Jewish Living In
Shikhunei Shmuel Hanavi, Yerushalayim
By Debbie Shapiro
When people hear that I live on the corner of Shmuel Hanavi and Bar Illan, in one of the long block-like buildings that were constructed in the early sixties to provide cheap housing for the large influx of immigrants from North African, their usual reaction is, "What? Real people actually live there?" That's because, until recently, the Shikhunei Shmuel Hanavi Neighborhood was notorious for its gang wars, active Black Panther organization, and (for obvious reasons) relatively low price of apartments.
About fifteen years ago, Haredi families began moving into the neighborhood, and today, the neighborhood is frum, although there are still numerous old timers, who, although not Hareidi, are definitely traditional and generally extremely respectful of their more religious neighbors. Despite their lack of outward religious trappings, for the most part they are simply lacking in knowledge and open to learning. One first-day Rosh Hashana afternoon about ten minutes before sunset, for example, my upstairs neighbor dressed to the hilt l'kavod Yom Tov in a pair of swimming trunks and thongs (and nothing else), knocked on my door bearing an unlit candle with the request that we light it for him, as theirs had gone out. I correctly surmised that his wife needed the fire to heat up the evening meal and explained that al pi halacha they should wait until after dark to start cooking for second day Yom Tov. My neighbor thanked me profusely for explaining the halacha and left without lighting the candle, only to return an hour later, after it was already dark outside, with the same request.
Although the people living in the Shikhunim are a real mixture of Chassidim, Litvaks and Sefardi, the neighborhood has a distinct Middle Eastern flavor. Last night, for example, as I was putting away the Pesach dishes and hanging loads of laundry, I could hear my Moroccan neighbors celebrating the Mimouna Holiday. The women, wearing traditional Moroccan outfits, baked chametzkdik pancake-like cakes called Muleftas to share with their neighbors. From all four building surrounding the large parking lot underneath my house I could hear loud music accompanied by bongo drums, dancing and singing, and yes, even fireworks! Yet, if I have a desire for a Chassidic tish, I am less than 15 minutes walking distance to Toldos Aharon, Karlin, Rachmastrivka, Dushinksy, and more. On the other hand, the Mirrer Yeshiva and Ohr Sameyach is less than ten minutes away, and the Bucharian shuk is just up the street – how's that for a real cultural experience?
Actually, one of the greatest perks of living in the Shikunim, is that I am just a walk or bus ride from almost everywhere. It takes me ten minutes to walk to Meah Shearim or Geulah, 15 minutes to Rechov Yaffo, half an hour to the kosel. There are three community centers with lots of activities for both young and old within a five minute walk from my door; a large indoor pool is just three blocks away, a large library three blocks away in the opposite direction. Although my neighborhood is (meanwhile) predominantly Hebrew and Yiddish speaking, if I get lonely for my mama-lashon, the Neve Tzvi, Sanhedria, Ramat Eshkol, and Maalot Dafna neighborhoods, with their large percentage of "chutznikim and multitude English language shiurim and active "N'sheis" are all within a five minute walk from my door. The bus stop to Beit Shemesh, Bnei Brak, Elad, Ashdod, Tifrach, Beitar, Tsfas, and a multitude of other destinations, is literally around the corner from apartment. Just to give you an idea of how close that is, twice a week I have to catch the 8 o'clock bus to Bnei Brak that arrives at my stop at 8:10. To be sure that I get there on time, I rush out the door at 8:05 and, depending on the lights, I usually make it with a few minutes to spare! There is a bus stop with lines running to the Kosel and to Kever Rochel literally across the street from my apartment, with special early busses for people who want to daven there with the sunrise vasikin minyan! On a more mundane level, the shopping here is phenomenal. I can find almost type of store—from a discount grocery store to several bakeries, drink shops, paper good stores, hardware stores, socks stores, toy stores, book stores, vegetable stores, clothing stores, as well as pizza, shwarma and falafel shops within a block of my house –and if it's not, well, Geula and the center of town is just up the hill.
Each of the neighborhood's dozen buildings has between 6-8 entrances, with between 8-10 families per entrance, with a park or playground for every 2 to 4 buildings. Recently, young Chassidishe families with lots of children have moved into the neighborhood, so in in the afternoon the playgrounds are crowded with mothers sitting and talking while their children play. In addition, the large, grassy Maalot Dafna park and the Sanhedria Park are a very short walk away.
Prices of apartments in the Shikhunim are still lower than the price of comparative size apartments in other Jerusalem neighborhoods. Part of that has to do with the neighborhood's reputation, the high population density, and the small, yet, with their tattoos and pierced ears, very noticeable number of non-religious youngsters who hang out on the streets here. Despite their outer trappings, they are teyereh Yiddishe neshomos, and I can count on them helping me to shlep my groceries up the stairs. On the other hand, in the mornings, when the school busses arrive, the streets are bustling with of mothers and children waiting for the busses. In the afternoons, the parks are bursting with frum children, and there always seems to be a group of Yiddish speaking girls playing jump rope downstairs.
3 1/2 bedroom apartment
Rent $1,000-$1,300 per month
Purchase between $325,000 to $459,000
Rooms are small; we converted our 3 1/2 bedroom apartment to 2 1/2 bedrooms, so that we'd have a larger living room and kitchen.
COST OF Living
About $4.00 per bottle
$1.35 per liter
Girls: about $110 per year
Boys: about $135 per month
To Tel Aviv – about 45 minutes by car
New York 10 hours by plane
Winter is pleasant, hopefully with lots and lots of rain.
Snow days are so rare that they are almost like holidays. Summer days are hot and dry, but with very little humidity while evenings are generally pleasant.