In the days when he was a politician, Shimon Peres was once pelted with tomatoes at a Mimouna celebration in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park. But on Tuesday, when as president of the state he decided to take a tour of the capital’s Mahaneh Yehuda market, he was greeted with delighted surprise by vendors and shoppers alike.
They applauded him, sang songs to him, stretched out their hands to touch him and danced around him.
They also commended him for not sitting in an ivory tower but for reaching out to the common folk who frequent the market.
An ex-kibbutznik, the president has not forgotten how to test the quality of produce.
Moving from stall to stall, he tasted the olives, fingered the fruit and vegetables and examined them for size, color and texture.
It looked a little like an election campaign, but since the president is no longer part of the political establishment it was simply based on a desire to mingle with the ordinary people.
And it didn’t end with stall-hopping.
Peres decided to have lunch at Hazohar restaurant in the Iraqi market, where he sat down next to the regulars, some of whom were playing backgammon. He ate the kind of food they ate – humous and a helping of kube, and declared the offerings to be very tasty.
The visit was not quite as long as he would have liked, but it was a pleasant change of pace, and he got the feel of the people and the sounds, sights and many aromas of the marketplace.
More important was the warmth of the embrace.
Mahaneh Yehuda has always been a right-wing stronghold that did not look kindly on representatives of the left or even the center.
It seemed that everyone was happy to forget the president’s political past, and accept him for what he always says he is: “The president of all the people of Israel.”