I love going to the shuk in Israel. I don’t know if there is such a thing as a shuk in the USA. I think it is sort of like a farmer’s market. In any case, I have lived over 40 years in the USA and never have been to anything like a shuk in the USA.

There are lots of good reasons to go shopping at the shuk. You have an incredible array of fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, eggs and potatoes, fish and baked goods — all at a very good price. At the supermarket in Orlando, I can buy apples, bananas, and oranges. At the shuk in Haifa, I can buy sabra, persimmon, pomelo and other fruits I can’t name and don’t want to ever eat again. At the shuk I learned that celery in Israel is called American celery and that real celery is the part that grows underground.

Even though the great selection, the freshness, and the prices are all incredible, none of this has anything to do with why I love going to the shuk.

Shopping at the shuk is not as easy as going to the supermarket in Orlando. First, there is traffic getting to the shuk. Second, there is no place to park. Finally, it is ridiculously crowded. But easy doesn’t have anything to do with fun.

For one thing, the shuk is my opportunity to interact with the Haredim. Outside of the shuk, I don’t have much of an opportunity. Whenever I used to see a Haredi walking down the street, I tried to make eye contact so I can say Shabbat Shalom or Shavua Tov or something like that. My wife says I am crazy – assaulting strangers on the street. So I stopped. But in the shuk, we always buy our eggs from a Haredi store owner. He is always smiling and singing some song or another to himself while he works. We have developed a great friendship. He asks me how many eggs I want, I tell him. Then he asks what size. I answer. Then we say thank you to each other and l’hitraot. If it is a Friday, we wish each other a Shabbat Shalom as well. OK, so maybe the relationship is not so strong, but it is a start. I think he likes me.

I have developed an even stronger relationship with Shlomo and Zoar. They sell me potatoes and vegetables. They know me as the American who married their most beautiful regular customer. Because they adore my wife, they are very interested in me. Shlomo always asks me if I am happy in Israel. I always answer yes but this never convinces him. He always gives me a lecture on why living Israel is so much better than living in the USA. Shlomo lived in the USA for a few years. I don’t know what his occupation was, but according to him, he made a lot of money. He tells me that life in the USA for Jews is empty, without meaning.  He says that only in Israel can you really live as a Jew. I agree with him. After all, I am making Aliyah. But he is not convinced. He worries about me. So, he lectures me. Every time.

There is another store owner who sells olive oil, canned goods and alchohol. I came to his store one time to purchase Arak. I have a strong American accent and cannot seem to pronounce this simple word correctly. After trying for five minutes to get him to understand what I was looking for, I finally saw it on the shelves and bought a bottle. “Oh, he says, “Arak.” Then he tried to teach me how to pronounce it correctly. To me, it sounded exactly like what I had said. Still, every time he sees me in the shuk, he yells at me, “Arak, Arak.”

My favorite store owner is Avi. He sells spices and dried nuts and fruits and also knows me through my wife. He always gives me a big hug when he sees that I have returned to Israel from the states. One time, my daughter was with me. My daughter is studying at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and came to Haifa for the weekend. I went to the shuk without my wife and took my daughter to help me. We were walking through the shuk holding hands when Avi saw me. Instead of giving me a hug, he gave me a frown. He took me aside and asked me if there was a problem between my wife and me. He thought my daughter was my girlfriend. After I explained that everything was ok and that this was only my daughter, I got my hug.

My daughter and I

The shuk is where I feel most connected to Israel. At the shuk are haredim and hiloni; Jews from Russia and Jews from Argentina; Ashkenazi, Shephardi, Mizrachi; young and old. We are all together. It is like some kind of magic washes away our differences and brings us together. I think I figured it out the magic. There is an old joke about Jewish holidays being all the same. They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat. Food is the magic that brings us together. The shuk is all about food.

When I read the paper and get frustrated by the issues that divide us, I remember my experiences from the shuk and am reminded that these are small issues. We are family and what unites us is stronger than what divides us. Maybe through our divisions, b’azrat Hashem, we can make ourselves stronger. In the meantime, I have the shuk.