Large crowds celebrated Mahaneh Yehuda’s 100th anniversary on Sunday, with the market abuzz with a cooking competition, clowns-on-stilts, and several concerts. The next day, the city commemorated the event by hosting the world’s first international convention of historic markets.
“The shuk is one of the symbols of Jerusalem,” said Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion at the convention. “There’s no tourist who comes to Jerusalem and doesn’t visit the shuk as well.”
At the convention, market leaders and stakeholders from around the world addressed the problems faced by urban markets, with many calling for the Tourism Ministry to provide a budget for the nation’s markets.
Cities represented at the event included Berlin, London, Mexico City, Bangkok, and Barcelona, among others.
All types of professionals with a stake in urban markets attended the event, including Itzik Lary, director general of the Jerusalem Municipality, who also called for the Tourism Ministry to invest in the market.
“If there won’t be a governmental investment, we will just miss it,” Lary told the audience, referring to the opportunity to overcome the challenges faced by Mahaneh Yehuda in recent years. His call for funding was met with applause from the audience.
The signing of a new “Matching Markets Agreement” on Monday also cemented an alliance between Mahaneh Yehuda and Florence’s San Lorenzo Market. Tali Friedman, chairperson of the shuk’s Merchants’ Association, and San Lorenzo Market president Massimo Manetti signed the document.
The agreement, according to Manetti, is twofold. First, it signifies the creation of the first association of international markets, facilitating ideas between market leaders to bring the public’s attention to historic markets.
“This is how we can learn,” said Friedman, referring to the new partnership. “This is how we know how other municipalities around the world deal with their markets; if they do something to take care of them; if it has a budget, if it has a line of budget.”
Further, Manetti said he hopes that the agreement will aid more markets in becoming recognized by UNESCO, with the benefits of publicity and possible funding.
In 2019, Israel left UNESCO, the UN’s education, scientific, and cultural organization, after the organization began to implement perceivably anti-Israel policy. Its absence from UNESCO means that it can no longer propose sites for world heritage site designation.
But Mahaneh Yehuda leaders believe that the new agreement will benefit the market anyway, aiding its international exposure.
How international exposure will benefit Jerusalem's Mahaneh Yehuda market
THE COVID pandemic impacted the market “very, very badly,” keeping the market closed for four months, according to Friedman. “It took us a long time to open, along with time to negotiate with the government,” she said.
The market “is the essence of open-air territory,” she added. She and other shop owners tried to explain this as Israel was grappling with closed businesses during the pandemic.
Lary also revealed that the municipality is considering adding more light rail trains that pass the market, since there is limited parking in the area. Although there are two nearby parking lots, these can be very expensive – up to NIS 24 an hour, noted Ayala Yuvel, who shops occasionally at the shuk.
Another issue cited by Friedman was the overcrowding of the market. “We have more than 4.5 million tourists going through this market a year,” she said. “It’s a lot. We are over capacity.”
But not all those shopping at the market are discouraged by this. Jerusalem resident Koby Jolenberg believes that the tourist crowds bring a “sparkle” to the shuk. The tourists “are so excited, and I’m so used to it,” Jolenberg said. “It’s nice.”
Yuvel, however, has a different view, remarking that the crowds are a deterrent to her coming more often. “It’s too crowded to feel safe,” she said, also noting that with all the people crowded into one area, the market could be an attractive spot for a potential terrorist attack.
Event leaders also acknowledged this fear. “People feel less safe in the market because of terror attacks in the past,” said supermarket mogul and panelist Rami Levy. In April, a terrorist rammed a car into a crowd of civilians, leaving seven wounded.
Other panelists concurred. Uri Amedi, an entrepreneur and municipality adviser who was instrumental in renovating the market in the 1980s, remarked that the threat of a terror attack is pushing visitors away. After a terror attack hit the market during the Second Intifada, Amedi encouraged shopkeepers to be vigilant.
Lion asserted that terror attacks should neither disrupt everyday market affairs nor tourism. “There are terror attacks all over the world, but I will never let these attacks disrupt lives in Jerusalem. And you can see now, there are a lot of tourists.”
Friedman said she believes that the market maintains an atmosphere of safety and security. “The vendors… they know how to adapt very quickly,” she said.
Moshe Evan Israel, who has visited Mahaneh Yehuda since he was a child growing up in Jerusalem, said Israelis are generally unafraid of a potential attack. “We grew up with this, it isn’t really an issue here,” he said. “There could be a terrorist attack in Jerusalem one night and the same day we would still be going out.”
Harry Kleinman, a tourist from Britain, agreed that the threat of terror is a “part of life” in Israel. He said that he never felt threatened when he was at the market.
Vendors put all of these issues at the heart of their conversations on Monday.
Other Mahaneh Yehuda regulars cited concerns of vendors’ sleazy business practices, especially toward tourists. Robby Berman, a Jerusalem tour guide, revealed in a Facebook post this past May that a vendor ripped off a member of his group, selling a bag of dried fruit for NIS 1,000 (about $300).
Dozens of comments under Berman’s post praised him for “shining the light” on common market scams, with many sharing similar stories of price gouging. “This is normal,” one user wrote.
The Merchants’ Association said in response: “If this case is indeed true, the Merchants’ Association – which takes such matters seriously – requests that the details of the vendor in question be sent to us immediately in order to immediately examine and deal with the matter.
“Mahaneh Yehuda merchants are known to be honest and respectful of customers, selling them fine, fresh goods at fair prices. At no time – and especially now as our market celebrates 100 years of activity – will we allow any party to cloud the celebrations.”
THE DISCUSSION of the market’s future was seasoned with the cuisine of a melee of Jerusalem chefs, including Zakai Huja, executive chef at Jacko Street and the winner of the 15-contestant “Entree of the Century” competition that occurred at Mahaneh Yehuda the night before.
Three established Jerusalem chefs judged the competition: world-renowned veteran restaurateur Shalom Kadosh, pastry chef Keren Kadosh (no relation), and Maya Darin, culinary journalist and consultant.
The three judges agreed that Huja’s dish, Kurdish ravioli filled with kube meat in okra soup, deserved the dazzling title, for which Huja said he feels “a lot of respect.”
Huja grew up in Mahaneh Yehuda, where his father worked in a fish store there for 40 years. “As a kid, I was always around, and my restaurant is 10 years old,” he said.
Other events at the market on anniversary night included live music in Ladino by singer Aharon Ferera, as well as the band Hadag Hahash, whose music mixes hip hop and funk to form a signature sound.
Jerusalem resident Rina Cohen, 75, has lived in the city her entire life and attended the anniversary celebration on Sunday. She remarked that the shuk is a place for everyone: “Kids, together with older people – everyone is here.
“Fresh fruit, cookies, rolls, pita… everything is fresh here, not like in the supermarket. There, everything is also expensive,” she added.
Anaeil Naviz, a young Israeli who bartends at the OSY bar in the market, said that “the people, the music,” energized her when she went into a shift.
“A lot of the times I come in here, sad or something, and I just become transformed into a completely different person,” she said. “I love it.”
The Israeli rock band Rockdim closed the night at the market, electrifying a crowd of hundreds with winding guitar solos and a thumping bass. Older Israelis made up several rows at the back of the concert, while at the front, groups of both American and Israeli teenagers danced to the music of Bruno Mars and Noa Kirel.
Sahar Hanez, who works at the Judaica shop Hadaraya in Mahaneh Yehuda, said that the shuk’s “magic” was that it gave people from everywhere a home.
In the market, “everybody is mixed together,” he said. “Everyone becomes the same.” ❖