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Jerusalem Strolls: Yemin Moshe and Mishkenot Sha'ananim

by michael April 28 2008
Jerusalem strollsThings to do

yemin_moshe_jerusalem_12.jpg

What are the two oldest and loveliest West Jerusalem neighborhoods that also happen to be apparently deserted most of the year?

Come on, give it a shot...

No, not Nachlaot...no, it definitely ain't the German Colony...

Look up at the title...

That's right: Yemin Moshe and Mishkenot Sha'ananim.

Yemin Moshe ("The Right Hand of Moses") was named not after the sea-splitting liberator with whom you may be familiar, but after a much more recent figure who, in his own way, guided just about as many Jews to the Holy Land as his white-bearded Biblical namesake did: Moses Montefiore. Montefiore, an Italian Sephardi Jew who became an extraordinarily wealthy and respected businessman in London (to the point of being knighted and receiving a baronetcy), spent a great portion of his long life in an effort to revitalize and encourage settlement in the Land of Israel. When Montefiore arrived in the Land on the first of his many lengthy trips there, the entirety of the Jewish community of Jerusalem was squeezed into the cramped Jewish quarter. By the time he died in 1885 at the age of one hundred, several thriving Jewish neighborhoods existed outside the walls of the Old City in what would become modern West Jerusalem - all due to Montefiore's abundant largess and abundant vision.

The first of these neighborhoods was Yemin Moshe, symbolized by its mighty windmill, a structure which, for all its grandeur, never actually worked. The neighborhood around it was first inhabited by the mostly-poor former residents of the Jewish Quarter, but as time went on and Jerusalem expanded, this prime land with its incredible views of the Old City became more and more lucrative, and while the quaint character of Yemin Moshe remained unchanged, the same could not be said for its property values. Thus Yemin Moshe and its outgrowth Mishkenot Sha'ananim ("Serene Dwellings") turned into the domain of the wealthiest of Jerusalemites.

But just because you can't afford to live there doesn't mean you can't enjoy it. A walk through these neighborhoods is a walk through the beginning chapter of modern Jerusalem - these humble alleys a stone's throw away from the walls of the Old City are the precursor of nearly everything behind you, from Ben Yehuda to the bus station. Start in true Jerusalemite style with a picnic in the large, grassy park in Yemin Moshe that overlooks the Old City, where you'll doubtless encounter Jerusalem residents of all faiths enjoying the weather and view. Then stop inside Montefiore's windmill for an intimate look at the life of the man who created your surroundings. And then just endeavor to get lost in the winding alleys and steep terraces of Yemin Moshe and Mishkenot Sha'ananim. You probably won't bother anyone - many of the homes are empty for much of the year since their owners live abroad and use them for vacation residences.

Photo of Yemin Moshe courtesy of bdnegin from flickr under a creative commons license.

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