It’s not the case that I have to go to the chiropractor on a Thursday, but it gives me a perfect opportunity to walk up Agrippas St. from the Maccabi office to the shuk on the day when my mind is focused on what to prepare for Shabbat. That was the situation two weeks ago, which one addition. Our daughter Natania has a particular fondness for free lunches – in fact, I don’t think she’s ever met one she didn’t like. Hebrew University is on recess until after The Hagim, but that morning she was at the gym on the Givat Ram campus, which is close enough to Jaffa St. to facilitate a luncheon date with her daddy. So that was the plan: we would meet me for lunch and she would help me shlep everything back to Ma’le Adumim – although neither of us could have imagined what would happen on the way home.
This particular trip to our chiropractor was itself particularly memorable; he and I identified and named a previously unconsidered medical problem. I explained to Dr. B. that I was once again having a problem with my left shoulder (the rotary or rotator cuff). He asked me if I ever go swimming? About as often as our Tonkinese cats, Moby and Cookie – even though there are indoor and outdoor pools about ten minutes from our apartment. He inquired if my shoulder hurt when I go up to duchen (recite the priestly blessing which, because of our great joy at being in The Land, the cohanim [that’s me] recite every morning [assuming one is in shul], not just on the Hagim)? Yes, my shoulder hurts then. In fact, I often need my right hand to help lower my left arm. I must be suffering from Cohanic Shoulder Syndrome – somewhat akin to Tennis Elbow or Carpal Tunnel. Consider that for thousands of years, distant relatives of mine have been getting up before a crowd and going, “Yeverechecha……,” and nobody has noticed the connection between raising your hands in that strange Star-Trek-like gesture and the ensuing pain in the shoulder – until now! Here I have spent my life writing and photographing, and my lasting claim to fame will be this chance medical discovery?!! “The discoverer of this strange malady never made it past Bio I in college….”)
Flush with excitement about my impending fame, I headed off up the hill to meet Natania at the Indian restaurant. About a year and a half ago, I had read about this place and spent about an hour wandering around the shuk until I found it, on a little street near the “Iraqi shuk,” one of the neighborhoods in the larger Mahane Yehuda. The food is simple and quite good – assuming you’re partial to lentils and curry – and we’ve been back on several occasions. The first time we went, the only thing ‘happening’ on that street was a shop that sold Ethiopian specialties (whatever they might be; I’ve never ventured inside). Today, the street has come alive, probably because the shuk is being revived. You walk down the hill, and there is also a health food restaurant, a French bistro called Chez Mimi, a Georgian dairy restaurant (the country not the state), and a pub. I should stress that none of these places are as big as your living room, but, like people, great things start in little packages. Or, as it say in the haftarah we just read, “The smallest shall increase a thousandfold, and the least into a mighty nation” (Artscroll translation). Come to think of it, Rami Levy, the owner of the eponymous chain of markets, started with one stall in the shuk. So I’m not making this up.
The Indian food is as good as ever; the restaurant décor has been improved; and they even have real live menus now instead of scribbling the choices of the day on the wall. Alas, the service was, shall we say, lackadaisical, and we chose to go elsewhere for our mid-day jolt of caffeine (for me, some of the thick mixture they call Ice Café, obtainable at the ice cream store in the crowded, closed part of the market). Then, with glad hearts and bellies full, off we went to complete our shopping.
(Actually, I had started the ball rolling even before I stepped foot in the Maccabi clinic. Stop one was to get some loose tea from a store on Jaffa where most people go to buy freshly ground coffee beans – except that I get my coffee from Debbie, a gourmand who lives five minutes away from us. She doesn’t just grind her own beans; she gets kilos at a time and roasts the coffee to order. But I needed some tea and there I was at the shuk. Stop two was for a loaf of super-delicious bread from Russell’s, a boutique bakery right next to the best little cafe in Jerusalem, which, as a famous catcher once said, no one goes to anymore because they’re too crowded.)
We retraced our steps back to the Iraqi shuk for some serious produce inspection: tomatoes and cucumbers from one stand, peppers of every color from another stand, celery, mushrooms, and scallions here, green beans there. There are several things to note about this section of the market. The prices are just a little lower here than in some of the other sections; it gets a zero on the upscale scale (each of these stalls has been there from day one); and it’s a great refutation of the Lunatic Left’s cries of “apartheid” in The Land. Not only do Arabs work there – as they do all over the shuk – but there are Arab-owned stands side by side with others owned by Jews – and people buy from all of them. If you want the best green beans in town, I’ll take you to the Arab kid who sells them.
It’s amazing how fast one’s cloth shopping bags fill up. By the time we have purchased grapes and other seasonal fruit in the “open shuk” (the watermelon is a real bargain, but who wants to carry one back to our neck of the woods?), there’s not an inch of space in either cloth bag or my backpack, not even enough for a sprig of parsley. Time to head home. Take the light rail one stop back and get on the 174 bus early enough to get our choice of seats. And now comes the funnest part of my day.
The bus ride back to Ma’ale Adumim was uneventful, until we got to the stop right by our big shopping mall. There a woman got one with six kids. Now no one gets on a bus by herself with six kids unless she’s on the way to or from the funny farm – if you get my drift. You might be assuming that she was a fertile Hareidi type, but, in fact, she was a middle-aged Russian lady. They clearly weren’t all her children; maybe none of them were – although all of them were blonde and shared a common genetic pre-disposition. They were all about the same age, and she was undoubtedly in the day-care business. The kids all scrambled to find seats, and the woman stayed in the front to deal with the driver. I couldn’t hear the conversation very well, but I quickly figured out what was going on from its length and the way the two of them were talking. This Russian lady was negotiating with the driver over how much she had to pay!
“How much for each child?”
“Four shekels.” “I’ll give you three.” “Four shekels.” “I have six children with me; I want a discount.”
“Four shekels each.”
“Twenty five shekels for all of us, not one agora more.”
“Four shekels for each of you.”
“We’re only going a few more stops…….”
No one else in the bus paid the slightest attention to this little scene – as if it happened every day. We had now gone the five stops from the center of town to where we have to get off, right around the corner from our building. They were still going at it, and I have no idea what finally happened – except that we were in The Land, that surreal place where Russian ladies get to haggle with drivers over the cost of a child’s seat on a bus!