When you enter the Mea She’arim (One Hundred Gates) neighborhood, just a five-minute walk from Jerusalem’s city center, you might feel as though you have been catapulted to a different era. The experience is almost like visiting a small Eastern European town one hundred years ago. This densely populated neighborhood is home to thousands of ultra-orthodox and Hassidic residents. Each sect, with its unique dress, lifestyle, and customs, makes a visit to Mea She’arim a fascinating cultural and sociological experience. Although there are difficulties involved, Mea She’arim is a worthwhile place to film for those who want to capture the many faces of Israeli society.
If you want to film in the area it is recommended that you have a local contact walk around with you.
In many ways, this part of the city seals itself off from certain aspects of the modern world. Therefore, one thing to keep in mind before visiting this neighborhood is that the locals request that people entering their neighborhood adhere to their standards of modest dress. Filming and photographing should be done on weekdays; on Friday night and Saturday the Sabbath is strictly observed so you should not enter with any sort of equipment, including a cell phone.
Sights and Attractions
Once you are in Mea She’arim there are different things you can consider doing. You can walk around the neighborhood and observe the surroundings and buildings, some of which date back to the 1870’s when the neighborhood was built. The neighborhood has a distinct atmosphere due to its narrow alleyways, the protruding balconies covered in laundry, the posters splattered over the walls advertising news to the residents, and of course the bustling locals dressed in their traditional Hassidic garb.
You can also enjoy the array of traditional Jewish cooking available. In the Avichail and Nechama bakeries you can find a variety of delicious baked goods, whose scent can be detected from afar. In the courtyard of the Shtiebel synagogue, nearing the weekend, there is a nightly food market where the local young men congregate. There you can sample a traditional meat stew called chulent, served in plastic cups. There is also a neighborhood market, on Ein Yaakov Street, that has a variety of goods including food, collectors’ items, second hand Judaica, and antiques. All of these locales are good places to film, reflecting the unique Mea She’arim way of life.
Mea She’arim is known for being a hub for zealous religious life. You can observe one type of religious activity on Friday nights. Around five hours after sundown, the different Hasidic sects begin their weekly tish. This is a gathering of all of the followers around their Rabbi (this is for men only – women can occasionally watch from an adjacent small room). The men sing into the night and the leader gives a speech in Yiddish. Guests are usually welcome as long as they abide by the customs of the place (men should cover their heads with a scull cap and dress modestly- and sorry, no cameras!).
A tish can be found at:
Toldot Aharon Yeshiva – 35 Shivtei Yisrael St.
Toldot Avraham Yitzchak Yeshiva – in the historical Mea She’arim quarter
Avichail – 8 Pri Chadash St. Tel: 02-538-5556, Open Sun to Wed 7:00-22:00, Thurs 7- into the night, Fri until 15:00.
Nechama – 3 Sonenfeld St., corner of Beit Yisrael St. Tel: 02-532-3042. Open Sun to Wed 7:00-22:00, Thurs 7:00- 2:00am, Fri 7:00-15:00.
Shtibel Synagogue – On Pri Chadash St., market in the courtyard, Wed and Thurs 22:00 until after midnight.