The Jerusalem Shuk, if you’ve been there, can create an experience where you easily recall the sights, sounds, and smells that the words conjure up. If you haven’t visited, there’s never been a better time to go. What started out in the early 1900s as a fruit, vegetable, and chicken market is now one of the biggest attractions in Jerusalem for both tourists and residents alike.
What is it about the modern Jerusalem Shuk that draws people in? It’s not just the fresh produce and groceries – after all, most supermarkets offer the same things. No, the real reason that people come to the Shuk is for the experience. Because frankly, there’s nothing like it in the world. Jews, Arabs, Americans, Europeans, and Israelis, all coexisting together in the confines of the Shuk’s narrow avenues and cramped alleyways. Vendors hocking their wares and shouting out their bargains, voices rising higher and higher as they compete to be heard over the din. The smell of fresh bread, pastries, olives, coffee, and spices permeating every corner. Anyone who comes to the Shuk is treated to this memorable experience.
The Shuk’s Beginnings
How did the Shuk, also known as Machane Yehuda, grow from a rudimentary farmers’ market into one of the city’s biggest attractions? It began in the late 19th century, when Jews began establishing neighborhoods outside Jerusalem’s Old City. Since travel wasn’t easy, Jews who lived in these new neighborhoods didn’t want to go to the Old City every time they needed to buy food.
Recognizing this basic need, three business partners established a ramshackle marketplace in an open lot off Jaffa Road, near two of the new neighborhoods, Beit Yaakov and Machane Yehuda. They opened the lot to Arab merchants and farmers, who came to sell their produce and fulfill the Jewish demand. The market was originally named Shuk Beit Yaakov after the community next door, but as the Machane Yehuda neighborhood grew in popularity, locals began referring to the Shuk by that name – and it stuck.
The Shuk’s Modern Transformation
Throughout the 20th century, the Shuk has gone through periods of difficulties; periods when it was viewed as an essential marketplace and others when it was shunned. For example, during the Second Intifada in the early 2000s, both tourists and residents were terrified of going there. It was desolate. But even during the unrest of the Second Intifada, renewal was already in progress. In 2002, the Mizrahi Café opened, one of the Shuk’s first cafes. Mizrahi Café generated so much buzz that more cafes and restaurants were opened, turning the Shuk from a simple market into a culinary and social experience.
Then the Second Intifada came to a slow end and Nir Barkat was elected mayor of Jerusalem in 2008. Barkat invested a lot in transforming the Shuk’s image and the Shuk itself, encouraging trendy bars and restaurants to open and creating a nightlife hotspot for residents and tourists. Today, the only night that the Shuk isn’t brimming with visitors is Shabbat.
Wherever you come from, whether you go during the day or night, whether you’ve been there a thousand times or just once, the magic of the Shuk is that around every corner, there’s a new shop, a new experience, a new adventure waiting to be discovered. Let David Stone be your guide in making Jerusalem your new home.