Very early this morning, I accompanied Amir and his entire sixth grade class on a 3:00 AM tour of synagogues, alleyways and the ever present smell of freshly baking bread in the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem. Apparently this is quite a tradition among Jerusalem students, one that I didn't know about since I didn't grow up here. It goes on every night for a week. There must have been thousands of kids, from 3rd grade through high school walking the narrow and picturesque corridors of this classic Jerusalem neighborhood. Some had guides, some were alone. There were haredim, zion'im, hilon'im, Russian speakers, English speakers. It was really quite the scene. We stopped in at the Great Synagogue of the Aleppo Syrian community at one point to say slichot. At another point were chased away by an angry bearded resident who said we were making too much noise. We tried to visit a few other batei knessiot but they were too full of other pre-dawn sojourners.
At one point, we took a break in an area known as the "three wells." This is an semi-enclosed courtyard with three wells that were shared by all the residents of the street up until fairly recently. Our guide explained that the residents also used to share a single oven and everyone would cook together on Shabbat. One precocious sixth grade girl (Amir called her annoying, I thought she was adorable...generation gap rears its ugly head again) said to the guide: "So did they cook milk and meat together?" (meaning in the single oven they had). "No," said the guide, "They only had meat. That's all anyone ate back then." To which the girl replied in a pronounced accent of the exagerated exasperation of a budding vegeterian: "What Cutzpah!"
The tour ended at 5:45 AM when we all returned to our starting point just off Bezalel Street. Seemingly out of nowhere came enormous trash bags filled with lachmaniot (sandwich rolls) and bags of choco, apparently also part of the late night tradition as we saw other groups getting the same "breakfast."
And who says Jerusalem doesn't have a nightlife?