Walking through the center of town in modern Jerusalem today, it’s hard to believe there was very little there before the 1860s. Until that time, just about anyone living in the area was inside the walls of the Old City.
The third small neighborhood built outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem was called Nahalat Shiva (meaning the inheritance of the seven), named because seven families originally got together and decided to buy property and build a neighborhood there. One of the original founders of this neighborhood, built in the 1860s, Rabbi Yosef Rivlin, is a relative of the current President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin.
The people who established this neighborhood were religious Jewish families from the Old City who decided to become pioneers and venture outside the walls. In those days, it was dangerous to leave the protection of the Old City due to wild animals and bandits who would roam the area. A story is told that bandits once came to steal the wood used to build the neighborhood. Rabbi Rivlin, who was not accustomed to being a fighter and did not have much with which to defend himself, went outside with one gun and a shofar (ram’s horn usually used for religious purposes). He alternated between blowing the shofar in the special way it is blown on Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) and shooting in the air. The robbers were so frightened by the awesome noises that they ran away, leaving behind dozens of mules and their own weapons.
Today, this small neighborhood is a quaint pedestrian walkway with excellent restaurants, art galleries, synagogues (including the first synagogue outside the walls of the Old City named Nahalat Yaakov – the Inheritance of Jacob), and several museums.
Among the several new museums in the area is the new Museum of Jewish Music. Visitors can enjoy a high-tech, self-guided tour of the museum, which presents Jewish music from the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and throughout the Diaspora. The museum opened two months ago, with a goal of illustrating the variety and richness of the Jewish People in their exile throughout the nations.
Jerusalem’s best known kosher vegetarian/vegan restaurant has opened a new branch in the heart of Nahalat Shiva, just off Yoel Moshe Salomon Street. Their entire menu, which includes delicious pizzas, lasagna, organic coffee, soups, muffins and much more is non-dairy. Atmosphere is relaxing, despite the location just next to the lively Zion Square on Jaffa Street.
The Italian Synagogue and Umberto Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art is a hidden gem, located just two blocks away from Yoel Moshe Salomon Street. This exquisite 17th-century synagogue was brought to Israel (along with other synagogue pieces, which are in several locations in Israel) from Conegliano, a town in the Veneto region of Italy. The synagogue remains in use today by Italian Jews.
The museum was established in 1983 to collect, protect and display Judaica and other Jewish art pieces from the Renaissance period until today. It features the oldest Aron HaKodesh (Holy Ark, which houses Torah scrolls in synagogues) in the land of Israel today, dating back to 1543 in Mantua, Italy. It is fascinating to look closely at the pieces, which are very much a product of the fine artisans of Italy as well as distinctly Jewish. It is all the more meaningful because they attest to the fulfilling of the Biblical prophecies of the return of the Jewish People from the four corners of the earth to the Land of Israel (Isaiah 11:12).