Mahane Yehuda, Jerusalem’s largest outdoor marketplace, is busiest on Friday afternoons. Locals frantically gather last minute ingredients for their Friday meal, tourists run into the main corridor screaming “It’s not closed yet!”, and Birthright-ers wander, looking lost but pleased with their frozen yogurt. Orthodox women, clad in long skirts and long sleeves, walk with purpose to the fruit stand where the man booms “Shalom” and weighs their purchases. After the customers pick up their plastic bags, they walk to the next stand. Halva Kingdom (which has samples!) rises up amongst fruit stands piled with apricots, figs, and grapes. The line to buy rugelach, Jewish flaky cookies half baked and filled with chocolate, goes out the door.
Mahane Yehuda refers to both the market and the neighborhood surrounding it. The neighborhood was founded in 1887 as an area where Arab merchants could sell goods to people living outside of the Old City of Jerusalem. Stands sprouted up haphazardly until the 1920s, when the British Authority cleared out all of the stands and redid the market to implement order and sanitation. Nowadays most of the stalls are owned by Jewish merchants and there is an area known as the “Iraqi Market” right next to the main drag.
Mahane Yehuda is the biggest of the few open air foods market in Jerusalem. Almost every major Israeli city has a market similar to Jerusalem’s, and each represents the diversity and political climate of that city. In Jerusalem, there are areas where the ultra-Orthodox shop, areas where Jews of North African/Arab descent shop, and areas where Jews of Eastern European descent shop. Residents of East Jerusalem primarily shop in their own neighborhoods. In Tel Aviv, the Carmel Market in a touristy area of the city hosts Venezuelan arepa stands and hamburger shops, while Levinsky Market, in a historically immigrant neighborhood, boasts heaps of spices and Persian flavor. Ultimately, Israeli markets are the hub of cultural life
Back at the market, the organized chaos won’t continue for much longer. The fish stand man begins to spray and clean his glass case, the fig man looks at his watch, and the gelateria turns off their lights. In just a few hours, the marketplace roof will cover only cats slinking around corners and confused tourists who sigh as they realize they arrived just a little too late to catch the action.