So here I am, in the El Al King David lounge at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, writing to you while I wait to board my flight to New York.
I allowed plenty of time to drive from Jerusalem to the airport (it took less than an hour) and, thankfully, extra time to go through security at check-in (oy vey, more than an hour).
My bags were X-rayed twice before I was pulled aside and questioned by a very stern security officer.
“Yessir, it’s anti-wrinkle goop, straight from the Ahava factory store at the Dead Sea.” Biting my tongue, I refrained from joking about “body balms.” [Ahava photo attached]
The Passover prayers invoke the wish to be in Jerusalem next year, but I figured, why wait? It’s been a busy, fabulous, emotional week in Israel.
Shrinks have long alleged to the existence of the “Jerusalem Syndrome,” a mental phenomenon where visitors become delusional over religious experiences in the Holy City, but it was the jewelry, pottery, art, and silver that made me gaga.
Who would guess that there’s so much to buy in this holiest of cities?
More Israel travel info: Off the Brochure Travel Guide: Tel Aviv, Israel.
WHAT WOULD JESUS BUY?
Determined to combine history and culture with my shopping expeditions, I made Via Dolorosa (the Stations of the Cross) my first stop. This labyrinth of small alleys and hidden plazas marks the last steps of Jesus as he walked to his crucifixion. It’s also home to a bustling commercial district where merchants tried to lure me to their pottery and carpet stalls with compliments: “Here, pretty lady, best buy just for you!”
Some vendors offered authentic artifacts (with provenance), but I wasn’t, uh, in the market for high-priced antiques, nor did I have room in my luggage for the gorgeous copper cookware.
Don’t miss more of Sarah’s adventures in our Shopping section.
The Via Dolorosa vendors were aggressive, but no match for those at the Arab Shuk, located just inside the Jaffa Gate (beyond the Church of the Holy Sepulcre if you’re walking Jesus’ path). Packed full of souvenirs, clothing, beads and bongs, this market is one of Jerusalem’s most popular tourist attractions. The bargain-and-buy routine was fun for awhile, but I was eager to move on to the new shopping center. [Arab market photos attached]
It was a short walk from the Jaffa Gate to Alrov Mamilla Avenue, Jerusalem’s newest open-air bazaar. Linking the Old City with downtown, Mamilla is a beautiful pedestrian mall where the shopping is upscale and easy. There are plenty of international big names including Versace, Polo Ralph Lauren‚ Rolex‚ H. Stern‚ Nike‚ Nautica, and Tommy Hilfiger‚ as well as local brands like Castro‚ Renuar, and Ronen Chen. Michal Negrin’s floral baubles have a local cult following and I loved the trendy urban clothing at Sigal Dekel.
Outdoor markets thrive in Israel and Jerusalem’s most famous shuk (what we’d call a souk, a market, not to confused with a shul, or house of worship) is the Machane Yehuda, located between Jaffa and Agrippas, not far from the city center.
Most stalls sell fruits and vegetables, but there’s also butchers, bakers and Shabbat candlestick makers, as well as cheese and dairy shops, spice merchants, and Mediterranean fast food vendors. The pace is fast and the prices fluctuate wildly with the time of day and season.
Chefs shop early and crowds converge midday, so late morning is a perfect time to visit. Snacking through this market was my favorite shopping experience in Jerusalem
Full of nibbles, I left the food market and walked down Jaffa Road to King George street and the intersecting Ben Yahuda Pedestrian Mall. Between the teenagers and the TTs (tourist traps) were a few charming shops where I found high-quality silver, Judaica and millinery.
Learn more about travel in the Middle East.
Nachalat Shiva is one of Jerusalem’s oldest neighborhoods, located just outside the Old City walls, where there are lots of cafes, restaurants and boutiques scattered along its main drag, the Yoel Solomon Pedestrian Mall. On this street, I found two talented local artisans: Turquoise (Turkis) 925, #8 Yoel Solomon, a jewelry shop specializing in 18k gold necklaces, earrings and wedding bands, and Greenvurcel, #27, where whimsical Judaica filled the floor-to-ceiling shelves. Gaya, #7, specializes in hand-made wooden puzzles and intellectual games, some more challenging than the Talmud. I found great gifts in this shop.
TIME TO SHOP
Shopping hours in Jerusalem vary from ‘hood to ‘hood. Most stores open by 8:30 a.m. or 9 a.m. and some close between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Jewish-owned shops (all of West Jerusalem, the “New City,” and the Old City’s Jewish Quarter) close on Friday by 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. and reopen on Sunday morning. TT reopen on Saturday night after the end of Shabbat.
Jewish? Don’t miss Rite of Passage: Jewish Heritage Travel.
Arriving at an observant hotel on Saturday can be a problem if the hotel’s full. Religious guests are allowed to remain in their rooms until after sundown (at no extra charge), when they can settle up and check out. Waiting for my room, I explored the hotel and made the mistake of entering the Shabbat elevator where I was quickly reprimanded by its occupants. During Shabbat, one elevator in the hotel is dedicated to the faithful, automatically stopping on each floor so the occupants can avoid pushing buttons or operating machinery.
With Kosher hugs,
By Sarah Lahey for PeterGreenberg.com. Join Sarah and her shopping BFF, Suzy Gershman, on a shopping spree with the Born to Shop Japan tour, November 4-10, 2010, with an optional three-day add-on to Hong Kong. Visit www.SuzyGershman.com for more information.
Related links on PeterGreenberg.com:
- Off the Brochure Travel Guide: Tel Aviv, Israel
- Shopping section
- Travel in the Middle East
- Rite of Passage: Jewish Heritage Travel