Sunday 23 September 2012

Picture post number six - Machane Yehuda Shuk, Jerusalem, Israel

Israel ישראל by Yekkes

I love this picture. I love it because it brings the smells, sounds and excitement of Jerusalem's wonderful Mahane Yehdua shuk (souk in Arabic - market in English). I love the redness of those tomatoes, the richness of the aubergines, the green vegetables and the variously coloured plastic bags!

Most of all I love the way this photograph shows the diversity of Israel's people. The woman with her back to the camera, wearing a headscarf is an Ethiopian Jewish woman - young enough to have been born in Israel, but perhaps also just old enough to have been one of the many thousands of Ethiopian Jews rescued from the danger of the Mengistu regime back in the 1980's and 1990's. The older woman staring at the camera is an Orthodox Jewish woman - recognisable through her "turban" and the "modest" although still colourful clothing. The fair haired woman - who appears to have already selected a number of items - witness the bags on top of what I think are courgettes - could be an Ashkenazi Jew born in, or having made aliyah to  Israel whilst she could just as easily be a Christian tourist.  The stall holder speaking to the woman at the reader's extreme right of the photograph is almost certainly a Mizrachi Jew, that is, of North African or Middle Eastern descent. It is estimated that more than half of Israel's Jewish population can trace ancestors to Morocco, Algeria,  Libya,  Tunisia, Iraq,  Egypt and other countries in the region, before being driven out from the 1940's onwards.

People from these and many other diverse backgrounds come together to shop in the shuk every day (except Saturday of course). There has been a market here since the end of the 19th century when the city was under Ottoman rule. During the period of the British Mandate, sanitary conditions were upgraded and since independence in 1948, the shuk has seen many changes and developments. There are now some smart cafes and restaurants amongst the fruit, vegetable, fish, herbs and spices, as well as specialist Ethiopian and Iraqi food stalls. These developments have made sure that Mahane Yehuda maintains its character as a place where Israelis of all kinds come together to share normal, everyday activities. It is one of the places in the city where Jews and Arabs shop together.

Security measures are in place to guard against terrorist attacks - 23 people were killed in suicide bombings in 1997 and 2002 (including two consecutive bombings on the same day in 1997), whilst a further 282 were injured. As in many other parts of the city, there is a reassuring army presence to make sure the shuk remains a safe and enjoyable place to shop and spend time.

My favourite shuk experiences? Quite seriously, my favourite times in the shuk are when I can wander around, taking in the delicious smells of the spice stalls, munching a pastry or some dried fruits and stopping off for a Turkish coffee in one of the many cafes - I especially like the ones where you can still see old timers playing shesh besh and other games  whilst taking part in some serious coffee drinking! Less familiar visitors can take advantage of a number of  organised tours focusing on different types of food tasting (!)  and which also cover the history of the shuk. The surrounding area, also known as Mahane Yehuda is also a great place to wander and spend time - full of history and character.

The shuk has its own website with lots more information here.

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