Leave the shuk alone

Berkovitch claims this is necessary to preserve the “authentic” culture of the market, and also to reduce tensions between pub proprietors and the local residents.

Mahaneh Yehuda shuk (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Mahaneh Yehuda shuk
Jerusalem deputy mayor Ofer Berkovitch thinks he has a plan to save the shuk from itself. Seeing the explosive growth of bars and eateries that have cropped up in Mahaneh Yehuda Market, he has announced a plan that will stop this trend in its tracks.
Any basta (stand) that currently does not house a restaurant or bar will not be permitted to have one in the future, thus capping the number at present levels.
Berkovitch claims this is necessary to preserve the “authentic” culture of the market, and also to reduce tensions between pub proprietors and the local residents.
Additionally, he claims, some stores even operate without licenses.
I’m not sure how frequently the deputy mayor actually visits the market, but as an extremely frequent patron, visitor and tour guide there, I can say with authority that the Hitorerut Party leader needs a wakeup call. Not only is his plan unnecessary and misguided, it will also likely prove to be counterproductive.
Anyone who knows the long history of Mahaneh Yehuda knows that from the very start it has embodied change. When the city began to solidify, the merchants started selling out of temporary shacks, instead of just crates on the ground. When the British took control and modernized the city, the actual buildings of the market were built (in seven different sections over about 15 years). The merchants were originally all Arabs, and only in the ‘20s and ‘30s did the mix shift to be mostly Jewish. And when the city was modernized, the roads of the shuk were paved and roofs were put over the stalls.
Similarly, the items for sale in the market have developed over time. In the beginning it was just produce, straw mats and live chickens. Later, housewares got added into the mix. Later still, meats and fish.
Why is a restaurant or bar any less “traditional” than a barber shop or a stand selling granny carts, watches or cell phone accessories? Yet Berkovitch has no problem with these other non-traditional stalls.
If the deputy mayor would like to point to the complaints of stall owners about the changing nature of the shuk, I’ve got news for him: that, too, is nothing new. In 1931, for example, the third section of the market was built. Named the “Savings & Loan Market,” it covers what today are HaShaked, HaCharuv, HaTut and HaEgoz streets. About six months later, the Iraqi Market opened its doors, and already the merchants from the S&L Market were complaining about the upstarts taking away their business.
Perhaps the only thing more common in the shuk than change is people complaining about it! More importantly, however, the question that should be asked is, “How much are these stores really changing the culture of the shuk?” It is true that the pubs have created a new “second face” to the market that never existed before. The shuk never offered nightlife options. But during the day, they certainly take a back seat to the more traditional stands. (For our purposes, I will define that as produce, meats, fish, cheese and nuts.) Furthermore – and this may surprise many people – they have not displaced traditional stands. Of all of the new restaurants or bars that have opened in the shuk over the past two or three years, I can think of only one (Time Bar) that occupies a stand that previously held a “traditional” vendor (a butcher). So what are these upstarts replacing? Many have opened in stores that formerly were vacant or served simply as storage units (of which many more still exist in the shuk). Many others have replaced eateries that failed. And some have replaced other non-traditional stores (those that sold tchotchkes or cheap jewelry).
Thus, the food and beverage outlets, via their higher profile at night and their opening without displacing traditional vendors, have indeed changed the shuk.
But they have done so through addition, not replacement.
Thus, Berkovitch’s plan would only hinder the development of business in the shuk, putting a damper on new sources of income for stall owners.
Finally, what about the understandable tensions between the local residents and the store owners (and patrons)? There is no question that this is an issue that needs to be addressed. The problem is that Berkovitch’s plan will not do so. If the status quo is causing friction, maintaining the status quo (as his plan explicitly does) would also maintain these tensions. Luckily, however, there is a solution already in place, just waiting to be exercised.
It’s called the law. There are laws against excessive noise, littering, etc. Getting the police to enforce these laws should be a lot easier and less costly than putting the deputy mayor’s plan into effect. If a bar is too loud, fine it. If it continues to be too loud, or operates without the proper license, shut them down. If a patron litters, give him a ticket. Mr. Berkovitch: if you have a headache, just take an aspirin – you don’t need to cut off your head.
The recent developments in the shuk have been a really beautiful addition to, and rejuvenation of, the beating heart of our city. Deputy mayor Berkovitch, please leave our shuk alone.
The author is a licensed Israel tour guide, who grew up in New Jersey and lived in New York City and Los Angeles before making aliya in 2009. Mahaneh Yehuda is one of his specialties, and he made the first comprehensive and updateable map of the stalls in the market. His website is www.fjisrael.com.