Market night in the shuk

On summery Sunday evenings, Cafe Mizrahi hosts a lively concert series.

israelis in shuk 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
israelis in shuk 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
On a sultry summer evening in the Mahaneh Yehuda market, white cloths cover small tables and empty vendors' counters, a hodgepodge of garden chairs crowds the tiny aisles and silverware sparkles from the lights above, transforming the typically boisterous shuk into an intimate tent. The alley between the two main thoroughfares of the shuk fills with families and friends who greet one another as a three-person Greek band sets up its instruments on the stoop of a closed butcher's shop, to be used as a makeshift stage for the evening. Welcome to the weekly summer concert in the shuk, a tradition started five years ago by Eli Mizrahi, owner of Café Mizrahi (by day) and Bar in the Alley (by night). Each Sunday, Mizrahi hosts an evening of music outside his cafe, serving tapas and wine. "There was a need for an alternative stage for jazz groups and ethnic music," he says of the initiative. Since its inception, the "butcher's stage" has seen a range of musical talent from Mizrahi or Oriental music, to traditional jazz to Greek music. Tonight's band leader is Nisim Bouzouki, a large Greek-looking man dressed in black, who sits comfortably between the other two members of his band. Bouzouki picks at the strings of his bouzouki (similar to a mandolin) and sings lively Greek-influenced songs for the nearly 125 guests. The air is filled not only with song but with strong smells of tehina served over roasted eggplant and tomato, artichoke with béchamel and Parmesan, wax beans with hazelnuts, and rich chocolate tarts fresh from the oven, served with ice cream - all prepared with fresh products from the shuk. As the evening progresses, couples and friends rise to dance between the tables, congregating in front of the band. The music transitions from songs with Greek lyrics to those in Hebrew, and many join the band in singing. Mizrahi's concert series reflects the changing face of the shuk in recent years. Cafés, boutiques and a photo gallery are among the bourgeois staples that have sprung up. Mizrahi, a warm and jocular man, is a pioneer of this transformation. He opened his café nearly seven years ago. At the time it stuck out as the lone upscale coffee shop among the fruit stalls, butcher shops, bakeries and workers' greasy spoons, but before long it became a popular hang-out. Mizrahi, whose family owned a fruit and vegetable stand, says that the shuk must change to keep up with the new generation of shoppers, who expect to find everything they're looking for in one place. Nirah, a sixtysomething with curly white hair, says: "I am sitting next to a stall where I can say to the vendor 'I remember you from the time I was eight years old.'" Her date, Michal, a veteran Jerusalemite, adds: "Years ago the shuk was different, but the change is nice… The shuk is still very Israeli and very Yerushalmi. The people here are authentic." The familiarity, warmth and closeness that make the metropolis of Jerusalem feel like a small town are reflected in the concert's ambience. For many in the large gathering, ranging from groups of friends in their 50s and 60s to girls serving in the army and national service programs, these concerts have become a summer tradition. Despite his role in transforming the shuk, Mizrahi doesn't see the concerts as part of that change. Rather, he says, "the concerts followed the change. I wanted to take advantage of the good weather and to create an experience people would enjoy." The summer concert series takes place on Sundays at 9 p.m. at The Bar in the Alley, Rehov Shezif 10. Call 624-2105 in advance to reserve a table and find out what type of music will be performed.