Shopping in Jerusalem


In the box above there are two contrasting images, one of the shuk Mahaneh Yehuda, Jerusalem’s most famous outdoor market, and of Canyon Malka, the Jerusalem mall. I love the former, hate the latter, and spent a good portion of the day at both.

First my midday journey to the heart of the city: Mahaneh Yehuda. With my fridge finally delivered this morning, it was time to pick up some fresh and unprocessed food that was fit to consume to replace the refined flour pitas and peanut butter that made up my diet yesterday. Catching a bus to downtown, I stopped first at Ben Yehuda Street, a pedestrian mall popular with tourists, to buy a sim card for my phone. Now I have an Israeli number… Send me an email if you’d like the number.

Then I walked the quarter of a mile or so up the road to the market. Visiting the shuk is a lively, engaging, and sense-stirring experience. People daily pack the narrow outdoor and covered alleys between shops selling fragrant spices, fresh meat and fish, fruits, vegetables, grains, and warm baked goods. The food is generally good, but the experience of being in this place makes it fantastic. It can be unbearably hot but it never stops me from grabbing a chocolate rugelach from my favorite bakery, Marzipan, or from sitting in the bright sun sipping a cafe shakhor (black coffee) at one of the many cafes.

Forcing myself to speak only Hebrew to the merchants, I uncovered words and phrases from the recesses of my mind that allowed me to bargain and even make a bit of small talk. While I certainly intend to apply myself in ulpan (beginning tomorrow morning), I have a strong suspicion that it is in environments like these where I will really learn the language.

The mall, on the other hand, is thoroughly reminiscent of a stereotypical American shopping experience, albeit with numerous shops and stands hocking the latest mass-produced Judaica. The crowding here may be less than in the shuk and no one is yelling over the heads of shoppers about the latest deal in their shop, but it feels unbelievably more cramped and noisy. Unfortunately, it is one of the few places in the city I know from where to buy housewares like sandwich bags or pillows… The rolled up sweatshirt I have been sleeping on was just not going to cut it in the long term.

I took this reluctant trip earlier this evening after taking a quick tour of the Hebrew University Campus and attending an orientation session for ulpan and the Rothberg International School. While our tour was for the most part unremarkable, I must comment on one sight that was new for me. We visited the campus’ synagogue with its huge plate glass window from which there is an incredible view of the Old City of Jerusalem. Traditionally, Jews pray facing eastward, orienting themselves toward Jerusalem. In Israel, synagogues face Jerusalem, and in Jerusalem itself, they face toward the Temple Mount, the ancient site of the Jewish Temple. In Hebrew University’s synagogue, instead of placing the aron ha’kodesh in the immediate front, there are two aronim on either side of window for an unobstructed view.

Even more remarkable than the construction of the room itself was the particulars of the view it provides, which has changed somewhat since I was last there. For many many years, the Old City’s skyline was marked by three prominent domes, the Dome of the Rock, the Al Aqsa Mosque, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Now rising between the Muslim holy sites on one side, and the Christian holy site on the other is the newly reconstructed Hurva Synagogue. Although a synagogue has stood at the site perhaps as far back as the Second Century CE, its most recent incarnation was built first in the early 1700s. It was burned to the ground by Arab creditors in 1720 and left in ruins for over 140 years, thereby taking on its name the Hurva (Ruin). In 1864, the synagogue was rebuilt again only to be destroyed by the Arab Legion during the 1948 war. In 1977, a commemorative stone arch was rebuilt at the site, but it remained in ruins. Plans to rebuild the synagogue again were approved by the Israeli government in 2000 and reconstruction work continued from 2005 until its official reopening in March 2010. Now once again a fully functional and publically attended house of worship after 300 years of tragedy, many see this as a sign of both the renewal and strength of Jewish life in an ancient capital. I, for one, am excited to see it up close and personal in the near future.

Now back to the mundane. Once at the mall, we had about 3 hours to mill about and pick up essentials. The one highlight of the trip was my stop at the kosher Kentucky Fried Chicken. I am not sure I have ever had the Colonel’s crispy fatty delights before and I am not sure I ever will again. But wow, was it tasty. 🙂 Oh, and did I mention that I took a run today at 5:30 am? It wasn’t terribly hot yet (only in the high 60s F), but the dry air here really pulls the moisture right out of your body. If I go again tomorrow, I’m bringing my Camelback. Needless to say, now that I am back in my dorm and settling in for the nights, I am calling it quits. Ulpan begins tomorrow at 10:30. I need to get my sleep.

לילה טוב

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