[Photos by Alex Mankowitz]
Cutting through the cramped alleys of the Jerusalem’s religious Mea Shearim neighbourhood is Malkhei Yisrael—a main drag that worldlier members of the city like to call the ultra-orthodox Oxford Street, where the God-fearing haredi go to shop.
Crowded with bearded men sporting wide-brimmed black hats and women wearing wigs and bonnets, the street and its shops cater to a very specific market. The bookshops have a wide variety of sephorim (holy tracts) and the music stores have stacks of CDs of religious songs (for modesty reasons, only male voices). Even the mannequins in the children’s clothes shops—and there are many, many children here—are appropriately topped with kippot. As for the toyshops, they sell Torah playsets and snap cards featuring wonder rabbis, next to more prosaic items like bats and balls. At intervals along the street, beggars sit rattling their collecting tins, providing residents with an opportunity to perform a good deed.
On Friday morning, there is an added sense of urgency. The Sabbath is coming, and so no work must be done from sunset on Friday until sunset the following day. There is a very important mitzvah to prepare for: oneg Shabbat, enjoying the Sabbath, and for that you need food.