On our first day that we arrived in Jerusalem we checked into the American Colony Hotel and decided to check out the streets of Jerusalem staying close to the hotel. We walked a few blocks and found ourselves deep in a huge Hasidic Jewish neighborhood called Mea Shearim. It was fascinating and a little scary.
It’s here where you will see the 18th century dress code that was custom in Eastern Europe but which still remains to this day. You will see the bearded men, dressed in their black coats and hats, standing on the street doing nothing much except chatting to each other (the majority do not work, instead days are spent in prayer reading the Torah). Women with their smart wigs, headscarves and conservative dark leggings with skirts and dresses, typically pushing strollers with many children and doing their daily shopping. Children no older than five years old are holding babies in their arms like dolls. Everywhere we looked we saw kids in the balconies staring down into the street, or swinging in their improvised swings on their balconies.
Have you ever felt like all eyes were upon you? Well, I certainly did that day. Everyone had to stop and look at the only blonde wearing jeans walking the streets of this neighborhood. Then, I saw this sign: the “do not pass through our neighborhood wearing immodest clothes” sign!
The reality is they don’t really want you hanging around and signs in the neighborhood dictate to not come here in big groups, as well as outlining how you should dress and behave in a conservative manner. Our Israeli and Palestinian guides from National Geographic Expediitions, and Medji Tours were surprised when we told them where we ended up. Although, I was stared at an awful lot, we decided to leave despite how intrigued we were by our surroundings.
The neighborhood was huge and mysterious with thousands of people dressed if they were in mid 1800’s Poland. Most households do not have television. Newspapers are glued to the sides of buildings which I found interesting. I think most of us are pretty much fascinated about this closed and almost unknown ultra-religious culture.
Next time you decide to take a stroll through the Hasidic neighborhood in Jerusalem, make sure you are dressed very decently (for example – women ought to be cover almost from head to toe – no t-shirts, shoulder or hand showing at all). The men do not talk to local women. The women do not talk to local men. Couples do not hold hands, hugs or embrace in public.
I had to hide my camera most of the time, because they don’t like their pictures taken, the locals take offence from it.
It was one of many odd adventures we had in Israel such as: Behind the Wailing Wall