary, and lifeless. I would not desire to live here.'

The conditions were so awful that when Sir Moses Montefiore visited he determined that the only way for civilization to progress was to begin to build outside the walls. He financially supported the founding of Maskeret Moshe (memorial to Moses) as a neighborhood for Ashkenazi Jews, and of an adjacent neighborhood called Ohel Moshe for Sephardic Jews. Both of these areas have been integrated into the area of Jerusalem now called Nahala'ot.

The neighborhood is mostly residential with narrow streets and alleys. All of the buildings - as in all of Jerusalem proper - are constructed of Jerusalem Stone (albeit of varying quality), which gives the city a pleasing overall look.

 One of the main thoroughfares is Agrippa Street which is filled with commercial stores, and forms one border of the Machine Yehudi covered market (much more on that in subsequent posts).

There are many small synagogues in the neighborhood. One that was particularly striking was Hessed Verahamim, a sephardic synagogue that at one time was a pub. The doors are covered with 12 silver plates illustrating the twelve biblical tribes of the Israelites.