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The shepherd of Israel

He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” – Psalm 23

When King David wrote this poem of the Good Shepherd some 3000 years ago, I doubt that he reckoned that his far distant progeny would be eating from that table in the very same place, with pretty much the same enemies around them. The fact is, we in Israel today are probably dining better than David’s illustrious son, King Solomon, did in all his glory. And that while those who hate and slander us with threats of annihilation are rioting around us in discontent, and even daily slaughtering each other in their continuing unhappiness.

Today I came back from the Mahane Yehuda, Jerusalem’s vibrant outdoor market, lugging a whole fresh Atlantic Salmon from Norway, bright as a silver dollar, that Solomon probably never dreamed of. Over the smoking coals it is not only supremely delicious, but is sold here at a very reasonable price.

But that is only part of the story. Walking through that shuk, the covered outdoor market with its many outspoken vendors loudly promoting every imaginable foodstuff from their stalls, is a delightful part of the experience of shopping for our daily fare, and our Shabbat meal. It is vibrant with life. The brilliant yellows and oranges and reds and purples and greens of virtually every fresh fruit and grape and vegetable and flower dazzle the eye. There are the beautifully braided stalks of fresh garlic, and the cheese and dairy product shops, and the bottles of fine olive oil. There are the fish stalls and meat and poultry and dried fruit and nuts and raisins, and olives of every color and size. There are bakeries with delicious fresh bread and many cakes and pastries and candies and halvah and ice cream, and the many kinds of fine wine from the vines of the Land of Israel. There are the cafes and little restaurants with home-cooked stews and shakshuka, and the falafel and shwarma vendors. All this veritable cornucopia of abundance reminds us of the L-rd’s promise that He would “multiply the fruit of the tree and the produce of the field that you shall not suffer again the disgrace of famine as you did amongst the nations.” (Ezekiel 36:30)

In that crowded shuk are Jews of every color and flavor and opinion, from the black-garbed orthodox to the rough Moroccans and dark-skinned Yemenites and the black Ethiopians to refined pale Brits, and Russians and Americans and Muslim Arabs and Druze and Philipinos and garbed Catholic and Greek Orthodox Christians. There are the very old and the very young, and beggars and the crippled, and the pretty 18-year old girls in IDF uniforms carrying their rifles, and strong young men who could be David’s commandos, all protecting the young mothers pushing their baby carriages. And here, without making any news, they all dwell peacefully in life together.

Unfortunately, my favorite fish vendor is no longer there at his stall, having been murdered by a Palestinian suicide bomber here some years back. But the life continues and thrives, which is one way that Israel defeats terrorism.

There is a good feeling in the shuk, a sense of our commonality, of our re-gathering to feast and keep the Sabbath again on the mountains of Israel after a 2000-year exile, as promised by the Prophets. In the very midst of the bustling and crowded market I stopped to share the prayers coming from the open doors of the little synagogue, with the many people standing outside in the narrow passage to join in. The prayers, in Hebrew, were in thanks for the great mercies of G-d and His faithfulness. When the prayer v’techezeina eineinu – “may our eyes behold your return unto Zion in mercy, blessed are you L-rd, who restores His presence to Zion”- was prayed, I agreed with a hearty, “Amen”.

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Elhanan ben-Avraham
Elhanan ben-Avraham, born in 1945, is a professional artist, poet, writer and father of two, grandfather of four, living in Israel since 1979. He has served in the IDF, taught the Bible internationally, published two illustrated books of poetry, and painted two large Biblical murals in public buildings in Jerusalem, among many other works. He and his wife live in a quiet village in the Mountains of Judah.

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