By Chloe Stuart-Ulin, participant of WUJS Intership program and Masa Influencer
On my first trip to the Carmel Market, weaving through the sweaty, loud, aggressive shoppers, bumping into the wobbly, wooden display tables so tightly packed I can’t make out the crumbling walls behind. The worst place for a terror attack, a bomb in the middle of this moving mass. My focus spreads thin to encompass everything around me, to pick up whatever hint might come before a blast. I know there’s nothing I can do to prepare for a close range explosion, but that doesn’t stop me noticing every shopper with a backpack.
A watery-eyed old man with leathery skin darts into my path, waving a neon “JEW 4 LIFE” t-shirt. It’s four sizes too small, obviously made for a child. He yells something in Hebrew, then stares at my breasts.
I catch myself scanning the roofs and balconies constantly. Three hipster millenials sit on a balcony over the spice shop. Tiny kites blow over the road from a rooftop to the right; an invisible kid laughing, tiny hands pulling their strings. A young woman sits on a stoop behind her stall, head covered, eyes closed, blowing cigarette smoke into the sky.
At my university in Canada, my mentor and journalism professor warned me about going to crowded places in Israel. She’d been here many times for stories, but almost always during wartime. She wrote an award-winning book about the conflict here, with dozens of interviews with locals from both sides. I remember some of her technical advice when I met with her in person: “Are you flying through Turkey?” I was. “Deactivate your Facebook, and don’t tell anyone you’re a journalist.” For Israel the advice was simple: “Don’t go to street fairs.” “Avoid crowded places.”
On my daily walk to work in Tel Aviv, I pass a revolving group of construction workers building the apartment complex next door. They don’t whistle as I pass or stop their steady hammering. A worker leans over a long iron beam with his welding stick and blasts the flare right there on the sidewalk. Sparks the size of snowflakes shoot across the road and fizz out on passing cars. I never see him wearing a face cover, nothing to keep the light from burning out his eyes. Every day I dodge the sparks and pretend it doesn’t bother me.
The Carmel Market crowds thin enough in the evening for me to relax, with shoppers disappearing into side streets and alleys. More stalls than I can count spiral out from the main square. I take a break from my wandering to buy a coffee and rest my feet. A young couple kisses passionately at a corner table nearby, the one drink between them still full and no longer steaming. The girl, maybe 17, wears a large-print t-shirt with some acronym I don’t recognize. The guy, a couple of years older, is dressed head to toe in the faded green canvas of an Israeli soldier. An AK-47 hangs loose off his shoulder, dangling limp with the tip hitting the metal leg of his chair. The couple stays glued to each other and nobody glances their way.
I sit at the café for an hour sipping at my coffee, bumming their open wifi. When I leave a half hour later, the young couple hasn’t moved: in danger, always, and blissfully alive.