Exile to Main Street: Bidding adieu to Nachlaot…

Moving from hip, happening, pulsating Nachlaot to prim and proper Katamon makes perfect sense. Afterall, living inside of Jerusalem’s beating heart comes with a rather hefty monthly price tag. And Katamon is just brimming with young, shiny couples who can be seen around Palmach and Haportzim pushing around their photogenic children in late model Bugaboo strollers.  

Having mined Yad2, Homeless, Janglo and WinWin for the hottest leads on Jerusalem rentals, my wife and I spent many an early summer’s evening scouring the countryside in hot pursuit of a well-lit, well-maintained, first floor, two-bedroom, accessible, affordable but not cheap place to hang our Tilley hats.

As such, the decision to throw our lot in with the well-coiffed dati leumi, secular and right-wing religious denizens that call Katamon home was the end result of rational deliberations and a careful weighing of pros and cons. In the parlance of big business, we methodically applied a SWOT analysis and the three-storey walk up on 17 Haportzim Street measured off the charts.

Still, it’s with heavy hearts that we bid our little one-bedroom, ground-floor chateau on 9 Chacham Shalom Street a fond farewell.

Mind you, certain local delights will be quickly forgotten. Our deaf Kurdish neighbor, also living on 9 Chacham Shalom Street, who blares soccer matches into the wee small hours, will be remembered only for snarling at yours truly to “go out and buy some headphones!” when I politely popped in for an unannounced visit.  

I aim to bury the memories of hooting, hollering and occasional groaning that blasted nightly through the paper thin walls deep and well inside the dust-caked crawlspace beneath the ceiling. The strange, child-like squeals of a senior citizen who has just seen Beitar Yerushalayim score a goal will be the dubious inheritance of the apartment’s next tenant.

What I will miss, very muchly so, is the proximity of our first home as a family to Gan Sacher. The vulgarity-laced pedestrian tunnels, the Monastery of the Cross and the Bonsho (large Japanese bell) are three images that immediately assert themselves when thoughts turn to this kilometers-long strip of parkland.

Separating the Supreme Court and Knesset from Nachlaot, Gan Sacher is a haven for rollerblading teenagers, sunbathing university students taking a break between studies and social upheaval and surprisingly spry Yeshiva bochers – known around the park’s basketball courts for their fancy dribbling and behind-the-back passing. An especially arresting sight is that of Sri Lankan cricketers pitching, bowling and batting to their hearts’ content.

For the locals, Gan Sacher offers up huge concerts during holidays and yearly festivals. Note to gentle reader: If you happen to be in the neighborhood on the night of August 30, 2012, you may want to check out the musical stylings of Israel’s favorite fungus, international psy-trance superstars Infected Mushroom.

Yet, there’s more to Gan Sacher than unbridled revelry. Indeed, the park served as a local flash point for the wave of protests that swept across the country in 2011 as a massive backlash against the inability of many Israelis to find affordable housing. While most of the tent encampments that sprung up around Israel were dismantled as the school year began and students and families went back to their regular routine, the tent city in Gan Sacher was comprised of people who had effectively become homeless due to skyrocketing Jerusalem rents.

Another intense experience that Gan Sacher played host to last year was the second annual Jerusalem Marathon. I huffed, hissed and gasped my way through the 10K race, blazing a trail past some of the City of David’s historical, cultural, political and religious touchstones: Israel Museum, Knesset, Cinemateque, Jaffa Gate, Sultan’s Pool and the Residence of the President of Israel.

And having willed my way up Jabotinsky Street, I entered – cold, wet and proud – the gates of the Promised Land: the finish line on Ben-Zvi Avenue, near the north entrance of Gan Sacher.

Waxing nostalgic serves an occasional purpose, especially for such an avid and dedicated daydreamer as me. Still, life moves and I best get back to the lifting, packing, taping and storing that is part and parcel of every move.

Movin’ on up to Katamon? Bully for us! Yet, while Nachlaot will only be a few feet from us, its frenetic vibe and circus colors are half a world away.

With that, I bid this mystical, remarkable neighborhood of late Ottoman Period architecture, narrow, cobblestone lined streets and winding blind alleys a fond “Ciao, Bella!”






About the Author
Gidon Ben-Zvi, former Jerusalem Correspondent for the Algemeiner newspaper, is an accomplished writer who left behind Hollywood starlight for Jerusalem stone in 2009. After serving in an Israel Defense Forces infantry unit from 1994-1997, Ben-Zvi returned to the United States before settling in Israel, where he and his wife are raising their four children to speak fluent English – with an Israeli accent. Ben-Zvi's work has appeared in The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, the Algemeiner, American Thinker, the Jewish Journal, Israel Hayom, and United with Israel. Ben-Zvi blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind (jsmstateofmind.com).