Nachlaot is one of Jerusalem’s most interesting areas. A cluster of neighborhoods in the center of the city, Nachlaot is characterized by its narrow, windy lanes, quaint, stone houses, and pretty, hidden-away courtyards, and was originally built in the 1870s by Jews looking to escape the increasingly crowded and noisy Old City. In recent years, Nachlaot has grown to become one of Jerusalem’s most popular neighborhoods having been hugely gentrified over the past thirty or so years, and taking an hour or two to stroll through the streets, you can understand why.
Nachlaot was once an intensely religious place, said at one time to have the highest concentration of synagogues in the world (with 300 in the radius of a few blocks) which served both the Ashkenazi (European) Jews and those from the Ottoman lands who originally founded the community.
Nachlaot as seen from the Israeli Supreme Court by Brian Negin, on Flickr
Over time, Nachlaot became densely populated and eventually, relatively run down. As older residents moved out and the government provided grants to improve the neighborhood, into the area moved artists and musicians, as well as a large number of young religious Jews from the USA. The result is a relaxed haven of creativity with a religious twist. Of the 300 synagogues that were once here, now, only 100 or so remain, and hippie-esque and deeply traditional religious societies juxtapose each other, peacefully coexisting. Today, you will still see many of the original stone houses which are often dedicated to their first owners with plaques containing pictures and a brief history.
On a map, you might find only the individual neighborhoods that make up Nachlaot: Mishkenot Yisrael, Ohel Moshe, Mazkeret Moshe, Zichron Yosef, Sukkat Shalom, Zichron Yaakov, Shevet Ahim and Nahalat Ahim. These, in reality, fuse into one another seamlessly, and if you decide to take a stroll through the narrow, quiet streets (as is the best way to experience the area), you will have an immensely memorable experience taking in the architecture, the people, the smells and sounds, and the contrasts.
At festival times, especially Sukkot and Hanukkah, Nachlaot is an even more fascinating place to walk, with ornaments decorating the streets – lulav, etrog, and sukkahs at Sukkot, and Menorahs lighting up the windows of the homes at Hanukkah.