A Shuk of Protests
I love going to the shuk, especially on Fridays when folks do their last-minute Shabbat shopping and others–effortlessly exuding Tel Avivi coolness– just hang with friends at the cafés squeezed between the stalls.
I’m tall, so the crowds don’t feel claustrophobic, and over time I’ve learned how to weave around people in my way. I never get tired of the noise—the shouts of vendors hawking their wares, the loud rock music from the cafes, the Birthright kids shouting to each other.
And the sights—oh the sights! Heaps of fresh vegetables and fruits of all colors. The conical piles of spices. The buckets of cut flowers. Such abundance. Such beauty.
I used to wonder how people decided which vendor to patronize. What made one gorgeous mound of grapes more attractive than another? Somehow, over time, I too have chosen which place to get my carrots, and where to buy the sweetest cherry tomatoes ever.
Little did I know that my time in the shuk would prepare me for the protests against the new government’s proposals.
I held my friend Elana’s hand so we wouldn’t get separated as we made our way through the crowd up Kaplan Street. It was slow going— just like in the shuk– so the signs and flags around us were welcome diversions and insights into what was on people’s mind.
Even though the protest was against the proposed Netanyahu judicial reforms, we noticed that many other issues were being addressed. Some were related to the court reforms, others were all-purpose noble sentiments, and some were only connected by being among the usual Center-Left causes. And some seemed to be a chance for the protester to vent.
Elana and I took advantage of our slow pace to read the signs, and then to consider our own stances—just like one would consider which cheese vendor to use. The scene had the same cacophony, variety, and abundance as the shuk, only instead of food, there were Demands, Laments and Exhortations. Food for thought! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) A chance to reflect and take a stand.
As troubling as the new government’s proposals are to me, participating in the protests has been deeply comforting. When reading about current events on my own, I felt bereft, as if my most treasured core beliefs about Israel had been betrayed. Being among like-minded people has reminded me that these are proposals and not yet codified law—there’s still work to be done. It looks like I’m not the only one who has been energized and motivated to express my convictions publicly and forcefully. I’m moved that people march together, even though their opinions and priorities differ. It reminds me of Israel’s early history, when all kinds of competing ideas were ferociously debated, and somehow, out of that chaos this wonderful place emerged.
One American friend asked me if I thought my participation in the demonstrations made a difference. I answered that I did, though I thought I heard a note of disdain in her voice. Encountering her cynicism fortified my sense that showing up and being counted matters. Living in Israel means being part of Israel’s story, which calls on us to be active–not passive. That’s why I will march again this coming Saturday evening, and for as many Saturdays as it takes to find common ground.
All photos by Nancy Cahners. Translations by Dr. Diana Lipton