Machane Yehuda

One of my favourite places in Jerusalem is Machane Yehuda, which is a large, open-air flea/farmer’s market/shopping district.  I’m not really sure if English has a word for a place like Machane Yehuda, because I’m not really sure modern English-speaking culture has places like Machane Yehuda, aside from large farmer’s markets, which aren’t totally the same. 
While I was there, I bought a plastic basket of loquats, surely the best spring fruit Israel has to offer, a cobalt blue and silver hamsa wall decoration (which I intended to give to a late friend of mine, and then changed my mind, bad me!), a couple brocade tote bags with the Old City skyline on them that say JERUSALEM, and various other touristy goodies.  The guy in the shop where I bought the hamsa tried to sell me some kippot, but I was like, “What am I going to do with those?  I’m not even Jewish!”  He just shrugged.  Israelis…
In shopping experience extraordinaire, Machane Yehuda, Jerusalem

Friday morning at Machane Yehuda, Jerusalem.

My friends in the area told me not to go on Friday morning because it would be too busy, so of course I  hopped on the light rail and specifically went there, because it was super-extra-totally crowded.
I kept getting bumped into by Haredi men which was kind of a weird experience.  I hope they got something out of the sensation of crashing into my chest…  Not very tzniut.
In retrospect, I wish I had bought more food, maybe a loaf of challah (you see tons of people walking around carrying challot on a Friday morning), because in Jerusalem you basically cannot buy anything to eat between Friday sundown and Saturday sundown (although restaurants do open after Saturday on sundown, and crowds of mostly young people go out — the picture of the Na Nach sticker in a previous post was taken on a Saturday night), and even in the hotel, the dining room will be closed, and you cannot order room service.  So if you don’t stock up on food pre-Shabbat (or have local friends you can go stay with), you’re going to be hungry.  The half a loaf of challah DE’s wife gave me at lunch, water, pareve cookies, and basket of loquats really weren’t enough…
That said, most of the food being sold at Machane Yehuda is the sort where you either eat it there, or take it home and cook it, which is a problem when you’re stuck in a hotel room.  You can’t do much with a whole raw fish in a hotel room, even one with a mini-fridge.  But you can eat loquats (in Hebrew, shezek, with no plural form) until your digestive tract rebels from an overdose of sweet delicious fruity fibre.
What you can’t do with a raw fish in a hotel room:  Fishenchips! The Hebrew reads more or less “Fishenchips: Only Fish and Chips Place in Machane Yehuda!” (That is the standard Israeli-English spelling!)

The only major problem I had was finding the ladies’ room, after I got jostled by a vendor pulling a wagon full of styrofoam containers that had had raw chicken parts in them, and got my hand thoroughly slimed with rich salmonella-y goodness.  Hint:  It’s not anywhere near the gentlemens’ room, surprisingly.  It’s actually about two blocks toward the light rail stop.

If you’ve ever been to the St. Jacobs farmer’s market (or at least the St. Jacobs farmer’s market before the fire) in St. Jacobs, Ontario, or any other large farmer’s market, you would find the ambiance of Machane Yehuda vaguely familiar (I used to help table there, about a million years ago when I was in grad school), except that Machane Yehuda is about a thousand times more crowded, definitely does not in any way have a case of the quaints (inasmuch as anything in Jerusalem isn’t quaint in some way or another), and the people walking around in distinctive religious dress are Orthodox Jews, not Old Order Mennonites.  You also won’t see horses and buggies, either (although you might get slimed by a wagon full of chicken juice!).

The fact that it was totally crowded and bustling just added to the ambiance.  I particularly enjoyed a fast-paced Hebrew rap battle between two watermelon vendors on opposite sides of the main boulevard leading from the light rail stop — each was determined to outdo the other with boasts about how fresh his watermelon was, how tasty, how cheap, and so on.  I noticed the prices dropping with every iteration, even better!  (That is what many of the locals call an “Only in Israel” moment, and it’s moments like that that should tell you why I’m so fond of the place!)  I personally didn’t want an avatiach (watermelon — imagine a guy riffing on that word like “av-a-TEEEEEEEE-a-kkkkkh!” to get more of the — watermelon — flavour!) because what would I do with a whole watermelon, especially in a hotel room?  I didn’t even have a knife to cut it with.  Nevertheless, they almost, almost sold me.  Almost.

I had a great time, and look forward to going back.  The cobalt hamsa now lives on the wall of my bedroom (it matches my decor).  I love hamsot, especially since they seem to be one thing everyone in that area of the Middle East can agree on — religious or secular, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, atheist; Arab, Ashkenazi, Sfardi, Druze…everyone in Israel loves the hamsa.  (Peace in our time through hamsot?  I don’t know, but if I figure it out, you’ll be the first ones to know.) 

Machane Yehuda main drag, Jerusalem

The main drag at Machane Yehuda.  Locals and tourists and yours truly doing some last-minute pre-Shabbat shopping.


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