Twice a week, on Sundays and Fridays, we invite you to join us on a tour of the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem. This neighborhood is home to Judaism’s most insular, pious Jews who try, as much as possible, to maintain the lifestyle and customs of their ancestors.
Mea Shearim is located a few blocks away from The POST but it’s actually worlds away in terms of lifestyle, outlook and culture. The neighborhood was named “Mea Shearim — One Hundred Gates — due to the countless doorways and gates that form clusters of dwellings.
In the 1800s it was dangerous for Jews to live outside the “secure” Old City walls. The early settlers of Mea Shearim were brave in trying to establish a new neighborhood. Entering or leaving the neighborhood could be done through only six gates – these gates were sealed shut at nightfall.
Over time the area became home to mainly ultra-Orthodox Jews whose piety created a need for seclusion. Mea Shearim’s residents have very little contact with the rest of the world, or even with the rest of the city. Residents adhere to ultra-Orthodox Judaism in its most stringent form. Men generally wear black suits or long black coats and on their heads they wear fur shtreimels (on the Sabbath or holidays) or black hats (weekdays).
Married women wear head coverings – scarves or wigs – and all women and girls wear thick stockings, shirts with long sleeves and high necks and skirts that go well below their knee.
Families are big – a dozen children or more is not unusual. Visitors can see the signs that are posted by the entrances to Mea Shearim that request that visitors adhere to modest dress.
From Mea Shearim we will be entering the Musrara neighborhood which is located nearby.
Musrara was founded by Christian Arabs in the late 19th century. It was cut in half during the War of Independence. The Israeli side was populated by Jewish refugees from North African countries. The residents of Musrara were subjected to daily sniper attacks from Jordanian soldiers who were stationed on the Jordanian side of No Man’s Land, across the border.
The architecture of the quarter is unique and includes old home with beautiful masonry, tile roofs and grand entrances. Today Musrara has become a center of art. There are 3 art schools and a School of Oriental Music. Sometimes there are open-air concerts and you can often see the musicians practicing in the street during the day. We will also visit some of the quarter’s art galleries.
Ethiopian Orthodox Church
Our final stop will be the Ethiopian Orthodox Church on Ethiopia Street. Kidrane Mehret is the largest and the most distinctive Ethiopian site in Israel. Emperor Yohannes IV donated the money to build it at the end of the 19th century. The compound includes a monastery and a circular church structure.
The Ethiopian Church was a pilgrimage site for Ethiopian Christians who would come to visit during the holidays. It was maintained by a small community of Ethiopian exiles. Today, many of the site’s visitors are Eritrean refugees who have found refuge in Israel and want to worship at a church that adheres to their ethnic customs and traditions. The influx has reinvigorated the Church and made it into a vibrant religious center.