I awoke this morning to the gentle caws of urban garden birds. Within minutes the radio emitted a pitiless stream of men’s screams and shouts.
Yesterday defense minister Amir Peretz gave a speech pointing out that when Hezbollah attacks civilians, they consider it a success, whereas for Israel, civilian casualties are a tragic error. Knesset Member Ahmad Tibi interrupted him, calling out “child murderer!”
In today’s issue of Ma’ariv, Ben Caspit, the paper’s political reporter, suggested that Tibi would soon sorely miss Peretz—when he’s stuck with Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. The implication being, of course, that Tibi is undeserving of Israeli citizenship.
This morning, on the radio, Caspit hotly exhorted, and Tibi’s voice rose like a rogue wave, crashing into something between a wail and despair. Another minister was interviewed, hollering that Tibi has chosen the side of Hitler.
An hour of this was enough to bring on nervous, jittery voraciousness and my first orderly thought was: I need steak. It was 10:40 am when I got to the market. I stopped by the Levy Brothers’ corner stall to ask how the war was affecting business (“we’ve gotten tourists from the north,” shrug) and walked away with an Iraqi pita (large as a plate, thin as paper) wrapped around steaming falafel balls, salad, dripping tahini, and a smear of spicy, sinus-opening skhug, a coriander-chili pepper spread. “Sit down at a table to eat it,” one of the guys said. “It’ll make you feel better.”
At Moran Mizrahi’s café, I ordered coffee and an Argentine cookie made of cornflour and filled with milk caramel. Her father, Eli, 54, himself a restaurateur, looked at me and said “See? This is the only isle of sanity: coffee, an alfajor“—the aforementioned cookie—”make love, not war. I tell everyone and I mean it, make love every day, all the time, love, not war.”
The market’s men have a reputation for stridency and gruffness, but my experience does not bear this out. I worked in the souk as a student, selling organic honey at Ilan Tzidkiyahu’s stall, and found it to be a place of deeply imbued if occasionally rough-hewn courtesy.
Avraham Desta, whose shop, Black Lion, borders the café, is a man a lot of people turn to for health: His place is an organic cornucopia, and he himself was once an organic farmer in Ethiopia. People wander in with long lists and leave with clear plastic bags filled with powders, leaves and legumes, as if they had visited a Chinese herbalist. He smiles. “What makes you feel better,” I ask. “Winning this war,” he says. Two of his three sons served in Lebanon in our previous go-around. Eli Mizrahi wants to make love and Avraham Desta wants to win the war, but both want what they want with quiet steel.
David Dahan’s fish shop, on HaShaked Alley, is a Machaneh Yehuda mainstay. As I wander by today he invites me in, along with another stroller, Adi Navon, a designer who loves to cook. Adi dons a plastic apron and sets about slicing fresh grouper and sea bream into sashimi-like chunks, and chopping purple onion, coriander, tomato, red chili pepper and garlic into small cubes. Meanwhile, a worker behind us struggles to behead a huge fish that is still struggling, hurling itself against the wall.
Adi’s gorgeous, glistening product is laid out and drizzled with olive oil and lemon, and we start bare-handedly plucking the fish. Silence falls, the silence of reprieve. Even the red chili tastes sweet and succulent. “If only I could eat this and only this every single day,” David sighs.
Not far is the establishment of Khezi Uzi-Eli, the market’s pharmacist-cum-healer. Someone has just been grinding coffee, and I walk in coughing. “Sit down,” Uzi-Eli says. “Open your mouth.” Before I take stock he sprays me with three shots of a black radish, honey and cayenne concoction, and presents me with a cup of something cloudy and plum-pink. “Drink.”
Yochi, a visionary who works with Uzi-Eli, plumbs my energy and announces that very soon, someone represented by a very bright light will appear in my life. “Very soon,” she says. “I can absolutely feel it. Someone very positive. Much better days.”