When our bodies enter a state of stress, we go into “fight or flight” mode. All our energy and resources move out toward the surface, ready to deal with any dangers that come our way. When this happens continuously, over time, it comes at the expense of a healthily functioning parasympathetic nervous system — or the “rest and digest” system — the one responsible for basic functions such as digestion and nourishment.
So, here we are in Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda Market on Friday afternoon.
The alleyways are flooded with local shoppers rushing to stock up for Shabbat. Vendors scream silly rhymes about cucumbers as they fight to sell off their goods before the weekend. When the first stars appear in the sky, the city will collectively begin its day of rest — not only the shoppers, but also the businesses. This is usually a good enough reason for the market’s hectic atmosphere on a Friday afternoon. It’s as though the citizens of Jerusalem are effectively saving themselves from a long weekend of starvation. (I laugh, but I, too, am plagued with this wretched habit. Here I am, swimming through the Machane Yehuda streets on Friday at 2 p.m., buying my share of freshly baked goods in case my sugar craving acts up on Saturday afternoon.)
Not only is this the most hectic day for the locals, it is also the most popular day for Birthright groups and other tourists visiting this bustling attraction. Exasperated Jerusalemites trample over American feet, hastily shoving their way past cameras snapping at the site of every third vegetable stand in the market (with all due respect for our lovely American tourists!).
Machane Yehuda Market on Friday afternoons — one of the city’s epicenters of stress — “fight or flight” at its best. And right there beside it an oasis of peace and quiet: Shabbat.
As Friday comes to an end, the Machane Yehuda Market grows increasingly intense. There’s garbage everywhere as shutters screech their way down tiny storefronts. Soldiers home from their army base jump ecstatically to techno music between cardboard boxes full of dirty fennel and cabbage scraps on their way to the trash. Vendors scream their funny rhymes louder than ever — this is your last chance to buy a cucumber, for heaven’s sake!
Shopping bags in hand, I begin to make my way back home. I hear the siren that marks the beginning of Shabbat. Just minutes ago, the streets were filled with hysterical shoppers. Now they are practically empty. An unfathomable silence permeates the city. We have now entered the domain of the city’s collective parasympathetic nervous system.
“Rest and digest.”
And you’d better! Another six days of intense work await you on the other side.