Apr 132013
 

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I took a springtime walk through the Ramleh open-air market early last week. The sign wishing visitors a happy Passover was still up at the entrance.  You can find seasonal vegetables there which don’t appear in my local market: green chickpeas, purple carrots, Jerusalem sage… I like to roam around there and see what I can find.

image green garlic ramleh market

I mentioned last year that I’ll probably be posting about fresh green garlic every year, as long as I’m writing this blog. Well, it’s time.

And tell me, isn’t there something evocative about a bunch of purple-skinned fresh garlic? I confess, I feel the same esthetic satisfaction from one that contemplating a still-life of fruit by Monet gives me.

Continue reading »

Dec 302012
 

jerusalem 2012

Why did I shlep my family away from warm Petach Tikvah to trawl grey, windy Jerusalem on a December day?

All the Jerusalemites were hurrying their errands along, anxious to get off the chilly streets and  back into warm apartments. Not at all like my previous visit to the town on a sunny day.  So what were we – Husband, The Little One, my son Eliezer, and I – doing there?

Well, revisiting scenes from Eliezer’s childhood.

As soon as Eliezer was old enough to roam around the city on his own, he made certain neighborhoods his territory, exploring every obscure alley, arched stone doorway, and hole in the ground. (He tells me that a small boy can travel underground through the Bucharim neighborhood through a network of old dry wells and tunnels that still exist there.) And Shuk Machaneh Yehudah was another playground for little roamers like him, who melted into the background and absorbed all there was of atmosphere, customs, tastes and smells without the busy vendors and shoppers taking notice.

And so we walked through the shuk, up Agrippas Street, and down the Ben Yehudah pedestrian mall to Zion Square, in search of those long-lost times.

Continue reading »

Jul 202011
 

image-musicians-balabasta-festivalimage-concert-balabasta-festival

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Hurry up and get there! Only one more Monday night left!

Every Monday in July, shuk Machaneh Yehudah throws a huge street party. It’s the rowdy Balabasta festival. The punning name celebrates  basta (produce stand), ba’al ha’basta (owner of the stand), balabusta (housewife), and the culture of the open market in Jerusalem.

I went to see it for myself this week, just me and my camera. The shops and vendors were doing great business.

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Here and there bands played and people gathered to listen. In one little space, youngsters sang old songs of aliyah and Eretz Israel. I loved this red-haired girl, who sang in a fresh alto and blew a mean trombone too.

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A rooftop concert rocked the crowd (pictured above).The band is called Acharit HaYamin, and sounds were rock, reggae, psalms set to heart-banging Yemenite/jazz fusion – all Israeli, punctuated at intervals by enthusiastic ululations from the crowd or the rooftop stage.

Yes, it was crowded. But it was a friendly crowd, everyone giving way to old folks or women pushing strollers, everyone intent on just having fun. It felt safe, it felt homey.

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image-balabasta-festival-jerusalem

This band was playing an amusing, cool-jazz version of the “Pink Panther” theme.

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Something for everyone: whimsical fairytale figures to entertain the kids
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I stood slightly to one side, taking photos and moving with the music and watching the people.

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One delicatessen intelligently set up a stand of cheeses and wine by the glass. It was fun to stand in the middle of the shuk and the noise and the surging crowd, savoring Cabernet Sauvignon.

DSC_1699 cheese & wine

I felt an multi-layered emotion I couldn’t describe.When the musicians sang of peace, of our longing for peace one day, and the people shouted “Amen!” I stood like a fool among all those people, with tears in my eyes.

Sweaty heat and the cooling Jerusalem breeze as the evening set in. Loud, cheerful music, Jerusalemites dancing in the ancient street, the stone buildings that have seen so much of struggle, war, and the everlasting everyday. Smells of fresh bread, sewage, something acrid and smoky, grilled meat.

I longed to suspend the moving, living moment like a scene in a movie. Soon it would dissolve into memory, and our transient wonder and enjoyment, placed fleetingly over the eternal, were already becoming the past.

It came to me so clearly then, how we are born, live, and die, and Jerusalem – Jerusalem is forever.

Get an excellent, printable, English map of the shuk here.

Jun 092011
 

image-wadi-nisnas-street-signOn one side of the street, a street sign like a beckoning finger encourages the stranger to enter.

But turn around to the other side, and this spooky masked image glowers down at you.

image-street-art-haifaSo it was with a slightly uncomfortable sense of ambiguity that we entered Wadi Nisnas, a neighborhood in lower Haifa steeped in the atmosphere of a 19th-century Arab village.

My friend Chaya and I were looking for the open-air market. No sign of vendors or stalls, although colorful murals with a nostalgic feeling decorated the street walls.

Did these two boys live in this house?

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Look carefully and you’ll see, behind the shutters, the pale oval of a woman’s face as she gazes down at the street life below. image-mural-wadi-nisnasThe couple below are a little girl and a man. I wonder if they were the artist and her Dad.
DSC_1123 muralWe climbed up a little alley and knew we were getting close to the shuk when we smelled the mellow odor of roasting coffee drifting around.
At Cafe Haifa, a truly ancient roaster produces several blends of coffee. Cranky and decrepit the roaster may be, but the smell of freshly roasted and ground coffee was head-filling and delicious.
image-coffee-roasterThe owner hasn’t wearied of his own product.
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Cafe Haifa is one of the stops along “The Tastes Track,” a yearly culinary festival promoting intercultural exchange and peaceful co-existence in Haifa.

As expressed in this hopeful mural decorating the ceiling of a bakery. DSC_1145

Every Friday and Saturday in December, Wadi Nisnas bursts into festival. There’s the Tastes Track, a big arts festival (the street murals were originally created for the festival) , street performances and concerts. Apparently the streets fill with visitors and a good time is had by all.

But on that fresh June morning, we found a couple of quiet streets,

shuk wadi nisnas

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and sleepy vendors.
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Fruit and vegetables of early summer.
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Prices were about the same as in my local shuk in Petach Tikvah, but there was some produce that my shuk doesn’t have – like fresh grape leaves.That excited me. Mushrooms baked in vine leaves (recipe here)! Fish baked in vine leaves! Vine leaves stuffed with cheese! Stuffed with rice! Oh boy… I filled up a bag and paid all of NIS12.

A shopping cart heaped high with some herb caught my eye.
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I couldn’t identify it. The vendor told me it was fresh green chickpeas on the stem and to go ahead and eat one. I peeled one and did. The taste is like raw sweet peas.
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I considered bringing some home, but the thought of carrying all that herbage in my arms, on buses, for 2 hours across the country, defeated me.

I wonder what these two ladies were chatting about. Something pleasant, it looks like.  They looked so content.
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Chaya and I kept sticking our heads into the shops. I sensed a certain forced tolerance in the shop owners, rather than the friendliness and humor I’ve found in other shuks. Still, this bakery allowed me to squeeze in and watch the pitot plopping out of the oven.
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One of the things I like about the Middle East is how people like to celebrate times and people gone by. A reproduction of an ancient photo showing an Arab woman winnowing grain. The photo of the baker’s father, maybe the founder of the business.

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I loved the look of these home-made pickles.
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This store also carries small zucchini, all hollowed out for filling with rice and ground lamb. You buy them by the bagful. Things to charm the eye and waken the appetite, although nothing for the kosher-keeper, of course. Yet…

Chaya and I spent several long minutes in the store, looking at things on the shelves and taking pictures. Nobody appeared to help us. It seemed that the owners were in the back of the store, doubtless watching us via surveillance camera.

A TV near the cash register was showing a program in Arabic with English subtitles. The narrator spoke of how Israel fills its citizens with anti-Arab propaganda. The hatred in his voice was palpable. Chilling for me, but for Chaya especially, sad.

Chaya meets with Muslim and Druze women every week in a moderated setting. They exchange life stories, seek to understand each other, hopefully encourage the germ of peace to take root. Over time, real friendships have formed among them. I hear Chaya’s stories and only shake my head…G-d knows how much we all want peace.

And how I would love to sit among the women of those cultures, talking family, talking food, talking life.

Women’s lives.

Well, maybe someday.

In the meantime, we walked on. In other stores, a display of beautiful multi-sized finjan pots caught my eye.
image-coffe-finjansAs did the exotic labels of Arak bottles.
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The Abdel Hadi bakery almost blew me away.
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Just imagine being a kid in this store – miles of the most delicious-smelling pastries! Every possible variety of baklawa and cookie, each with its own name and origin.

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If any of them had been kosher, I would have gladly bought. If I could have chosen from the bewildering variety.
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Oy. Just as well for my health, not to say my girth, that none of it was kosher.
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And so we slipped out of Wadi Nisnas, each pondering life, and calories, and should we all trust each other, and things like that.

The afternoon was waning into evening and there was a long bus trip ahead for each. We parted at the central bus station, Chaya to Tsfat and I to Petach Tikvah. I sat by the window on the bus and looked at the ocean as we rolled away from Haifa.

Wadi Nisnas.

Such a tiny neighborhood, containing so much living history. Will its history end in real peace?

I hope so.

May 032011
 

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It took a long time to get over Passover this year. Non-stop cooking and washing-up, it seemed, and once the kitchen was restored to its leavened state, food lost its appeal. Easy soups and sandwiches have been keeping body and soul together around here for the past two weeks.

Except that Husband and The Little One would have left the house, never to return, had I gone on feeding them sandwiches and soup. So to find inspiration, I took my first post-Passover trip to the shuk. Continue reading »

May 282010
 

shuk-vegetables-fish

So I took a bus out to the shuk yesterday, in the middle of a sandstorm. It was eerie. A thin fog of yellow dust hovered everywhere, clinging to the skin and the lips, blurring the outlines of trees  in the middle distance, almost erasing distant buildings.  Now I know how African dust tastes, because this blew in from the Sahara. The radio broadcast warnings: pregnant women, small children, and asthmatics, stay home today.

Well, I’m none of those. And I needed to buy food. So off I went into the yellow distance, intent on tomatoes for slow roasting,  leafy greens, and ground turkey.

Of course I bought the shuk out.

Who can walk past a display of fresh, purple figs and refrain from buying a box? Not I. Who can resist the allure of glistening fish, red of gill and bright-eyed, on their beds of ice? Or of firm, plump mushrooms?

portobello-champignon-mushrooms

Oh woe, not I. Even the humble cauliflower seemed to be calling my name.

cauliflower

And everything so much cheaper than at my neighborhood supermarket.

So I bought, and bought, and soon had five or six bags dangling from my fingers. But one thing I was longing for wasn’t to be found. The herb vendors gave me funny looks when I asked if by chance they had grape leaves.

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I’d seen them in the Shuk HaCarmel, I explained. Oh, that’s a different clientele, they said.

I was sad. Those mushrooms cooked in grape leaves were so good, I’d had the taste in my mouth all week. I already had the mushrooms, all I needed was some grape leaves.

I was also already out of money. Just as well, I said to myself. If I had more money, I’d keep buying. Now for the trip home with all these bags.

Just on the edge of the shuk, a few old people sit on the sidewalk and sell produce from their own gardens. It’s always worth casting an eye on what they have. Usually it’s just bunches of green onions or spinach – one of them used to sell gat but I think he’s been, er,  discouraged to do so by the authorities. I shlepped past, in a hurry for the bus.

Then out of the corner of my eye, I sighted grape leaves.

A little old lady with glasses like bottle bottoms and a long braid down her back was sitting patiently on a stool, bundles of grape leaves on her lap.

Oh, help. And me out of cash. I stopped in front of her, disentangled myself from my bags, and asked the price. NIS 5 for a smallish bundle. All right. Maybe I can dig 5 shekels out of my purse somewhere. You know how it is with purses – they tend to trap little coins in their corners. If you’re persistent, you can usually excavate a few out.

I found 15 shekels. Oh, joy! The lady handed over three bundles, which turned out to be a fair amount because grape leaves are so thin. And I went home to cook my mushrooms and photograph my purchases for you.

What would you make from these ingredients? You know those TV cooking shows where chefs have to produce a meal out of a few dissimilar ingredients – in ten minutes? Tell me what you would make – it doesn’t have to cook in ten minutes.

From left to right, top row: Ground turkey and fillet of chicken breast. On top, coriander. Tomatoes, figs, Swiss chard.

Middle row: champignon mushrooms, grape leaves, bass fish.

Bottom row: Portobello mushrooms, pine nuts, basil, and in the corner, sliced dark Russian bread.

I’ll tell you one of the things I did make, and that was mushrooms baked in grape leaves.

mushrooms-in-grape-leaves

Recipe follows, next post.

Apr 142010
 

olive stand at Mahaneh Yehudah market

Last Friday Baroness Tapuzina, Sarah Melamed, and I drove up to Mahaneh Yehudah, Jerusalem’s open-air market. It seemed like half  Jerusalem was out shopping, loading up on the week’s best and freshest food before Shabbat.

We arrived at around 10:00 a.m, strolling from stand to stand, drinking etrog juice here, taking photos there. Something new: fresh green chickpeas, roasted and salted.

roasted fresh green chickpeas

I bought a bagful for all of 5 shekels. We three snacked on the oily, salted chickpeas as we wound in and out of the tight little streets. Notice the huge bag of green almonds hanging behind the vendor’s head.

By 2:00 p.m.,  the multitudes streamed up and down the alleys, and nobody allowed you to just stand and chat in the middle of the shuk. You’d get a good-natured scolding for blocking the way.

“Lady, move!”

Mahaneh Yehudah

You just have to take it in good part. And move on.

Here’s a still life with fish:

still life with fish at shuk Mahane Yehudah

Although this little guy seemed ready to cuss everyone out. Hm. One or two disgruntled folk in the shuk had the exact same look on their faces.

fish head at shuk Mahaneh Yehudah

One of the fun things about going someplace with friends is that each sees different things. It struck me, as never before, how preoccupied people are with avoiding the Evil Eye – ayin ha-ra.

Our old green-eyed friend, Jealousy.

Is my produce more attractive than yours? Do I have more customers? Tfu, tfu, tfu – let’s spit three times.

Or decorate my garage door with chamsah handprints.

handprints against the Evil Eye

Or place a rue plant on the right-hand side of the stand. That’s a sure-fire Evil Eye deterrent. People will often put a potted rue plant on the right of their doorstep, or plant one in the entrance yard. I did that myself once, just to fit in with the atmosphere, when I lived in Tsfat.

Rue against the Evil Eye

Afraid someone’s going to cast a jealous look at your beautiful infant? No problem: just slip an anti-ayin ha-ra bracelet over her little wrist. Or over your own, if you’re really worried.

bracelets against the evil eye

So many contrasts, so many different kinds of people.

Over to one side, a Breslaver Hassid busked for coins.

Breslav hassid in shukHe did have a manic look about him – but it can’t be easy, singing “Na-Nach-Nachman-mi-Uman” to the indifferent crowds at Mahaneh Yehudah.

A more peaceful man was this vendor. He specializes in home-made ambah, choumous, and all kinds of pickles. I tried one of his pickled carrots – whew! It was fiery with those demonic tiny red shatach chilis.

the ambah and pickles vendor at Mahaneh Yehudah

We were starting to get hungry, and eyed the sidewalk restaurants with a view to lunch. Should we go for one of the sophisticated new cafés, the ones with a deliberately European feel?

European style cafe in shuk Mahaneh Yehudah

No, we were far more attracted to the funky places that cooked old-fashioned dishes like majadra over gas burners. Some of those tin pots over gas burners produce sumptuous meals, too. Kubbeh dumplings in rich soup, meat sofrito, and the most luscious hand-made choumous…

old-fashioned cooking at Mahaneh Yehudah

Here someone chooses Shabbat take-away.

choosing Shabbat takeaway at Mahaneh Yehudah

Eventually we squeezed into the Azura restaurant, sitting almost elbow to elbow with other diners. This post has gone on for a long time, so I won’t describe what we ate (maybe in another post) – but here’s something to put in your eye – creamy choumous, crowned with chickpeas and parsley, and anointed with olive oil.

humus at Mahaneh Yehudah market

It was really, really good.

Feb 052010
 

Every shuk has entrances and exits, some more open and inviting, some more secret. This entrance to the shuk in Nazareth has a strangely medieval air to me. Even with the electric cables, cars, and plastic objects, not to mention the evenly-cobblestoned street, I can still imagine men in long robes and women with their faces veiled strolling through.

These aluminum cooking pots and the primus cooker made me think of delicious Middle-Eastern home cooking. Women create mouth-watering savory meals out of such simple equipment here.

Chamomile in damp bunches offered by a sidewalk vendor. He was a young man who just set up a few boxes of herbs and greens on the sidewalk.

Jerusalem sage for stuffing.

And, I’m sorry to say, za’atar. I say I’m sorry because I’m fairly sure this was gathered from the wild, where it’s a protected plant.

The vendor weighed out his produce on this little scale, right there on the ground.

We descended through the shuk.

These shoes might be worn by some Oriental princess…or not.

In any case, here is a cobbler to fix your shoes when the soles wear out.

The owner of a metalworks shop contemplating a knotty problem laid out on his table.

A subtle arched corridor leads to a sunny exit. The shuk was closing for the day

A small cemetery tucked away in the middle of the shuk.

And out again, coming up to this decorated door.

Sarah and I visited a coffee shop in the shuk too – another post. Meantime, enjoy these souvenirs.

Jan 132010
 

The ancient town of Ramleh (Ramla) has had a  long, colorful, and troubled history – and how not? It has existed under one government or another since the 8th century.  It has survived war and earthquakes, drastic population changes, glory, and decline.

Apparently Ramla’s golden years happened a long, long time ago.

9th-century historian Al-Muqaddasi describes it as a prosperous, agreeable town surrounded by stout walls, enjoying varied agriculture without those walls and bustling commerce within. Last week, hopping off the sherut (collective taxi) to meet Sarah of Foodbridge, the impression I had of Ramleh was that of a town struggling to rise above poverty and neglect.

Although there are some charming, up-dated buildings.

We were there to explore the funky shuk, where Arab vendors sell produce we don’t see in bigger towns, like these purple carrots

purple-carrots-Ramla-shuk

and heaps of local greens. The leaves, from left to right, are za’atar, chicory, and Turkish spinach.

I bought Jerusalem Sage, a broad leaf that doesn’t resemble or taste like culinary sage. People stuff it with rice and roll it up. When I cooked it, I stuffed it with a mixture of rice and leftover picadillo. Extra leaves, I sliced into soup. Here the vendor weighs out a bunch.

The Jewish Bucharan baker stamps his breads with beautiful designs.

I enjoyed strolling around, getting a feel for the place.

On the outskirts of Ramla shuk

The majority of the town are Jews, albeit of many different origins. Muslim and Christian Arabs are large minority groups. The feeling in the shuk was straightforward and business-like; none of the overt hostility between peoples that has discouraged me from visiting the Arab shuk in Jerusalem’s Old City for many years.

Here Ethiopian and Russian immigrants shop in the narrow Shuk streets.

A vendor allowed me to photograph him.

At a kosher bakery, I sampled sambousak (fried pastries filled with a spicy chickpea mixture). Greasy, but delicious.

Another vendor sells hot, flaky bourekas that are meant to be split open and filled with choumous and a sliced hamine egg. Not a bad breakfast, any time.

More pastries, fried and glistening with sugar syrup…

On our way out, I glimpsed pickles for sale…a good idea for recycling empty soft-drink bottles.

It was fun. I’d like to visit Shuk Ramla again. Each shuk has its unique character, and I liked the feeling of this one, where a church clock strikes a tinny note as you gaze up at a minaret tower and munch a kosher sambusak. It’s old, it’s funky, the people shopping there are working-class and there’s nothing upscale about it.

It feels close to history, and close to the land.

Dec 082008
 

I lived in Jerusalem for 14 years once, but I’m almost a stranger there now. New roads, changes in bus routes, old shops closed down, new shops open, and above all, the maddening construction of the light rail, a great useless trench in the middle of Yaffo Road. Buses and cars must travel squeezed to one side of it, and pedestrians cross the street in clouds of white dust. All the same, it’s Jerusalem, and no mixture of dust and shabbiness dims its  glory.

When I lived there, I’d shop in the shuk after work, between two bus rides. Thursday evening was best.  The produce was beautiful and a lot of the Shabbat specialties were already on sale. I would walk from stall to stall, loading up on chicken, vegetables, fruit, pittot. Getting on a crowded bus home wasn’t easy. I’d stagger on with the bag handles cutting into my fingers, hoping to find an empty seat. But I’d do it week after week, because the low prices and fresh produce made the trouble worthwhile. It seems to me now, years later when everything has changed and the children then in my house are now all grown up, that it was always late afternoon, darkening and chilly – that my head was always filled with plans and dreams, and that I carried all of that across the shuk and home in the plastic bags.

So, filled easy nostalgia, I walked up the Ben Yehudah mall and crossed over to Rechov Agrippas, which I followed all the way down to the shuk. Evening was slowly coming on and people were zipping their jackets up against the cold. I hoped that the light would last so I could take good pictures.

Although every shuk sells the same basic food and housewares, each one offers regional specialties, and each one has its own character.  The Carmel market has an open, cosmopolitan air. The Yaffo shuk is mysterious and reeks of ancient history. Mahane Yehudah also has many mysterious corners and alleys, but the character of the shuk comes from the Jerusalemite. Warm-hearted, tough, battered by poverty and terrorism, hard-working, bound fast to tradition, always aware that they’re living at the center of the world. Instead of focusing on the food at Mahaneh Yehudah, I chose to show folks who shop there.

It was the end of the day. The atmosphere was unexpectedly subdued. Some of the vendors seemed tired and pensive, like this young Arab worker

and this pitta vendor.

I wandered past the stand where I used to buy chickens. The vendor I knew wasn’t there anymore.

Some shop owners still had the energy to call a joking greeting to a friend down the street.

Maybe it was the cold, but only a few customers sat outside the “low-calorie falafel” stand. I wonder how falafel can be low calorie…

Myself, I was tempted by these sweet cheese pastries -

But nobly refrained – only to surrender to  Sahlab, a hot pudding made from the root starch of an edible orchid. It’s flavored with rose water and topped with a mixture of ground peanuts and coconut flakes. Dipping my spoon into the creamy white stuff, I thought it was more welcome than coffee in the chilly open air.

Well, I had to put in something about food.

These two friends seemed relaxed, there next to the Kippa Man store.

This bewigged matron was winding up her shopping trip…

While this lady extended an imperious finger at the exact olives  she wanted.

More thoughtful, weary faces…

Chanukah’s in two weeks. Do you have a menorah? You can take your pick of many sizes and shapes, but maybe you prefer to take home these three little Hassidim. Yes, kitsch, but for once, kitsch with a certain poignant appeal.

These Arab kids were waiting around for someone, bored.

While this old lady is still interested in everything.

A young father selects packaged cake for Shabbat at one of the bakeries. I wonder who that cake was for, that he chose so carefully.

Every shekel is important. This older couple stopped to figure out how much cash the husband needed to finish the shopping.

As the light faded, the shuk began to empty out.

Tomorrow, everything will start again.

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