All You Want to Know About Machane Yehuda – Part 1: Background

The shuk from above

Machane Yehuda Shuk on a sunny, not very busy afternoon

One of my absolute favorite places in Jerusalem — and not just as a tour guide but also as a city resident — is Machane Yehuda, the outdoor market at the heart of the city. I’m a real foodie, and this market (commonly just referred to as “the shuk” — the Hebrew and Arabic word for market) is a gourmand’s playground. I’ve given many a tour there, and love bringing people to what I consider my second home.

And yet, I realized that there is so much more to the shuk than just the delicious food. So much history and complexity. To me, Shuk Machane Yehuda is actually the city of Jerusalem in microcosm. The people who shop and visit there reflect the diverse populace of the city. And the changes that have taken place in the shuk over time mimic the changes that have transformed the city itself.

So I decided to create a series of blog posts that will try to tell you everything you ever wanted to know about Machane Yehuda market. I first thought about all the things I wanted to tell you about the shuk, and then I also asked friends if they had any questions they wanted answered. This will be the first of at least five different posts, and will deal with background information — some of the what, why, where and when. So if you have questions of your own, please send them to me so I can try to include answers in future posts!

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Jerusalem: A Walk Through Christian History

St. Mark's Church

The apse of St. Mark’s Syriac Church, a small and very old church in Jerusalem’s Old City

Recently, I have been preparing my next Jerusalem: Meet Jerusalem walking tour, which will focus on Christian Jerusalem for Non-Christians. In the process I have come to explore and discover many of Jerusalem’s churches. Obviously, Jerusalem is a very holy city to Christianity, and there are innumerable churches here, many of them within the approximately one square kilometer surrounded by the Old City walls.

But as I began to explore more, and uncovered some of the lesser known churches here, I became endlessly fascinated by the variety of Christian sects. There are tens of different denominations, split into a number of larger branches of Christianity, many of which are fairly unknown to most people — Christians and non-Christians alike! And of those many sects, tons of them have churches in Jerusalem, including a number of those less known denominations.

I began to organize them all for myself, grouping them into related branches and placing them in the sequence of their various splits from each other. By looking at them this way, I could see the very development of Christianity itself, reflected in the distinctive churches in my city. I soon realized that walking through Jerusalem’s Old City is like a walk through a living museum of Christian history.

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Today in Israeli History: Yom Kippur War

Syrian tanks on their sides in a defensive tank ditch.

Disabled Syrian tanks following the battle of the Valley of Tears

Okay, actually I should have written “Tomorrow in Israeli History,” but since I will be observing Yom Kippur, I am posting this today. As many of you know, this Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) marks the 40th anniversary of one of Israel’s more difficult wars — the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

You will most likely see many articles and posts about the war, and so I will not summarize the entire thing. But I would like to make a few points that may be less known or about which people may have some misconceptions.

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Today in Israeli History: British Mandate

Herbert Samuel, T.E. Lawrence and others at Cairo Convention

British High Commissioner Herbert Samuel at the Cairo Conference

I am inaugurating here a new blog feature where I will periodically highlight something historical that is connected with the day on which I am writing the post. These will be fairly short, and hopefully will open windows onto interesting people and events throughout this land’s history.

Today I will start with the British Mandate era. Following World War I, with the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the British Mandate Period began here, lasting just over a quarter of a century until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. The start of the British Mandate was 93 years ago today, on July 1, 1920.

Often, when you hear Jews discussing the British Mandate Era here, they describe it in negative terms. People complain that the British were pro-Arab and anti-Jew. It is for this reason that they nicknamed the Jerusalem location of the High Commissioner’s mansion as the “Hill of Evil Counsel.” The name relates to a site which, according to Christianity, Judas met with the leaders of the Sanhedrin to betray Jesus. But that site was almost certainly not at this spot, as it is too far from Roman-era Jerusalem. Rather, the name stems from the fact that Jews here thought that the end of such a long period of Muslim rule would bring good things for their life. But when they discovered this was not 100% the case, they sarcastically nicknamed it after that event.

That same building, located a short 10-minue walk from my home, also gave its name to the next neighborhood over from me: Armon HaNatziv (Hebrew for “The Governor’s Mansion”). Nowadays, the building is occupied by the United Nations, so many Israelis might think the “Hill of Evil Counsel” name might once again be appropriate.

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Israel Mystery Photo #20

Statue of a man on a horse

Who is this gentleman, and why is he here?

Time for another of my Israel Mystery Photo posts — a series of photos in which you as tourists try to recognize where in Israel each photo was taken, and I as tour guide explain and give more information on the previous mystery photo! I knew the last one would be a bit tough, since it is fairly new and not in a big tourist destination. But I wanted to use the photo to create an opportunity for me to tell you about a cool project.

But before I tell you about it, leave a guess about the current picture that you see to the left. It should be a fairly easy one for many of you, as it is in a well-trafficked area. But even for those who recognize it, I might still be able to give you a bit more info about it in my next such post!

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Visiting the Israeli Air Force Museum

Dark blue and white fighter jet

Israeli-made Kfir, based on the French Mirage 5

Ahead of next week’s Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day) and Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) holidays, I thought a post about the Israeli Air Force Museum would be appropriate. The Air Force Museum is located at Hatzerim Air Force Base, just southwest of the Negev city of Beersheva.

Though many people know about and visit the tank museum at Latrun, with its array of tanks from around the world, fewer people are aware of this museum with its collection of over 150 airplanes from Israel’s aviation history. Perhaps this is due to its more remote location, but a visit is well worth your time if the subject interests you, and it is a particularly good place for kids to learn a significant aspect of Israel’s history.

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Israel: Land of Diversity

Hedge arch in Akko Baha'i Gardens. Israel.

Take a seat and enjoy the view in the Baha’i Gardens in Akko, surrounding the Shrine of the Baha’ullah

I just finished guiding an American family for the past two weeks, and we traveled all over Israel. We left out the Negev (south) because it is too hot in the middle of August, but beyond that, we pretty much hit the rest of the country and got at least a taste of all of its diverse regions. I designed the itinerary, and when planning an itinerary of this nature, the main guiding principle is going to be geography, i.e. we visit things that are close together on a single day, and move from region to region in logical sequence. In this case, we basically made a circular route, heading from the airport to Tel Aviv, then up the coast, across the Galilee to the Golan Heights and Kineret region, down the Jordan Valley to the Dead Sea, and then to Jerusalem and the Shefelah/Lowlands.

Of course, in designing such a tour, I also aim to present things that show various aspects of what this country has to offer. No one wants to spend two weeks seeing the same things over and over. But it wasn’t until I was on the tour with this family, a few days in, that it hit me just how diverse were the sites we were visiting. I know I’ve discussed Israel’s diversity before, but I was still impressed that we literally visited almost no sites that were redundant with each other.

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ONLY in Israel – Top 5

View Across the Dead Sea. Fun Joel Haber. Israel Tour Guide.

A View Over the Dead Sea from Mount Sodom

Frequently, you hear people comment “Only in Israel,” in response to various things they overhear or see here. Often, it is meant to try to capture some of the unique aspects of the character of the Israeli people. But as we all know, these things don’t only happen in Israel, even if they are somewhat demonstrative and capture the spirit of the country.

For that reason, however, I wanted to write a post about the things that you truly can only see in Israel. Nowhere else in the world. Tour guides typically speak in hyperbolic extremes. I know that I am certainly “guilty” of this at times. We’ll tell you how a spot is the highest, largest, newest or furthest south of its kind. But while those extremes may be interesting, and can be mildly significant, they rarely are very important. They are typically little more than gimmicks to maintain interest.

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A Walking Tour on Yom Yerushalayim

MMY girls and Fun Joel, Israel Tour Guide at the Haas Promenade / Tayelet

Me and the overseas students from MMY Seminary at the Haas Promenade / Tayelet

As many of you know, today is the 45th Yom Yerushalayim / Jerusalem Day, the holiday that celebrates the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967 during the Six Day War. In celebration, I was asked to give a tour to a group of overseas students in a gap year program here in Jerusalem. They are studying for the year at the MMY Girls’ Seminary, and they are located in my neighborhood. So the tour was supposed to both focus on the subject of Yom Yerushalayim, but also to tell them more about the neighborhood they’ve spent the year in.

I’ll briefly review the whole tour, but I want to really focus on our last stop, at the Tayelet, or Haas Promenade.

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A Tour of Wineries in Eretz Binyamin / Samaria

Tanya Winery vinyeards. Ofra. Fun Joel Israel Tour Guide.

The vineyards of Tanya Winery in Ofra

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting five different wineries with some other tour guides and friends. The wineries were all located in the region of Eretz Binyamin — the area that was designated in the Bible for the tribe of Benjamin. Today it is part of the region known as Samaria, and there are at least 7 or 8 wineries in this small part of the hill country, a mere 25 miles or so apart. But before I get into the wineries themselves, I want to talk briefly about Israeli wines overall.

I love the story of the wine industry in Israel. Clearly one of the oldest and most famous industries in the land, winemaking was always an important identifying feature of Israel. Images, for example, of the spies sent by Moses to explore the land of Canaan, and their reports of giant grape clusters spring to mind. In fact, that very image is the logo of both Israel’s Ministry of Tourism and the largest wine producer in the country — Carmel Wineries.

However, with the arrival of Muslim rule, which lasted for about 1100 of the 1300 years prior to the 20th Century, Israeli wines virtually disappeared. Since Muslims are prohibited from drinking wine, virtually all Israeli wine production ceased, with perhaps a minor resurgence during the 200-year period of Crusader rule in the land (1099-1291, with periods of Muslim rule inside that time frame as well).

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