The Uniqueness of Israel
An Introduction to the Neighbourhood of Nachlaot
Nachlaot is one of Jerusalem’s oldest and most interesting neighbourhoods and if you are spending your gap year in Jerusalem then you will certainly get to know the area as it is also home to the Aardvark building.
The neighbourhood’s history dates back to the 1870s when Jewish communities first began to move outside of the Old City walls. Technically, Nachlaot is actually a collection of thirty-two small neighbourhoods, each of which was built by a different Diaspora community and each has its own subtle differences. For much of its history, Nachlaot was a very poor area until the 1990s when it was chosen to be renovated using government grants and loans.
By the turn of the millennium, Nachlaot had over 400 beautifully renovated homes and it was also home to one of Jerusalem’s main parks, Gan Sakkar. However, when renovating the area, the residents were careful to retain the neighbourhood’s character and you will see many historical and protected buildings marked by plaques. The renovation work has continued to this day, and it is now a beautiful area with many lovingly restored buildings.
Over the years there have been a number of famous residents of Nachlaot including Yitzchak Navon, Israel’s fifth president, and the Banai brothers, two much loved Israeli musicians. If you visit the community centre then you will find a fantastic photo exhibition about the neighbourhood’s most famous residents.
A major feature of Nachlaot is the huge number of synagogues in its streets; there are over 100 of them, each belonging to different communities such as the Yemenite, Kurdish, Greek, Sephardi, and Galician synagogues. Many of them have been restored and you should definitely take the time to visit some of them. A standout example is the Ades Synagogue, built by Syrian immigrants from Aleppo in 1901. The ark is particularly impressive thanks to its intricate geometric designs that are carved from wood and inlaid with mother of pearl, it was brought from Damascus and is truly one of a kind.
Today’s residents of Nachlaot are a very mixed bunch. For a long while, the area was very affordable and attracted a large number of artists and musicians, as well as young religious immigrants from the USA. While it is no longer as affordable as it once was, the area has kept its character and it is home to an enjoyable juxtaposition of the arts and religion. You can’t help but notice this as you walk the neighbourhood’s streets, you will see street art and murals amongst the many, many synagogues.
One feature of the neighbourhood you certainly won’t be able to avoid is the Mahane Yehude market. This outdoor market is a hub of activity, in addition to buying all of your groceries there at prices far cheaper than almost anywhere else, you will also find that it is packed with bars, restaurants, cafes, and more.
There are many examples of areas in Jerusalem that are packed with character and history, but Nachlaot is probably one of the best examples. Exploring the area’s streets is a truly special experience and you are bound to enjoy getting to know the neighbourhood during your gap program in Israel.