I don’t know how it is in other countries that have a more religious population, but even in Israel, with a highly secular population, Friday night is something special. It’s the beginning of the Sabbath, but even among the folks who don’t celebrate the Sabbath per se, Friday night is more than just the beginning of the weekend.
And as such, the hours leading up to Friday evening, are a flurry of preparations. Chief among them is heading to the market for groceries for the weekend, and ingredients for the Friday night meal. The most famous market in the country is the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem. Jerusalem’s large religious population adds an extra bit of heightened focus and pressure to the preparations as when sundown hits all preparations must cease according to Jewish law.
The vegetables, fruit, fish, and meat are certainly big attractions. But so are the spices, nuts, flowers, glistening pastries, steaming fresh breads, amazing freshly made salads, tiny restaurants/street stalls, and household goods shops. All in all, there’s basically everything you need (all carried in ubiquitous plastic bags) for a warm and wonderful home cooked weekend. All those people preparing for a weekend with their families, and the iconic status of the market itself also makes it a target for suicide bombers. And Friday day is prime time for that type of activity. We went anyway. The border police at the entrances to the markets help make you feel safer, but mostly it’s a sense that you can’t stop living your life.