Monday, November 04, 2013

Menchelech -- Little Men -- On My Street

This story is a reminder that we should keep our eyes and ears open. At least a bit. You never know what may pop out.

I live in Safed's Artist Quarter, a section of Safed's Old City. It's not as old as the Old Jewish Quarter nor does it have the religious and -- for Jews -- historical significance of the Old Jewish Section (a five-minute walk away). But it's still a charming old-world area with old stone buildings that date back several hundred years, arched doors and windows and rooms with old domed ceilings that characterized the construction of the era over the past several hundred years.

Every Friday night (and oftentimes during the week) a local tour guide, David Amiel, leads a tour down our street. He begins his tour at the nearby Rimonim Hotel and provides a lively monologue as he makes his way through the lanes of the Artist Quarter towards the Old Jewish Quarter, relating historical events and points of interest that I've never heard from other tour guides. (David is, in addition to his work as a tour guide, an accomplished historian and has done extensive research into Safed history and has even written a book -- I keep telling him that when it comes out in English, I'll read it).

One of David's first stops is in front of our house. I often catch some of his discussion but I don't hear everything. I know that he points out that this is the area where some Arab families who then went on to a certain degree of infamy (i.e. Marwan Barghouti's clan, etc) lived. I've also heard him talking about the "menchelech" of the area and never had the slightest idea of what that was all about.

Several weeks ago David invited my daughter and her fiancee, who is presently studying to become a licensed tour guide,  to join him for a tour. They came back quite enthused about the tour -- David is an expert and goes above and beyond the standard Safed tour in providing information about many little-known aspects of the city.

After the tour my daughter and her fiancee finally told me what the deal is about the menchelech -- little men. Menchelech are, evidently, tiny metal figurines of little men. They were popular in Germany and could be found on homes in the local Templer farming community of Alonei Abba. (Alonei Abba was founded in  by German-Christians who belonged to the Temple Society. They migrated to Palestine from Germany during the 1860s and established several communities including Alonei Abba). 

These people placed menchelech on the shutters of their homes. If a menchelech figurine was pointing upward, it was a sign that the man of the house was home, and if the menchelech figuring was pointing downwards, it indicated that the man of the house was out. 

There are a couple of these charming  menchelech figurines on the shutters of the home across the street from me. (During the British mandatory period in Palestine, a British officer lived in that house and, from what I understand, obtained a few menchelech which he placed on the shutters of the house).  I had to search hard to identify them -- I've lived in this house for 24 years and never even noticed them before -- but now that I finally understand their meaning, it's kind of cool. 

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