Making Your Mark(et)

Some people cross crocodile-infested waters…

Others partake in mass protests…

Wonder Woman sprinted across a war zone with bullets firing on either side.

I braved shuk Machane Yehuda… on a Friday.

There is a special energy that envelopes the market Erev Shabbat when most Jerusalemites use their one free day to pack in a week’s worth of grocery shopping. I believe the commonly used term is “balagan“.

Women prepare to fight tooth and crumb to obtain a pair of challot from Marzipan, salatim are bought in bulk to adorn the Shabbat table, and there is an aroma of fish which lingers in the air even after you’ve turned a few corners.

So when a young South African announced that she would be venturing into the melee on a somewhat drizzly Friday morning, she was met with equally amusing expressions of disbelief, eye-rolling, fear, laughter, and an eyebrow raise so high that it would have made a Kardashian envious.

Should be fine, then…

When Gal Gadot’s iconic character dashed across a bullet-streaked field, she at least wore armour.

With no golden lasso for protection, I entered the shuk armed with nothing but some Israeli chutzpah passed down through my father’s genes. And an agalah.

Agvaniot! B’vakasha! Basar, esrim shekel l’kilo! Ken, ken! Yalla, mami!

The first thing that hits you is the sounds.

The shopkeepers let you know at the top of their lungs (I’m right next to you, dude!) that their tomatoes are fresher than the stall next door. Customers shout across the counter that their containers of chatzilim aren’t full enough. More. More than that. Why are you so stingey? No, that’s too much.

Fresh rougalach attract your salivary glands – and the bees – while the multi-coloured piles of sweets almost beg you to start playing a real-life game of Candy Crush.

Turning the corner makes you wonder if there has ever been a more fashionable fruit than the sliced dragon fruit which is sitting atop the other produce in all its polka-dot glory.

Men wearing kippot and tzitzit exchange money with flower-sellers who have probably never even heard of Eliza Doolittle, and will launch into a soliloquy about the dire level of the Kinneret if you so much as mention the rain in Spain.

The halva vendor offers you a taste of his homemade delicacies (which you daren’t decline) and will respond to your compliment that it is delicious with, “Of course it is, I know.”

Unhappy babies in their own agalot make their dissatisfaction loudly known as young mothers attempt to bribe them with watermelon gums before lunchtime.

They want to go home. They don’t like the intoxicating spices from Morocco and Yemen that have permeated the atmosphere with visions of warm air, colourful fabric, and musical clothing.

Fluid Hebrew with perfect grammar is intertwined with scatterings of English and Americanised pronunciations as people of every race, religion, country, and age experience the melting pot where Israelis buy the ingredients for their own melting pots. Pushing is not considered impolite in Israel as much as it is a form of self-defence required by every person who wishes to be served.

And if you need advice about what to put in that night’s cholent or just how exactly to quieten your shrieking child, you can rest assured that you will find it in the shuk. Free of charge. In bulk.

And just as you think you may have made your escape, with about 40% of your hearing still intact, one of the open bars starts blaring Toxic by Britney Spears. It causes a raucous cheer from its patrons. Israelis love Britney Spears.

Did my encounter demand dodging ammunition a la Diana Prince?

No, just pushing past a few old ladies dragging their agalot, and some children running whilst tightly gripping onto the bag of sweets that they’ve been allowed to buy as a Shabbat treat.

The odyssey through Jerusalem’s chaotic bazaar, on its busiest day of the week, would not be complete without buying a large tub of shrivelled Calamata olives, and a wink from the guy behind the counter. Not quite Chris Pine, but he’ll do… until you notice that he winks at all his female customers under the age of 75 and you’re not that special.

I braved shuk Machane Yehuda on a Friday… and I survived.

About the Author
Despite hating the sound of her own voice, Sasha Star is a radio presenter in Johannesburg, South Africa. Her “driven” personality and love of film, music, literature, and food means in spite of being in a wheelchair, she is often too busy to sit down.
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