Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Touring Middle East 17: Art Walk on Sabbath Day

The taxi driver seems baffled when we asked him to take us to the Mahane Yehuda Market in the afternoon - "you know everything is closed on the last day of Sukkot, right?". Of course little did we know he literally meant just that. When we were dropped off at our destination, we found ourselves standing on an empty street, with absolutely NONE of the shops - Jews or non-Jews - were open for business.

One thing we learned first hand from our trip was the many Judaism rituals practiced, especially with our visit coincides with the week-long festival of Sukkot, also known as the "Feast of Tabernacles" and was considered as one of the three annual pilgrims festival in Jewish tradition (the other two being Passover and Shavuot). At Western Wall we saw the crowds donning full traditional costume (including the tall fur hat called shtreimel) participating in prayers, and everywhere in town we saw Sukkah (the grass-covered hut for which the festival was named after) built where they dined as per tradition. On the first and last day of Sukkot were Sabbath, the time when they fast and rest. And they took the commandment of "Do not light a fire" during Sabbath (Exodus 35:3) very literally - they even took away the toaster oven and coffee machine on our breakfast buffet table on the day of Sabbath, and in Jerusalem, that also means there's no bus and tram service city-wide (and all shops closed, as we just realized)

But we quickly found out, strolling along the streets at Mahane Yehuda Market on Sabbath Day is an activity on its own as the shutters of the many stalls were painted with beautiful graffiti by a British-born artist Solomon Souza. So what was a busy shuk filled with people and goods became an art gallery of sorts, and they were beautifully painted. Some of those paintings were related to the type of goods sold in the shops - the fish or the chicken, and some were dedicated to famous people in Jewish culture, or certain depiction of biblical stories (Samson Kills the Lion – Judges 14:5-6, Moses with the 10 Commandments) Or some were just abstract art that beautify the entire street. It was such a wonderful idea.

Later we walked past the city center (still dead quiet) into the neighborhood of Nahalat Shiv'a near City Hall. This artsy street block was filled with hippie cafes, galleries and shops, music bars and up above, colorful sea of umbrellas hanging (inspired by the Umbrella Sky Project initiated in Portugal and something of special meaning particularly for people from Hong Kong) And we were just happy to do some window shopping and take a little break from the hectic itinerary for some quiet time on the street.

The afternoon didn't go as we planned - we were hoping to shop for some local wines to bring home - but it was turned into a time of street art appreciation which was just as meaningful and enjoyable. So there you go our tip to leave other fellow Jerusalem travelers with: don't get too upset on having nothing to do on Sabbath - just go on an art walk in the market!

(Touring Middle East - Part 17)

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