“Slicha! Excuse me! Slicha!” Elbows out, chin high in the crowd, I maneuver through the bustling sea of bodies, engulfed in the smells of freshly baked pita, fruity teas, falafel bubbling in the fryer, and Middle Eastern fare. A walls of arms reaching for juice samples, twirling amber glass bottles, and exchanging shekels shifts around me as I make my way to the clearing up front. The cashier bids a friendly farewell to a customer in Arabic, then turns to greet me in Hebrew. He then escorts me to a shelf of elixirs in the back, where I scan the collection alongside an Ethiopian woman speaking Aramaic to her friend. From this spot in a small parlor of the Shuk, surrounded by a mashup of languages, clinking bottles and sizzling stovetops, I capture a glimpse of how this beautiful country might look if it ever saw real peace.
Those who think of the holy city of Jerusalem often picture the Western Wall, Temple Mount, or Al-Aqsa Mosque – places of religious sanctity, great architectural beauty, and historical significance. And, while they foster connectedness and reverence, they are also reminders of a deeply divided city, plagued since ancient times by failed attempts at coexistence. For me, however, it is here in the Shuk, or Mahane Yehuda market, that the true character of Jerusalem is experienced. In the alleyways of the marketplace, people convene to buy, sell, eat, and socialize. It is here that one encounters the collective beauty of so many rich yet disparate cultures. The young and elderly, Arab and Jew, religious and secular, new immigrant and 9th generation, soldier carrying her rifle and hassid with long payot, all come together. The endless percussion of Hebrew, Arabic, Amharic blending over the exchange of goods between people with starkly different beliefs – this is Jerusalem.
Visit the rows of dried fruit and nuts, plates sizzling with delicious Yemenite creations, and tables overflowing with warm breads and pastries. You will witness people with opposing cultural, religious, and political beliefs experiencing life beyond their individual differences and the conflicts weighing upon Israel and the Palestinian territories. As buyer interacts with seller, seller with buyer, and friend with friend, there is a striking sense of harmony and synchronicity. We get a glimpse of perhaps a future peace and coexistence that contrasts to the reality of Jerusalem today.
For now, it’s just that. A glimpse of what could be.