The Shuk, Our Antiquated Stove, and the Politics of Reading a Newspaper

Against the advice of the university, I decided to go for a little schlep last weekend. You know what I’m talking about: strike out on my own for a day, try to navigate a foreign city by myself, see some sights, yadda yadda yadda.

I finally caved in and have decided that, at a quarter of the price of a cab, busses are worth the risk. I may wind up in tiny pieces, but at least I’ll die with more assets in my bank account. So, after taking the bus down to Zion Square, I started wandering around Ben Yehuda Street–Jerusalem’s main thoroughfare. The kitsch in the shops on Ben Yehuda, by the way, is ridiculous. Rife with cheap Judaica (we’re talking mass-produced mezuzahs, yarmelukes, and shabbat candleholders being hawked by geriatric men with no teeth) Ben Yehuda is a tourist’s dream. I’m planning on taking part in the kitch eventually, once I have a place to actually put it. Friends and family, be warned: you, too, might end up being the proud owner of a necklace or mezuzah that was glued together in a back alley.

I went from Ben Yehuda into the shuk, which is basically an alleyway filled with booths of fresh produce. For those of you who know how much I love food, I hit paydirt when I entered the shuk. This was, in every sense possible, the jackpot. I practically sprinted from booth to booth, buying carrots, pita bread, and basically anything I could see myself incorporating into a meal. It was totally different than anything I’ve experienced before: I’ve been to outdoor farmer’s markets, but never ones that take up 8 city blocks and sell 6 plums for a dollar.

Granted, when I came home and tried to cook, our Cold War-era, Soviet-style stove proved defective once again by igniting the chicken that I was trying to saute. Swearing a blue streak while looking in horror at the foot-high flames shooting from the pan, I realized that the university never gave us a fire extinguisher. Hedging my bets and knowing that water was the only option for putting out the fire, I grabbed the handle–the only part of the pan that wasn’t in flames–and threw it into the sink. Thankfully, even though you’re never supposed to put water on an oil fire, it worked. However, there’s no way I’m going to saute anything on that stove again. I swear, it’s so old that Stalin practically pops out whenever we light the burner (which, yes, requires a lighter). One of these days I’m going to find the Red Army stirring my pasta.

Aside from cooking, one thing I miss–and yes, I know this makes me a terrible person–is Starbucks. (Insert sheepish, whoda-thunk look here.) They don’t understand the concept of a venti latte here; coffee doesn’t come in a cup any bigger than a Starbucks tall. Given my affinity for grande triple-shot soy lattes, the lack thereof hurts my soul. There’s just something about reading the New York Times while sitting in Starbucks that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. So, for now, it’ll have to be the International Herald Tribune while sitting outside the library.

However, the newspapers here do offer an incredible wealth of information. Ha’aretz, which is more liberal, and the Jerusalem Post, which is more hawkish, have covered recent events from very divergent perspectives. Just prior to the pullout from Gaza, JPost was emphasizing the opposition to the impending evacuation, while Ha’aretz was focusing on the good that will, hopefully, come from this policy. The pictures on their respective front pages said it all: JPost showed a massive protest in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, while Ha’aretz showed Palestinians making Palestinian national flags to celebrate their first taste of autonomy. JPost, for its part, does an excellent job of illustrating the points made by the Likud party (the Israeli equivalent of the GOP), while Ha’aretz tends to be favored by supporters of the Labor party (counterpart to the American DNC). I’ve been trying to read both papers so I can form my own perspectives on Israeli and American foreign policies, and so far, I haven’t departed from my usual stance: a staunch realist on foreign policy, and very much a liberal on domestic social policy. This may change as we work more with the IDF, but I suspect that opposing points of view will only reinforce the opinions I’ve already developed.

As for Hebrew, we’ve got two more weeks until the final exam, and we’re sprinting to the finish: we have to cover 14 chapters in the next 10 days. I’m at the point where I can actually carry conversations in Hebrew, and have decided that I need to get over the fact that I sound ridiculous trying to do so, and start talking with Israelis. (Granted, these conversations are very basic and usually involve saying “I don’t want to study Hebrew today.”) We’ll see how that goes. But hey, as the final death march to the end of Hebrew continues, if anyone feels compelled to send a box of Power Bars, my brain needs all the help it can get. Oy.

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