Located far from the city center, the neighborhood of Har Nof is a world unto itself. This largely ultra-Orthodox neighborhood is densely populated with Hasidim, recent immigrants from English-speaking countries, and synagogues. Many prominent religious politicians, including leaders of the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox political party Shas, reside in Har Nof. The name Har Nof is Hebrew for "mountain view" - derived from the stunning panoramic views of the Judean Hills that are visible from many points of the neighborhood. The structure of Har Nof is unusual.
The neighborhood is terraced along the sides of a mountain, so that many buildings have two entrances - one on an upper level, one on a lower level. One consequence of this structure is that many people's porches open on to fabulous views of the Judean Hills. In winter, a reservoir in view of Har Nof fills with water, rendering the view even more spectacular. Another, less known consequence of being built on the slope of a mountain is that many buildings extend into the mountain. Since most families in Har Nof are ultra-Orthodox and therefore are comprised of many children, space is at a premium. Residents fortunate enough to be living in an apartment adjoining the mountainside can drill through empty space in the mountain, creating new rooms. These rooms don't have windows since they are essentially artificial caves, but for families with ten children, windows are a luxury in any case.
The sheer number of synagogues in Har Nof can be overwhelming. They are all Orthodox, but within that category the range is significant. Some of the synagogues are famous, such as that of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader of the Shas party. Another is the synagogue of the Bostoner Rebbe, a prominent rabbi in the Hasidic community. Another way in which the devoutness of the Har Nof population finds expression is in its connection to the Western Wall. Many Har Nof residents pray at the Western Wall on a regular basis, even though it is nearly at the opposite end of Jerusalem. It is in Har Nof that one of the only Egged bus lines to the Western Wall begins. This bus, populated as it often is by Orthodox Jews on their way to prayers, is segregated: the men sit in the front of the bus, the women in the back. The uppermost tier of Har Nof boasts a large number of men's yeshivas (places of Torah study) and women's seminaries, where Jewish men and women from around the world spend a year engaged in an intensive study of religious texts. No doubt the view is inspiring.
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