Preparing for Shabbat in Jerusalem is very different to Johannesburg. Friends here have kept emphasising which supermarkets to go to. I didn’t understand why. Now I do. There’s no one stop shop that sells everything you need. At least I haven’t found it, yet.
I thought Machane Yehuda Shuk would be my one stop shop. To buy the freshest fish in Jerusalem, the best vegetables and fruit and ready made salads. Optimist that I am I leave an hour to go to the Shuk, and do a quick, whirlwind run through. I buy my hummus, eggplant salads, chilli and even Hilbah – a fenugreek salad. I learn from Moshe, the man at the deli stall that you can taste the olives, grape vine rolls and apricots before you buy them.
Pity I didn’t know this before I bought all my fresh produce. You can’t shop as if you were plucking plastic packaged vegetables and fruit from Woolworths refrigerated shelves. Here it’s hit and miss; the mangoes were tasteless, the apples floury, the coriander went off the next day. I’m realising that this is a land you leap into but slowly get to know the important things, like where to buy the sweetest watermelon (if you know where, please tell me.)
I bumbled along, buying the wrong fish for my Shabbat lunch. I needed a firmer white fish for cooking my fish rice. What is the Hebrew equivalent of Rock cod and Hake? Further the fillets I asked for came un-skinned. That evening, standing and skinning my fillets one by one, I paid for my oversight. Nonetheless the fish rice was made. At least there was lunch.
In Jerusalem the chaotic heat of preparation disappears as the afternoon sun dims and the cool Jerusalem evening winds begin to blow. The shops shut, which feels peaceful and right. This is from a person who gets depressed on Christmas and public holidays when the whirring noise of daily life stops. But Shabbat in Jerusalem feels right. Quiet. The streets empty out and you feel the hush that Shabbat is coming. Connect the urn, put on the hot tray. There is no more you can do, but light the Shabbat candles and be ready to welcome the Shabbat angels.
We had guests this past Shabbat. Old friends and new friends whom we had just met. They all had boys for ours to play with. It ended up being a soccer playing lunch. It was a happy, social balagan in our small home over the miraculous fish rice, Moshe’s deli salads and contributed salads (in Israel everyone contributes to meals). South African friends of our kids, on holiday, popped in to join us for iced coffee and cake. Then our neighbour from upstairs who had moved in a week before, introduced himself with his five year old son. Playing Jewish geography we discover that we know his Uncle in Law, as his wife’s father is from South Africa. It was a happy party of Jews from all over the world – Sydney, London, New York, Johannesburg and of course Jerusalem.
The kids were happy, we were happy and felt tremendously blessed to have a Jerusalem Shabbat.