When I was younger and living in Israel, the shuk was completely open to the sky. Now a large part of it is covered, protecting everyone from inclement weather.
With hundreds of stalls lining the narrow pathways, Jerusalemites and tourists alike come here to buy anything they need. Fresh produce, warm baked goods, fish, meat and cheeses, nuts, seeds and spices are all displayed openly for the picking. Wines and liquors, clothing and shoes, housewares, textiles, and Judaica are all in plentiful supply here.
Paul and I had fun buying spices. Zatar mixed with various flavours enticed me. We made lots of little bags to bring home for ourselves and for gifts for friends - mixtures of various spices combined with seeds, nuts and herbs that can be added to rice dishes or pastas. Ready-made seasoning for fish and meat can create the uniqueness of Israeli, or at least Middle Eastern tastes. In the stalls wig-clad women speak to me in Brooklyn accents advising me about recipes using these mixtures, and telling me where I can buy the freshest, most delicious cheeses. “Welcome home” says one woman to me. “Shabbat Shalom.”
The market offers cubbies full of sweets and colourful candies. Bakeries offer warm sticky baked rugalach that beg me to eat them. I do! Fresh vegetables and fruits, newly baked challot and anything else needed for tonight’s Shabbat dinner line the many streets of the city’s biggest outdoor market. As I walk through the narrow passageways I hear people wishing each other “Shabbat Shalom”, a peaceful Sabbath. Where else in the world do you get to hear this?
Not everyone is so welcoming in Jerusalem. There is a familiarity that borders on rudeness. In the market, some merchants barely even lift their heads as they answer questions. It’s a bit like family here. Sometimes we treat each other with too little gratitude and a whole lot of expectation and judgment. I’m not sure why, but I still feel okay. It’s not always nice. But it’s always real, and the familial loyalty makes it bearable.
The sun is beginning to set over the hills of Jerusalem. The shops are closing. The lights are shutting down. There is a quietness settling in the air as the streets empty. The music becomes quieter as the solemnity of Shabbat sheds its presence on the city. A new week approaches and Jerusalem reflects the miracle of the day of rest.
As Shabbat arrives in Jerusalem, even the birds flutter about looking for their nests. The lights dim and the residents are inside their homes preparing for the quiet. Even the flower seller at the bottom of the road finishes for the week and packs his empty pails to go home.
There is no place in the world like Jerusalem on Shabbat. “There is Jerusalem and then there’s the rest of the world,” I’ve heard said. I feel that strongly here as Machane Yehuda closes its doors until tomorrow night’s stars shine. Shabbat Shalom to all.