To finish off my photo journal of traveling in Israel, here are some photos from last Thursday in Jerusalem, the day before I left (well, technically I left at 50 minutes after midnight on Saturday). The four-hour tour involved more walking around the center of town with my local friend Anna and her father Roberto, including lunch in a really excellent but unknown (to tourists) restaurant. Let’s get started.
We went to lunch back at the Mahane Yehuda Market, which gets busy on Thursday when the Orthodox Jews have to get in provisions before Friday’s Sabbath. Most people at the market then were Israelis, though there were a few tourists. I haven’t found this market, which must be visited in Jerusalem, nearly as “touristy” as the guidebooks describe—and the noms are great.
Yom Kippur begins today, but they were already erecting “sukkah” structures to celebrate the next holiday: Sukkot, which is a weeklong festival starting next Friday and lasting until October 6. From Wikipedia:
A sukkah or succah (/ˈsʊkə/; Hebrew: סוכה [suˈka]; plural, סוכות [suˈkot] sukkot or sukkos or sukkoth, often translated as “booth”) is a temporary hut constructed for use during the week-long Jewish festival of Sukkot. It is topped with branches and often well decorated with autumnal, harvest or Judaic themes. The book of Vayikra (Leviticus) describes it as a symbolic wilderness shelter, commemorating the time God provided for the Israelites in the wilderness they inhabited after they were freed from slavery in Egypt.It is common for Jews to eat, sleep and otherwise spend time in the sukkah. In Judaism, Sukkot is considered a joyous occasion and is referred to in Hebrew as Z’man Simchateinu (the time of our rejoicing), and the sukkah itself symbolizes the fragility and transience of life and one’s dependence on God.
With three holidays in a row, not only was the market doing a land-office business, but the police and IDF were everywhere because, you know, the Palestinians like to do their terrorism on Jewish holidays. BTW, the significance of all Jewish holidays has been jokingly described this way:
“They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat!”
A crowded market with the IDF patrolling:
I didn’t realize this before, but there are some stores that specialize in precooked food for shabbos, as the act of cooking itself is forbidden to many on the Sabbath. Here’s one place with precooked food (kosher, of course):
Anna told me that this restaurant, Azura, which specializes in Middle Eastern food, is one of the most popular restaurants in the market, and it certainly gets high ratings. It sits in a little hidden plaza in the market, so I hadn’t seen it on my previous visit. Now that I know about it, I’ll surely be a regular if I revisit Jerusalem, and I recommend it highly to visitors:
The menu (remember, it’s about four shekels to the dollar). It isn’t cheap, but it isn’t pricey, either. Think of visiting Jerusalem as financially equivalent to visiting New York City.
It’s certified kosher, of course, but NOT FOR PASSOVER! (Don’t ask me why.)
Noms! We shared a large plate of hummus with chickpeas and tahini (there are no small plates of hummus that I’ve seen).
I had the azura: “Turkish eggplant filled with ground beef and pine nuts in a special sauce with cinnamon.” It was the only time in my three-week trip that I ate animal protein, and the dish was superb (and filling!). It also came with pita bread, of course, which doubled for scooping up the hummus:
Anna had the Jerusalem salad:
. . . and Roberto had “beef head with chickpeas cooked in a piquant sauce”. It was so filling that he couldn’t finish it:
We ate outside, but I went inside to see the dishes, all displayed on a hot table. Most of these dishes take hours of cooking, and thus they’re ready to eat when you order. Your food comes in less than five minutes. This reminded me of Greece, where in many restaurants there’s no menu: you just go back into the kitchen and see what’s on the stove:
Nearby were two tables of guys playing backgammon. One of them yelled to us (in Hebrew) that the guys at the adjacent table didn’t know how to play!
Another thing I missed on my first visit, but was imparted by Anna, was that there was one north-south “cross” corridor called the “Iraqi market,” where the produce is sold by Iraqi Jews. It’s heavily patronized because the fruit and veg are supposedly cheaper there than in other parts of the market. They’re good, too. I swear, I will never be happy with an American tomato again after having ripe Israeli tomatoes, sweet and right off the plant:
They also sold miniature eggplants, which I understand are hard to find:
Pitas are formed by hand but then go through an assembly-line machine that cooks them to perfection. I never had a single pita bread in Israel that wasn’t absolutely fresh. I miss them.
And other breads sold by this store:
I found a cheesecake store I missed on my first trip! I didn’t buy any, as I was full, but perhaps I should have. If you can read Hebrew, tell me what the signs say.
Right outside the market was an Orthodox Jew performing a blessing on a passing woman. (I don’t know what’s in the envelope that he’s tapping on her head.)
These proselytizers will grab you as soon as look at you, for blessing anybody is a mitzvah: one of 613 Jewish commandments whose fulfillment will hasten the return of the Messiah. I’ll show a mitzvah booth shortly:
Here is a store that, says Anna, caters entirely to the religious headscarf needs of Orthodox women, who often shave their heads and then put on a wig and a headscarf. Sometimes, I was told, the women put a hunk of sponge on their heads so that it takes a huge headscarf to cover it (see the one at upper left), adding to their appearance by enlarging the cranium. My reflection is visible in the rear mirror.
Here’s another plaque marking the site of a terrorist attack. If you read Hebrew, please translate it in the comments:
Yes, this is a mitzvah station, where Orthodox Jews will be glad to put Jewish garb on you temporarily (only for men, women get Sabbath candles to light, which is their job). You can get a kippah, a talit, and tefillin (by now you should know what these are). Once you put them on, you’ve been part of a mitzvah. But when will the Messiah come? (One thing you learn as an atheist in Israel is that religion is not only nuts, but divisive and deadly). Yet still I consider myself part of this group.
By all accounts Kadosh is the most famous and best coffee-and-pastry emporium in Jerusalem. There’s always a line outside, and we were lucky to get a table.
The crowd at about 1 p.m.:
Notice that in this group of what seem to be Orthodox women, one of them was wearing pants. This is supposed to be forbidden to Orthodox women, but I gather there are degrees of Orthodoxy. Notice how high the headscarves ride:
We went inside to assay the pastries, and I was photographing them through the glass when the woman behind the counter offered to take photos for me, for from her side there was no glass. Aren’t they lovely?
I ordered one of these as I had no idea what they were but they looked good:
Roberto, who’s from Italy, had a macchiato: espresso with a tad of steamed milk. I had never had one before, so I joined him. It was only a tiny sip of coffee, but I had forgotten that in Italy coffee is not a beverage experience but a drug experience.
Here’s my pastry, which not only looked like a Halloween ghoul, but was great, with crispy and toothsome pastry on the outside and a wonderful whipped cream filling. And it was filling in the other sense, too. Get one of these! Kadosh is on Jaffa Street, not far from the City Hall and Old City.
Anna and Roberto split a chocolate croissant:
Finally, we walked through the “Russian quarter” nearby and I saw my first Israeli prison behind a police station. I asked someone where they put convicted terrorists, and they’re not kept in Jerusalem. Instead, they’re scattered throughout Israel, some in the Negev desert. This is probably a local jail for minor criminals; you can see the fence around the top:
Before flying out I packed my camera away, so the last three photos from Ben-Gurion airport in Tel Aviv were taken on my iPhone. The first is the very last meal I had in Israel: shakshouka with tahini and hummus (of course) with a side of fries. It was remarkably cheap and filling (and good!) for airport food):
The Lubavitchers had a booth in the duty-free area past customs! It was too late to see them, but there was plenty of literature and cards showing their late rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson (I’ve written about him before). I nabbed a handful of cards showing him in his famous pose. You really should read the Wikipedia entry about this guy; he was amazing, and did do some good stuff even if he was deluded by Orthodox Judaism. So many great minds and diligent bodies devoted to studying—fiction!
I couldn’t resist putting up this group photo from Wikipedia of Lubavitchers taken in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where their big synagogue is (I’ve been there, and have recounted how I was wrapped in Jewish garb and thrust onto the synagogue floor, thence to be prayed over as a mitzvah).
Not much diversity here, though perhaps some diversity in thought (as interpreting the Talmud).
And so it’s farewell to Israel, where I had a great time. And there’s lots more to see. Will I go back? Perhaps, though my bucket list is pretty full. I’d recommend a visit there very highly, but keep to Jerusalem and other parts of the country, and avoid Tel Aviv unless you like beaches.