Rarely have I seen such a lively, such a broad spectrum of races and socioeconomic classes as I did in the food markets of Jerusalem. The city is divided into a predominantly Jewish western side and a largely Palestinian eastern half. Most shop owners cater to customers who look like themselves and their neighbors. But there are some striking exceptions to this. While photographing and interviewing for this story, I came across many shop owners who consciously work to attract a diverse clientele, from the goods they stock to the prices they charge. While many of Jerusalem’s markets reflect deep divides, some harbor unexpected pockets of peace and coexistence. - Ann Hermes
Story by Christa Case Bryant
Jerusalemites love their food, whether it’s a pomegranate bursting with tart seeds or a hot pita puffed three inches tall. The city’s wares reflect the wide spectrum of humanity that calls Jerusalem home: Arab grandmothers peddling herbs on the worn stones of the Muslim quarter, Jewish fishmongers at the Mahane Yehuda market, ultra-Orthodox men stocking Eastern European foods, and supermarkets offering Skippy peanut butter.
The markets also reflect the broad range of shoppers’ pocketbooks here, from inexpensive Arab grocers to the midrange Mahane Yehuda shuk– a gritty but increasingly trendy Middle Eastern version of US farmers markets – to boutique markets in posh West Jerusalem neighborhoods. Depending on a shopper’s path, grocery expenses can vary widely from day to day, sometimes costing four times as much depending on the shop.
So why doesn’t everyone shop at the cheapest place? Most Jews won’t venture into the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem out of fear. At the cheap Israeli supermarkets, customers often must wait in line for half an hour or more, and more than one mini-war has broken out over the limited parking spaces nearby. There are amazing deals to be found at the shuk on Fridays just before Shabbat (Jewish Sabbath), but shoppers have to fight flying boxes, fast-shutting doors, and rotten vegetables thrown out on the cobblestones.
But when one gets home and begins cooking, and the fragrance of luscious mint and fresh lemons fills the house, the struggle is all but forgotten in the inimitable taste of Jerusalem. In fact, the challenge may even add its own special flavor. But the best flavor is that of hospitality – sitting around a platter of steaming dawali to break the Ramadan fast, or even tasting the bitter herbs of a Passover seder before the big meal begins.