Jerusalem Market Neighborhoods

Exploring the ancient neighborhoods of Jerusalem through the winding streets named for heroes of centuries past-all on your way to Mahaneh Yehuda market!

Yehosef Schwart Street in Jerusalem (photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
Yehosef Schwart Street in Jerusalem
(photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
Not many Jerusalem streets are named for women – biblical or otherwise. That’s why I was surprised to run into a lane named for Gitel Dinewitz – “Woman of Valor: One of the Defenders of Jerusalem” – while researching an article on this city’s relatively unknown neighborhoods.
It turns out that in the early years of the 20th century, Dinewitz owned a grocery store on the Street of the Jews in the Old City. During the First World War, when Jews and Arabs alike were starving in the Old City streets, she was one of the very few with stocks of food who did not jack up the prices and take advantage of their distress.
That would, perhaps, be enough to award her a street of her own. But she was also active during the British Mandate, when she hosted members of the Hagana and hid their “illegal” weapons.
Get a look at the sign for yourself, as you take a very special stroll that begins and ends across from the Mahaneh Yehuda market on Jaffa Road. You will be moving through four different Jerusalem neighborhoods – quite possibly for the very first time! Start by walking down Navon Street, which runs between a lottery kiosk and a row of inexpensive shops which on weekdays display outdoor racks of clothes going for NIS 12, NIS 20 and NIS 25.
The street is named for Joseph Navon Bey, born into a wealthy and influential Sephardi Jerusalem family. Banker, entrepreneur and real estate mogul, he was awarded the honorary title of “Bey” (great) by the Ottoman authorities for initiating the railroad that began running between Jaffa and Jerusalem in 1892.
Four synagogues are located within a few meters of one another along this narrow street, and you will be stopping next to all but one.
The first two are frequented by Jews with Babylonian (Iraqi) roots and operate in concert with each another: Yad Mordechai at No. 8 is only a few decades old; Minhat Yehuda next door dates back to 1945, when it was named after Rabbi Yehuda Fetaya.
A famous Baghdad-born Jerusalem kabbalist and mystic, he delved deep into the occult: some believe that he was responsible for the British defeat of the Germans at the 1942 Battle of El Alamein! In 1927, Rabbi Yosef Haim Sharim built the Od Yosef Hai synagogue down the block. At the time, it was called Magen Avraham for the deceased son of the Calcutta woman who donated money for its construction.
Rabbi Sharim, who was born in Aleppo, Syria, in 1851 but immigrated with his family as a toddler, met the woman during his 52 years as a representative of Jerusalem’s Sephardi leadership in the Diaspora. After the death of this well respected Jewish scholar in 1949, his children renovated the synagogue and renamed it after their father.
Navon Street stands on the western edge of the Mahaneh Yehuda neighborhood which you will be exploring later on.
It also marks the eastern border of the Shaare Zedek (Gates of Righteousness) neighborhood, founded in 1889 by Yosef Rivlin.
Rivlin, who established Nahalat Shiva as the third neighborhood outside the Old City walls in 1869, was also instrumental in the creation of Beit David (1873), Mea She’arim (1874), and Zichron Tuvia (1891).
Sha’arei Tzedek (“Gates of Righteousness)” is a courtyard neighborhood, whose mainly one-story houses were built around a large, open, community yard with a public cistern. Its name comes from Psalms 118:19 – “Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.”
Turn left at the first lane and then right to enter the courtyard and view the surrounding houses – some of them still the charming, or renovated, originals.
Someone has thoughtfully placed a bench under the large mulberry tree, which stands next to a Sussita – an Israeli-made car popular in the 1960s that is gathering an awful lot of dust! As you walk back, take note of the unusual doors on your right. Then, directly in front of you and almost covered by construction, you will see a wall with an arched window.
Sha’arei Tzedek, the adjacent Ohel Shlomo and Sha’arei Yerushalayim next door, were all built in the late 19th century as the closest neighborhoods to the city’s entrance. So when the municipality decided to construct the light rail, a problem arose: the route ran right through them. Houses lining Jaffa Road were demolished, together with their graceful arches and lovely window frames.
To remind us of what the street looked like for over a century, however, city fathers put up a concrete “memorial” along Jaffa Road. Located right next to the railroad tracks, it features some of the actual door and window frames. This arch is a small reminder as well.
Back on the lane, turn right and immediately enter charming little Ohel Shlomo, established in 1891. Its founder was Yitzhak Lipkin, illustrious ancestor of the former chief of staff and cabinet minister, the late Amnon Lipkin-Shahak.
Yitzhak Lipkin was a Russian immigrant who disliked the handouts popular at the time and encouraged people to work for a living instead. He also made it easy to buy houses, offering low-return loans for the 50 two-room dwellings located around an open courtyard. (The neighborhood was not named for King Solomon but for Lipkin’s business partner Shlomo Mizrahi.) When you reach a rusty door with multiple Jewish stars at the end of the alley, turn right into ever-narrowing byways. Go left on the short street named for Gitel Dinewitz, and again left into a parking lot.
Keep going and at the end turn right onto a path lined on both sides with lush foliage.
If you are tired, you can now rest on a bench in Ohel Shlomo’s charming park, perfectly quiet except for the sound of an occasional train. A section of the back wall, which you can explore at your leisure from Jaffa Road, holds the concrete “memorial” to those splendid old-time facades.
Back on the path, turn the corner (where someone painted the words “Ohel Shlomo” in green) and follow the sidewalk to pass one of the enormous red urban installations called Warda (Rose/flower), a recycling plant and Navon Street where you started out.
Enter Valero Square.
You are about to explore the Mahaneh Yehuda neighborhood, established by Joseph Navon and two partners long before the official inauguration of the fruit and vegetable market on the other side of Jaffa Road.
Plans for building the neighborhood were formulated in 1882, when Navon advertised that land was available for anyone: Sephardi, Ashkenazi or Moroccan. However, there weren’t a lot of takers and construction didn’t begin until 1887. Things moved rapidly after that, and by the end of 1888, 50 houses had already been completed.
Valero Plaza is named for one of the most important Jerusalemites of his time.
Haim Aharon Valero was born in 1845, three years before his father, Jacob, a ritual slaughterer, bravely opened the first private bank in Palestine.
At the age of 15, Haim began clerking in the flourishing bank, became manager of the Jerusalem branch at 30, and took over the entire business after his brother died a few years later.
Not only was the Valero Bank heavily involved in purchasing land and developing Jerusalem while he was in charge, but Haim Valero was one of the city’s biggest donors.
The first thing you see on the plaza wall is a faucet, inside the old neighborhood cistern. Next are signs with information about Valero, along with fascinating 19thcentury photographs.
Amble behind the wall to Meyuhas Street and almost immediately look right.
The painted wall before you is one side of the large community oven that served the neighborhood for many decades.
Over time, when no longer needed, the wall became a public urinal. Fortunately the neighbors decided to rid themselves of this eyesore. They planted a garden right next to the oven, and put up a rail.
Then someone painted the side, adding the word “oven” in Hebrew and Arabic and creating a great bit of street art.
Continue on Meyuhas Street, passing the brightly colored doors of a falafel stand, and turn right at the next lane.
Follow it left under an arch and continue left onto Moshe Gaon Street.
You have entered Sha’arei Shalom, a group of 30 houses constructed in 1892 in an empty field deep inside the Mahaneh Yehuda neighborhood. Tour guides call it the “hidden neighborhood” because few people know it exists as an entity separate from Mahaneh Yehuda.
One of the people responsible for development of Sha’arei Shalom was Safed-born Moshe Friedman who, in the 1930s, put up a number of houses on Jaffa Road. Friedman’s family home was the last building on your right, on the corner.
Look for the sculpted prayer book outside the gate that bears Birkat Habayit – the Blessing for the Home. The second story holds the Degel Reuven Synagogue.
The Mahaneh Yehuda neighborhood was a mixture of ethnic communities, with a variety of religious needs. Yet at the beginning, there was not even one single synagogue, and residents worshiped in private homes or headed into the other neighborhoods to pray.
Finally, a year after Sha’arei Shalom was established, the Sephardi synagogue Degel Reuven was founded on the second floor of Friedman’s new house.
Turn right to return to Meyuhas Street.
Follow it to a green gate with strange blocked circles in the adjacent wall. Then enter, to find yourself inside a tiny late- 19th-century courtyard neighborhood called the Horodna Houses. It consists of two rows of buildings housing 34 apartments and a second-floor synagogue. The circles you saw outside the entrance, when open, provided air for the outdoor latrine that was situated next to and inside the wall.
Stroll through the courtyard, and exit right, on the other side. This is Yehosef Schwartz Street, named for a prolific early-19th-century researcher who wrote about the history, geography, fauna and flora of Palestine.
Until World War II, the Center for Gur Hassidism was located in Poland’s Góra Kalwaria. Sticking out like a sore thumb on your left, a red-brick wall was built as an exact copy of the former center’s exterior. At one time it was the home of the admor (great rabbinic leader) of Gur.
Avraham Mordechai Alter, the admor of Gur, was born in Poland in 1866 and eventually drew tens of thousands of followers. In 1940, after fleeing the Nazis, he made his home in the Mahaneh Yehuda neighborhood. He then set about rebuilding the Gur hassidic movement, for the majority of its followers had perished in the Holocaust.
The admor died in 1948 during the War of Independence, and it was impossible to bury him on the Mount of Olives. He was interred here, instead, in the yeshiva courtyard, behind the wall.
His son was buried here as well, almost two decades later.
On visits to a cemetery we automatically pick up a stone and place it on top of a grave. The custom originated long ago and was meant to keep animals from digging up a corpse. If you gaze inside the tent-like structure where the rabbi and his son are buried, you will find that the stones are piled really high. Dozens of little notes are stuck between them, each one, I imagine, asking for rabbinical intervention with God.
Near the end of the street two colorful doors belong to neighborhood guest houses. And, finally, find yourself standing directly across from the Mahaneh Yehuda market.