With Holocaust forum here, a slow day at the Shuk

Yet, while some are aware of the conference occurring today at Yad Vashem and its topic, others are less informed and are more focused on the presence of Putin.

Mahane Yehuda Market (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Mahane Yehuda Market
In recent days, 41 heads of state have arrived in Jerusalem for the Fifth World Holocaust Forum to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, making this Israel’s largest diplomatic event ever.
Among the heads of state are Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, US Vice President Mike Pence and the UK’s Prince Charles. The influx of these prominent figures has resulted in increased security and the closing of many streets throughout Jerusalem.
Walking through the streets of Jerusalem, the presence of these figureheads is tangible. The usually packed stalls and restaurants of Mahaneh Yehuda market are nearly empty. The roads are free of cars, and for many, work has been canceled.
Gal Levy, a young fruit vendor in the shuk, sits staring at his smartphone due to lack of business on what would normally be a busy Thursday morning. He is aware of this conference’s effect on the general business of the open market, saying it is very empty.
Shuk customer Yaakov Bashir feels this, too.
“The business in the shuk is weak, but what can we do? It’s a part of [living in this] country,” he said. “Jerusalem is used to this. Every capital in the world is used to this. Visitors always come; places shut down.”
Yet, while some were aware of the conference on Thursday at Yad Vashem and its topic, others were less informed and more focused on the presence of Putin.
In particular, Israelis were focused on the potential discussion between Putin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding the possible release of Naama Issachar. She was sentenced to seven years in a Russian prison in October after allegedly carrying 9.5 grams of cannabis. Her incarceration has been a topic of debates and protests across Israel, with many calling for her immediate return.
Michal Malumi, a young Israeli woman and vendor at the shuk, was excited about Putin’s arrival in Israel. When asked if she knew what brings Putin to Jerusalem, she replied, “Because Naama needs to come to Israel, and Putin is here to bring her back!”
Though he is not very informed on the anniversary of the liberation, Yehoshua Yechzkel, another young Israeli at the shuk, is passionate about Putin’s appearance and the return of Issachar, hoping that “everything will be okay” – the president’s exact words to her mother, Yaffa, when she met with him on Thursday.
ALTHOUGH THE shuk is usually swarming with tourist groups, there were a few of them. Many had trouble entering Jerusalem because of the extra security.
Martha Kalakova, visiting from the Czech Republic, knew that her prime minister, Andrej Babis, was in Jerusalem attending the forum. She also felt there were a lot of policemen in the city center.
Joaquin Rodero, an Argentinian student visiting Israel on Taglit, knew there were 41 “presidents, kings and ministers” in Jerusalem. He said the shuk looked empty, adding that he was delayed in traffic in the morning.
Matthew Storm, a Texas native visiting Israel with his company, said there was heavy traffic and security on his drive from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The traffic jam at the entrance to Jerusalem was due in part to the 6,300 police officers and security guards deployed in the city.
Despite the varying levels of knowledge about the world leaders who are in Jerusalem, most Israelis seem to know that this year marks the 75th anniversary of the Auschwitz-Birkenau liberation and feel that this forum is very important.
“The discussions happening today are very important; we cannot ignore it,” Bashir said, adding that the Holocaust is “one of the most important things that has occurred in the past 75 years. Millions of people died – it wasn’t one or two.”
Although the forum affected business at the shuk and created some transportation problems, it marks Israel’s largest diplomatic conference to date. Not only is it important because of the number of leaders in attendance, it has brought them together as a reminder of the tragedies that occurred 75 years ago, uniting nations from around the world.