Hugarian/Yerushalmi babke, the colourful fresh produce market, (with an amusing tale), and the marvel of being an Israeli.
Jerusalem is very dear and special to me, but I’m hardly alone. The city is considered by billions of people to be the centre of the world.
Of all the cities on the planet, regardless of their size, beauty, even their importance as intellectual, spiritual or artistic hotbeds, none is as meaningful to as many people worldwide, as The City of David, Jerusalem.
Furthermore, Jerusalem is a city unlike any other, managing an existence which at once is the height of heavenly spirituality and modern, "of this world" earthiness. It is a composition of parallel universes, of an ancient, deeply sacred past and the ultimate "last word" of the present. The residents are a multifaceted array of people, many of whom refuse to deviate from the insular, strict codes of their centuries’ old lifestyle and customs, living side by side with people who frequent trendy coffee shops and invent technological marvels.
For some people like myself, Jerusalem is a mystical, unexplainable condition, not unlike being in love for others, it is a state of mind, a constant tension between rival flags and faiths, or heated disagreements amongst members of the same faith. One may feel moved, energized, or get swept into the maelstrom of controversial issues. One thing is certain the city will not leave you unaffected.
Jerusalem is a city so full of majestic beauty, antiquities and historic sites sacred to around 3.8 billion followers of all religions based on Abrahamic Law. It is a vibrant, color laden city of high learning, both religious and secular. Its exceptional beauty, breathtaking topography and fragrant, crisp mountain air would make it highly desirable place&hellipDayenu. But if you add to that all the other attributes and treasures the city encompasses, it becomes obvious why it more than legendary. Jerusalem has a palpable history, remnants of which still exist, or are in the process of being uncovered. It has an energy which is as exciting as it is calming, and many people (such as myself) claim to feel a swell in the heart as one’s ride turns the curve of the mountainous last 10 minute stretch of road, climbing the steep height toward The City Of Gold. Jerusalem is built on mountains and hills covered in olive trees, panoramic views and its buildings are made with the unique limestone, named Jerusalem brick. These building stones endow the city with special character, one which cannot be found elsewhere.
All around the center of the City and the holy sites around the ancient walls of the Old City, there is a huge number of neighborhoods, perhaps too many to mention.
Upon arrival, I got too excited to sit in traffic (the snow made traffic snail paced), so I took a cab to the Citadel and feasted my eyes on the snow covered streets, steam coming out of bakeries, making me hungry. I decided to stop at Bayit V’gan, home to some ultra-orthodox residents, many great Yeshivot, the famous Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, Shaarei Tzedek hospital and one of the best bakeries anywhere, humbly tucked away in a corner of the neighborhood, right by the Institute of Halachic technology. I bought some delicious fresh rye bread, bread rolls and butter, and a chocolate kugloff so delicious it melted in my mouth. The elderly Hungarian who is the owner and Master baker of the tiny bakery endowed all his creations with love and Jerusalmi style. There is such a thing, in fact a whole lot of yummy foods are strictly influenced by the city’s diversity. One of my favorites is the Yerushalmi Salad, which is a step up from the humble Israeli salad.
I then stepped in a big pile of sloshy snow and my feet felt wet and cold. The taxi waited for me at the next corner, and I settled in, clutching my warm bags, filling the closed cab with the smell of fresh bread and the scent of sugary kugloff.
Normally at this point I’d be stopping at the Machane Yehuda produce market, to stock up on fresh fruits, nuts and seeds. But that day I was a woman on a mission, with so little time at my disposal.
Carpe Diem, I thought and noticed I was munching away on my fragrant spoils. A quarter of the bread was gone, and the bobke had been reduced to half of its former glory. Jerusalem has a remarkable market, the Machane Yehuda Shuk, right in the middle of City Center, where observant Jews stock up feverishly for the Shabbat, mingling with secular customers all days of the week, knocking on melons to determine their ripeness, carefully picking the prettiest fruits and vegetables. The market is swirling with customers all week (closed Saturday). I love spending time there, watching the crowds, laughing in delight at the loud comments of the stall owners "Hurry up and get it now, the owner is meshuga, our prices are so low only because he’s in a mental asylum!!!"
I’m munching on freshly made Falafel balls stuffed into the freshest, still warm pita bread, with perfectly made Israeli salad, cucumbers pickled in brine, tahini and hot sauce. Just hanging out at the Shuk, shopping and absorbing the ambiance.
I once overheard a funny exchange between a Russian immigrant stall owner and a bitter faced yenta from Iraq. She rudely and impatiently pinched each tomato on the stand, squashing some till they burst, then complained with a disgusted hand gesture &ldquoIs this ugly tomato what you have?&rdquo
The seller shot back, unflustered : &ldquoOK madam, you want I should squash you because you even more ugly than my poor tomatoes?&rdquo
His retort got a big laugh and some slaps on the shoulder from adjacent stall keepers. "Kol Hakavod"!
The tomato man smiled, looking at the mess the woman made. &ldquoTrue, they are bit ugly now the lady make it like blini. But it good for soup, wash nice and it good for soup.&rdquo
I thought he was a great man, almost a tzadik. No one even noticed as the woman stalked off without paying for the produce she demolished.
This is a true story many Israelis can be hilarious, though not necessarily the most polite people around.
Also, here were two people, both Jews, both making their home in Jerusalem, hailing from very different countries, cultures and backgrounds and they have to learn to interact in this melting pot which is homeland to all Jews.
Once you add other factors, such as religious and political affiliations etc., things get even harder.
Yet, admirably, they manage, and though a period of adjustment is often needed when a new wave of immigrants bring in their country’s customs, eventually they all become part of the whole, the people of Israel.
Despite their differences, they develop a love for a country for which they’re willing to lay down their own and their children’s lives.
It’s also a country where everyone has strong opinions and everyone thinks they should be Prime Minister, because they are more right than their neighbour.
It may never be total harmony, in a country filled with lots of smart opinionated people, who can be arrogant with one another, more so than they’d be if they lived in the diaspora. I think it’s the comfort of being part of a large family, where one can pick on one another and still belong, no matter what. I for one love the diversity and the Jewish spirit, burning bright and feisty, despite a history which would have destroyed a lesser People. The Jewish spirit, burning bright and feisty, despite a history which would have destroyed a lesser People.