Just a simple market town

Since I first wrote the below post I went back to the market several times each time unable to take a picture that captures what I mean…But markets are something to behold, which is why I share now, from a couple of weeks ago…

As we begin to normalise life in our flat – having cooked three week’s of evening meals ourselves and enjoyed most of them, and realising that with only four months until we leave left, who needs a bin or a dustpan – we also started venturing out into the city.
We’ve got to know our local bus route, the 68, and how much quicker it is to walk the extra five minutes to the light rail station, headed to Mount Herzl and past Avner’s quickly established favourite spot, “the ‘Mascus Gate”.

The experience of Mahane Yehuda (The Jewish market of mainly fresh produce and some meat, bread and fish, as opposed to the Arabic Souk with its textiles, gold, ceramics and leather wear) stays nothing short of the cliche of any oriental market.
Smells, colours, shoves and sounds to make you feel you’re a jungle animal rather than a tourist. But a tourist you still are and all the wishing that you’d been here hundreds of times previously like the mummies, seniors and even hipsters who know where to get the best price for nuts and the nicest flat breads won’t help. You’ve got to experience it yourself. So I vow to come at least once a week, just so I can savour each individual wonder: Apple sized radishes, dried watermelons, cheesecake like New York City’s never seen, beetroot as big as a head, mountains of plump strawberries, flatbreads, rolls, bagels, giant bagels, oval bagels, pittas plain, dark, with onion and cheese or the evergreen za’atar. Why do I even bother doing price comparisons, I asked myself? To see and then take home treasures like these is a privilege and not a cost.

But price comparison is my second name and so I indulge the compulsion to wander the stalls. As exhaustion hits i give in to one of the luxury flatbreads with cheesy onion and paprika chilly. But my soft white onions, one for each evening meal, I’ve bought at good price and take them home as a token of a Jerusalem love at first sight that might never be rivalled regardless of what else we’ll do and see. I might sneak back tomorrow. It’s only 20 minutes on the tram.

A splash of older age

Today I accidentally ended up in an aqua fit class of about 12 ladies in their 60s and 70s, a gentleman of that same generation and, well, me. The instructor was welcoming enough of me as a punter and of course, from swimming in the pool nobody can tell that I speak no Hebrew. So she kept throwing encouraging comments my way and I just kind of felt too awkward to leave. It was great exercise and I hope to be that active when I’m 65.

It cheered me up because I realised once again that body language really is universal and anyone can follow the moves of a half decent fitness instructor. Its especially unembarassing when nobody can really see what you’re doing under the water. And if I hadn’t been able to count till four in Hebrew yet, I’d have easily learnt it in that class.

I also loved the experience of watching those Israeli ladies moan about the shower queues and eye each other up in the changing facilities, taking whole trays of toiletries with them everywhere they went – from changing cubicle to shower to mirror. Whatever their body shape, they took pride in their appearance. It was liberating to tag along. And by the end of it I’m not sure what made me happier, that one of them scolded me in Hebrew for putting my towel in the wrong place or that another one took the time to comment on how my attendance caused a considerable drop in the group’s average age. That this is still possible at my age…

Shabbat, totally normal

From last Saturday, a half a lifetime ago.

As the saga of hospitality continues here on the “French Hill” we also reflect on a day that was so windy it promptly smashed two windows in our flat, and so cold that the brief view of Jerusalem’s golden hall mark three kilometres away felt enough of a promise of what’s to come. Instead of venturing in we remained roaming around our own pad. Laughing at endless arrays of dodgy cats and comparing types of palm leaves.
Avner led me into a devotion on the beginnings of Christ’s passion:
“And when he had arrived on his donkey Jesus went into a house, broke the bread (hat es kaputtgemacht) with his friends and drank some wine as the blood he gave for them. He then went into the garden to pray for God and then he was all alone.”

If you have kids I’m sure you’ve experienced he wonder and joy that comes upon you when you suddenly see that they have realised something astonishing about God. It was all I needed today but there were more treats from heaven.

We knocked on our muffin baking neighbours’ door to see what the three boys and their toys were like. 8, 6, and 4 years old, with their kippa and prayer beads immediately recognisable as observing Jews, they opened the door and we had to wait for their Ima to get her head covered before she could welcome us in.
And a welcome it was. Hot chocolates, biscuits, games and conversations between children and adults in snippets of Hebrew, German and English. The boys worked tirelessly to get our kids involved and the adult conversation felt so free and relaxed, chatting German Jewish history, Israeli politics, religion even…

It ended in an invitation to participate in the traditional formal blessing that marks the end of Shabbat. Candles, bitter herbs, wine, song and prayer to comfort the soul as „she“ separates from the Sabbath day.

We went home packed with toys and the promise of borrowing Purim costumes for the children.

We are so amazed and hope that the delightful boys we met today won’t bang the doors again at 6 am tomorrow morning.

Should I mention that more new friends called in later to bring more food and goodies and to help with fixing the broken window?

Shabbat is over. What is next?

 

They say Hospitality in the Middle East is legendary…

 

And we’ve been overwhelmed by its extravagance in such an unlikely place.

The building and our flat are old, there are two bomb shelters and bulgy rubbish skips outside, which dodgy cats have made into their home.

Our flat is morbidly filthy and yet I’ve never felt so blessed, because into this ugly place some friends who we’ve never met before have lavished on us generosity, beauty, and the sheer will to turn the tables on this first impression. And so we’ve had our table prepared with heaps of chicken, rice and greens, with kebabs and bread and cake and fruit and wine and the same on repeat for the next three days at least…

And doesn’t the knock on the door by a new neighbour with a plateful of muffins and the offer of play dates with his three sons just make your heart leap too?

We had already been drenched in love by those who’d sent us off with cards, visits, prayers, airport lifts, childcare and cleaning services…and arrived in a place of such grace.

The chidren have moaned, yawned, giggled and gasped their way trough this day, have gobbled down gifts of strawberries and juice, indulged in palm tree sightings and views of the beach and musings of a David in the bible “who called his soldiers brothers” (Avner), “why are all the ElAl machines so big” (Eliyah) and “Keren cuddled the cat” (Orli).

What them and we don’t yet understand about the depth of spirit in this place, we’re determined to mine out…

Extravagant hospitality where it’s most needed and least deserved, that’s certainly our starting point. Hallelujah

Jerusalem

We’ve temporarily relocated our table to a small flat in some University dormitories on French Hill/Mount Scopus in Jerusalem. It’s Tabula Rasa, you might say. But if you’d like to share the adventure, I’d love you to. My heart is overflowing with wonder, perhaps it can spread across a few national boundaries.