Shabbat in Jerusalem

September 4th 2012

As the holiest city in the world, there is no better place to spend a shabbat evening than Jerusalem. Take a day off from your busy tour in Israel on a Friday to stroll through the bustling Mahane Yehuda market and a walking tour of the surrounding Nachlaot neighborhood, before the pre-Sabbath hush falls over the city. Next, head to the Western Wall to join thousands of worshipers in prayer before enjoying an intimate Shabbat meal with a host family.

Israel’s largest and most colorful outdoor market, Mahane Yehuda is better known simply as “the shuk,” or “Machne” in the local lingo. Fridays are the liveliest times to visit, as locals get together, people-watch at cafes and stock up on groceries and other supplies for Shabbat. Enjoy Israeli comfort food, the best halva you’ve ever eaten, cheeses from around the world, tempting pastries, and even shop at the various boutique clothing and jewelry stores.

Next, wander through the narrow cobblestoned streets of the adjacent Nachlaot neighborhood, which is a hip, up-and-coming area with rich history. When the Old City became overcrowded in the 1870s, Jerusalemites began building communities here, and the streets and architecture have remained virtually unchanged since that time. There are approximately 100 synagogues of all sizes dotted throughout the neighborhood, which at one time was home to the highest concentration of Jewish temples in the world.

Nachlaot is also famous for its thriving artists’ community, which dates back to the early 1900s. Visit art galleries and artists’ studios, as well as landmarks like Rabbi Aryeh Levine’s home, and more. And nothing beats talking to local residents to get a real sense for an area and its colorful background.

Of course, a Shabbat in Jerusalem is not complete without a stop at the Western Wall, or Kotel. Friday night at the wall has a special energy, as you join thousands of worshippers and visitors from around the world who have come to welcome Shabbat at the holiest site in Judaism. Don’t miss the Kotel haKatan, or little Kotel, which is a hidden and little-known area of the wall that looks as it did centuries ago.

Finally, wrap up this magical day with an intimate, home-cooked Shabbat meal with a local family. The range of dishes served will give you a true sense of the breadth of the diaspora, and how it all comes together in the melting pot that is Israel. Say the prayers, hear stories about everyday life in Jerusalem, and feel the connection to Israel.