Story by Rebecca Cushman
Spending a semester studying abroad at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, every day was a new adventure and a chance to meet someone new, try a new food, experience a new holiday or custom, and learn something new about the culture of Israel.
Luckily for me, there was one place in Jerusalem where I felt I could do all of the above and so much more. It was at this particular place that I could taste samples of traditional Middle Eastern foods, have the opportunity to practice my Hebrew with local Israelis, and see the hustle and bustle of many Jewish men, women, and children buying groceries before Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) began. I’ve been to Jerusalem three times (the first time when I was 16) and each time I felt an increasing eagerness to come back here, to the Mahane Yehuda market place in Jerusalem, most commonly referred to as the Shuk.
Every day at the Shuk is a busy day. From morning to evening, the Shuk is filled with sounds of merchants shouting out the prices of their products, children laughing and jumping with excitement, and tourists attempting to use their limited Hebrew abilities to make a purchase. One particularly busy day is Friday. When the sun goes down on Friday night, the Jewish Sabbath begins and almost all stores and shops in Jerusalem close. For many Jewish families, sundown also signifies the time when work must cease until sundown on Saturday. It is traditional for Jews to have large Shabbat meals on Friday night and during the day on Saturday—and all of the cooking and preparation for the meals must be completed before sundown on Friday. So Friday afternoons are the last time to go to the Shuk, snag some good deals on fruits and vegetables, and prepare for a restful Shabbat filled with hearty meals.
But more than just being a marketplace, the Shuk is a place of fellowship. Israel is a country filled with many different types of people and Jerusalem in particular is a land of people of widely varying religious affiliations, identities, languages, and beliefs. What I loved so much about the Shuk was that it was a place where all of these individual differences found a meeting point. And so for me, the Shuk was so much more than the freshly baked rugelach (chocolate pastries), the oven-baked pita bread, or the ruby red strawberries piled high. This market is a place of unity where people gathered not only to admire and sample the wide array of offerings, spiritedly bargain for better prices, and leave with bags full of food, but also to share heartfelt greetings and humor without thought towards differences of religion, language, or race.
This story appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Baedeker.