Israel: Day 16 (and a bit of day 15)

September 18, 2023 • 9:30 am

I can’t believe I went a day and a half without food in Jerusalem without realizing that there was a 24/7 restaurant right across the street from my hotel. And it was open on Saturday and Sunday—the two days when everything else  was closed for Rosh Hashanah. Well, I learned about it yesterday in time to go to the cafe (called Zuni) for a big honking breakfast of eggs, toast, lox, cheese, salad, olives, and coffee. Man, was it good to have food!

Below: the hours I missed when it was open (the place is down an alley and hard to find):

Open on Rosh Hashanah!

The streets were so empty yesterday that they did a film shoot on the tram tracks (public transportation is suspended during shabbos and holidays).

Nearby, Jews were blowing the shofar, or ram’s horn, traditionally signaling the holiday. From Wikipedia:

The blowing of the shofar (Hebrew: תקיעת שופרHebrew pronunciation: [t(e)kiˈ(ʔ)at ʃoˈfaʁ]) is a ritual performed by Jews on Rosh Hashanah. The shofar is a musical horn, typically made of a ram’s horn. Jewish law requires that the shofar be blown 30 times on each day of Rosh Hashanah, and by custom it is blown 100 or 101 times on each day.

Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall be a solemn rest unto you, a memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns, a holy convocation.

Here’s a rabbi showing how it’s done:

Below: a sign for the holidays (if you read Hebrew, please translate).

BTW, there’s a famous off-color Jewish joke about the shofar that I’ll put below the fold to preserve the family-oriented nature of this site.

This morning I went to the Mahane Yehuda Market, only a half-hour walk from my hotel and near the ultra-Orthodox quarter.  It’s well known, and here’s part of the Wikipedia entry:

Mahane Yehuda Market (Hebrew: שוק מחנה יהודהromanized: Shuk Mahane Yehuda), often referred to as “The Shuk” (Hebrew: השוקromanized: HaShuqlit.‘The Market’), is a marketplace (originally open-air, but now partially covered) in Jerusalem. Popular with locals and tourists alike, the market’s more than 250 vendors sell fresh fruits and vegetables; baked goods; fish, meat and cheeses; nuts, seeds, and spices; wines and liquors; clothing and shoes; and housewares, textiles, and Judaica.

In and around the market are falafel, shawarma, kibbeh, kebab, shashlik, kanafeh, baklava, halva, zalabiya and Jerusalem mixed grill stands, juice bars, cafes, and restaurants. The color and bustle of the marketplace is accentuated by vendors who call out their prices to passersby. On Thursdays and Fridays, the marketplace is filled with shoppers stocking up for Shabbat, until the Friday afternoon sounding of the bugle that signifies the market will close for the Sabbath. In recent years, “the shuk” has emerged as another Jerusalemic nightlife center, with restaurants, bars and live music.

I went at opening time to take photos and avoid the crowds, and it was a remarkable place selling anything you’d want to eat. And there were very few tourists: mostly women and Orthodox Jews buying provisions. Here are two photos of the market, which consists of two long covered and parallel east-west streets connected by north-south alleys, also full of food stalls.

One of the two long streets:

One of the N/S alleys:

The goods included Turkish delight (loukoum, one of my favorites),

. . . all kinds of candy (Israeli kids must really love their sweets, as there are dozens of candy stalls,

and luscious-looking breads.

Here’s a friendly guy patting out fresh pita:

On offer: fantastic fruits and veg (every item of which is better in Israel than in the U.S). The tomatoes here are ripe and sweet, and the melons infinitely better than those you can get in the States. (American store tomatoes suck.)

I don’t know what the fruit in he middle is, but it seems to be a type of wrinkly pear.

Bored produce vendor:

Nuts and dried fruits, very popular:

An old guy with a drink and a smoke:


Freshly baked pastries:



All sorts of olives, and I love them all:

More candy:

I’m not sure what these things are, but I was given one to taste (the type at front left is a delicious mixture of lemon and mint). They are like flavored jelly candies but are invariably sold alongside various herbal teas (also shown):

One thing you quickly discover here is that both Jews and Arabs love their coffee, are willing to pay for the good stuff. It’s often served in glasses. Very often they drink a form of Turkish coffee: grounds boiled with water (sugar optional) and then allowed to settle before drinking. This form of coffee is found throughout the Middle East, and is also the coffee most common in Greece (in Greece I ask for it “glyki vrasto”, or “sweet and well boiled).  The boiled coffee is always prepared on the spot.

Here are some of the beans on sale at the market:

A market kitty who, I’m told, “belongs” to a coffee shop. Note the clipped ear, indicating neutering:

I was hungry and tempted by everything, but knew that after the market I was going back to have a big hummus lunch at Ben-Sira’s, so couldn’t eat on the spot. But I was on the prowl for one thing: halva: the sesame version. It’s one of my favorite sweets and comes in a variety of flavors

There are several halva shops in the market, but I was told that the best was called “Halva Kingdom”. There’s no English on the sign, and you must find it by looking for halva on sale and a crown on the sign. Eventually I found it!

Look at all that halva!

A fancy one. Prices run from 99 to 200 shekels per kilo (about 3.7 shekels to the dollar):

Artificially sweetened halva on the right; the real stuff on the left. Needless to say, I was a Leftist.  I bought three types, about a kilo in total (plain, pistachio and walnut).

When I got home I discovered that the “Halva Kingdom” bag did have English on it, has branches in Tel Aviv, and that the outfit is two years older than I am.

Walking back with my sweet treasure, I passed my favorite police station again—the one with the lions. As I noted in an earlier post, this is where the British Consul used to live.

And one of the lions (he needs dental work):

Another mini-lion. My heart breaks for this sweet kitten, as it looks hungry but won’t let me get near. It lives near my hotel, and perhaps I’ll buy a box of cat food (I didn’t see any cat food in the market):

A synagogue (or so I think) bearing lions of Judah. Translations welcome.

Hummus at last, and at my favorite place in Jerusalem, Ben-Sira. Here’s a 50-shekel lunch with hummus, veg, falafel, and fresh pita, along with a large glass of lemonade. (The lemonade, freshly squeezed, was not overly sweet.)

Close-up of hummus, topped with a few chickpeas:

Full at last! Full at last! Thank god almighty I’m full at last!

Click “read more” to see the shofar joke:

Two men were passing a synagogue on Rosh Hashanah when they heard a loud noise the sounded like a horn.
“What the heck was that?”
“Oh, the Jews are blowing the shofar on their new year.”
“Wow! They really know how to treat their help!”

31 thoughts on “Israel: Day 16 (and a bit of day 15)

  1. That rabbi was not that good on the shofar. I’ve heard better. Ah, I would love to see the food market and especially the halvah.

  2. I believe the Hebrew on the gates of the synagogue is: “The house of the gathering. The Sephardi. The lovers of Jerusalem.” The house of the gathering is, of course, the Hebrew version of Greek “synagogue.”

  3. I heard a version of that joke when I was young (as a dialect joke). It was actually the first time I’d ever heard of a shofar. Unfortunately, I can’t hear the word without thinking of the joke. That old fellow could make money here in during the holidays as Santa. Probably not so much in Israel.

    1. You can say that again—one of the most dramatic aspects of Zionism! After the many
      centuries when Jews were prohibited from working the land, today’s Israel has a high quality agriculture that grows the dazzling produce shown in our host’s shuk photos. [In Europe, one finds a trace or echo of this in fruits, especially citrus, and veggies imported from Israel.]

  4. I’d purely love to have a market like that in my town.

    I couldn’t agree with you more regarding tomatoes in US supermarkets. Heck, even in most dedicated produce markets and roadside stands. They are just horrible. The only thing they bring to any dish you attempt to use them in is water. If you’re lucky.

    For a few years the market we typically use did carry heirloom tomatoes in addition to the regular debased varieties. One small section, usually 2 or 3 varieties, all priced the same. These were usually quite good. But, they inexplicably stopped carrying them about a year ago!

    I must admit, some of the tiny tomatoes found at local markets can be pretty good. Grape, sugar, cherry, etc. tomatoes. But those are no substitute!

    1. Out of interest, why is fruit generally poor in the US? In the UK our excuse is lack of sunshine, and the fact that ripe fruit doesn’t travel well. But lots of US states have lots of sunshine.

      1. I encountered a possible, partial explanation of this 20 years ago, at an excellent meal in an upscale neighborhood of Mexico City. Salad veggies were exceptionally fine. I asked about this, and learned that Mexico’s good vegetables are retained for domestic use, while it is mostly the crappy ones that are exported to the US.

      2. There’s surely a variety of reasons, but my guesstimate is that the biggest factor is prioritizing development of long shelf life at the expense of things like taste and texture. I hazard the guess that the traits that have been selected for, or engineered as the case may be, correlate rather well with preventing the ripening of the fruit. But that’s just a guess.

        At one time I would have said that many fruits in the US were bred indiscriminately for size, and that was the reason they sucked. But after visiting Japan, that seems less plausible. While in Japan I had grapes and pears that were both bigger than I’d ever seen before and tasted better than any I’d ever had before.

      3. Produce varies dramatically from state to state in regards to freshness and regional availability. I’ve lived in 4 states: California, Washington, Nevada and Wyoming, and the further away from growing areas, the worse the produce is. Wyoming, for example, has lots of sunshine, but horrible growing conditions (a lot of states fall in this category). I currently live in Washington (lots of sunshine in Eastern Washington where most of the state’s agriculture is located, plus great volcanic soil and mild winters), and during summer I can get garden fresh tomatoes, melons, or just about any other fruit. Winter is a different story, but that’s to be expected. During Winter a lot of our Summer crops are shipped up from Mexico/Central/South America or grown in greenhouses (a huge industry in Canada). This means many are picked before they’re ripe to minimize loss during shipping. Some vegetables/fruit aren’t affected by this method (avocados, bananas, mangos) but most suffer in flavor and/or texture, especially tomatoes, melons and stone fruits. Tomatoes are also often picked green and then upon arrival gassed with ethylene to make them red (but not necessarily ripe).

        I’ll also add that I grow my own tomatoes and home-grown is still better than the best Summer tomatoes from a Farmer’s market, or high-quality heirloom varieties. I don’t know why this is, but I suspect that even “vine-ripened” tomatoes in the market aren’t on the vine as long as a home-grown tomato. (Or “mater” as I like to call them…I think it’s a Southern thing, but I’ve culturally appropriated it.)

        Sorry for such a long post, it got away from me. 😝

    2. I’m surprised you don’t have a local “Farmer’s Market” there in Florida. Maybe they’re not as common as they are in the West, but that would surprise me.

      1. Oh, there are lots. Agriculture is big in Florida. A few I’ve been to and not been impressed. No good tomatoes. There are a few, recommended by others, that I need to try.

        Whenever I’m determined enough to accept the torture of driving through traffic among the worst drivers in the nation, all the way to the other side of town, there is a Fresh Market and a Publix that both usually have some great heirloom tomatoes. They both usually have real buffalo mozzarella too, an Italian brand at Fresh Market and a quite good US brand at Publix.

  5. The “sign for the holidays” for which Professor Coyne asks for translation reads: “The shofar will be blown here on Rosh Hashanah, at ____ o’clock.” (The actual time is not filled in.) The letters at the bottom are Ch-B-D. Chabad, otherwise known as the Lubavitcher chasidic sect, are sponsors of that program.

  6. The vowels make such a difference in being able to read the Hebrew (for me). The sign for Halvah Kingdom was clear to me, but all the ones without vowels are mainly beyond my skill.

  7. It takes foreign travel to realize the utter disgrace of American fruits and vegetables sold in supermarkets and most stores. Mass market food systems sacrifice quality for looks and transportability. Small cherry tomatoes sometimes taste better because they are probably closest to the original tomato as opposed to the large behemoths sold that are mostly water. Most farmers are just prisoners of large industrial producers who manipulate their vegetables and fruits. The end result is less taste, less sugar and a mediocre product. That American consumers put up with this crap is a reflection on their lack of discrimination. You figure things out after you travel abroad. Why does the richest country in the world have the worst food? Why do so many people put up with it? (at least outside of California).

    1. I’d have to disagree with the “looks” argument. The typical industry tomato found in US supermarkets are ugly as can be. The color is unnatural enough to upset your stomach, the interior texture leads to doubts about its edibility and the shape, while not bad, is nothing special. Many varieties of heirloom tomatoes, by contrast, look like works of art that evoke a Pavlovian response.

    2. Great produce can be found in all the Western coastal states: CA, OR, WA. At least during the growing season. I think the lack of consumer discrimination when it comes to food is regional and not at all a reality in every state.

  8. People must get awfully tired of hearing the shofar, 100 times a day!! Earplugs are presumably big in Israel.
    I love USA summer watermelons – if those in Israel are far better, they must be incredibly vivid. Although the quality in the USA probably depends on where in it you are.
    January watermelons, however … So bad they’re nauseating to eat.

      1. Oh, that sounds better 🙂 Hearing it 100 different times a day would be like a water torture, or a car horn gone amok.

      2. And if it’s something you go to hear, rather than being subjected to anywhere in the city, that’s much better. Silence (or relative silence) is beautiful.

    1. As i recall from chidhood, hearing the shofar is never tiring but rather thrilling and stirring. The calls bring back visions of the tribal leaders calling the community together in the desert. There are individual parts ofa mostly all day service in which the shofar is blown. I give a link to a better representative shofar sound in my reply in commet 2 above. The shofar is hard to master and congregants who took it on when i was a kid were well respected for their efforts

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