As we inherited a timeshare in the center of Jerusalem from my parents, during the summer, we try to take advantage of the opportunity afforded to us and spend Shabbos there. So, last week our daughter kindly dropped us off at the hotel and waved goodbye. She was happy to have the car to herself for a few days, and we were happy not to have to spend our entire vacation looking for parking. Win-win.
In the past, we would stroll around town and bump into our friends and acquaintances who were visiting from abroad. But this year, with all the travel restrictions, most of those friends didn’t make it here. And our friends who live here were either in the north, out of the country, or at home. They were not in the center of Yerushalayim. There were days we walked around the city and didn’t recognize a soul. Not a one. Not even someone who somewhat resembled someone we know. Not even someone who looked vaguely familiar, unless, of course, you count the clerk at the desk at the hotel who greeted us twice on the same day.
It was refreshing to visit some of the museums and cafes that we hadn’t been to in ages, or ever. However, the highlight of our vacation would definitely have to be the shuk, the Machane Yehuda Market, an icon in Yerushalayim. I’m sure there are some who actually go there to shop, but I think most people go there for the chavaya, the experience. Because it truly is an experience. Machane Yehudah dates back to the period of the Ottoman Empire, when local peasants came to sell their produce in this central location at the end of the 19th century. Over time, the grounds were turned into an organized market, which grew and developed over the years. The Etz Chaim Yeshiva, which was associated with many of the greats, such as Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Elazar Schach, and Rav Aryeh Levin, is located in the middle of the market. The Yeshiva established a row of shops along the wall and received rent payment from merchants who sold there. Today, the shuk is a major tourist attraction, especially on Fridays. We walked up and down the rows of the shuk despite the fact that in the blazing heat, the shuk could have provided the perfect lab for a scientific study about human life on the surface of the sun. We patronized the shops despite the fact that a masked face in the crowd was a rarity. We couldn’t help but get caught up in the charming atmosphere that combines Israeli culture and history in a unique way. One can experience the shuk by weaving through the crowds and meandering along the aisles independently, or by taking one of the many guided tours. A food aficionado can dine in one of the many restaurants and cafes, and can participate in cooking classes taught by professional chefs. One can buy clothes, housewares, art, specialty food items, baked goods, teas, cheeses, spices, meat, and fish. One shop prepares healthy shakes and carries Esrogim twelve months a year. Another sells the raw ingredients needed to make exotic tea. Another specializes in a wide variety of types of halva. Yet, another sells all kinds of spices, some piled up like a small mountain. Of course, the shuk would not be complete without Chabad Ba’Shuk, a Chabad tefillin stand. I believe the merchants sell to make a living on the side, but it seems that their real job and passion is acting. They literally put on a show, screaming all sorts of things with the goal of selling their wares. For example, the young man at the fruit stand was holding extremely large clusters of mouthwatering grapes (almost the size of small eggs) shouting on top of his lungs, “Mashiach’s grapes…I can’t believe these grapes! I’m in shock! Get Mashiach grapes for your Shabbos table!” As much as I can try to describe the scene and provide accompanying photos, I don’t think I can fully share the experience without a soundtrack. I wish there were some way I could attach to this article a recording of the shows we saw so that you could get the full flavor of what I’m describing.
For Shabbos, we were joined by some of our kids. It was so peaceful on Friday evening as we all walked down a quiet and utterly empty Rechov Yaffo, which had been teeming with people only a short while before, as we headed to the Kotel, which in contrast was alive and bustling. The Kotel was much quieter Shabbos morning. There were fewer people and davening was very straightforward and to the point. There I noticed a very sweet woman walking through the ladies’ section offering women to make three brachot related to smell (besamim) on the leaves and fruit that she was carrying. When I asked her what was the impetus that drove her to do this, she explained that her mother had done it, and now she does it in her memory.
All in all, it was a great Shabbos. The only thing missing was you. I hope you can come back soon. We miss you!
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.