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Left of Center: The Shuk of Ofakim

Updated: Dec 27, 2019

My family and I live in the southwestern Negev desert. This area is an agricultural and residential area developed on the heels of the Yamit settlement in the Sinai peninsula. When Israel made peace with Egypt back in 1979, we had to replace thousands of people back into the Israeli borders. So our government built this area in the early 80's. From the beginning ,the residents were given a tractor and farm land . It continued this way for more than a decade until my family arrived and bought a house in foreclosure . Once we unpacked and set down roots, we had to figure out where to get supplies. There's nothing around here for miles except farmland and houses. There weren't any business, shops, markets, banks, post offices . So we began going to the nearest town 30 minutes away, Ofakim. Ofakim was a sleepy forgotten town, but it did contain the basics, so it became our place to stock up.

It had a shuk (market) with fresh fruits, vegetables, dried fruits, nuts and seeds, an odd assortment of low cost shoes, clothes , kitchen supplies and bedding. It wasn't much, but it was something. Later, they added a large grocery store and slowly Ofakim developed and grew.

Today it is still a comparatively small town, but it has come a long way. I don't need to go anywhere else for our family's needs. I appreciate the small town feel: no traffic, available parking, everyone knows everyone else. I feel right at home when we arrive every Wednesday to do our weekly errands.

The shuk is my favorite place to go for affordable fresh healthy vegetables, fruit and the best celery and greens in the country. I've talked to many people about the benefits of celery juice, but my friends in Jerusalem and other parts of the country can't seem to find celery worthy of juicing. I have THE source. A tough sweet family at the shuk brings in extra celery just for me. It is beautiful, big, green, fresh, perfect celery delivered every single week, all year long.

The fruit and vegetables are provided by my friends Gabby and Shimon across the way. I get loads of fresh produce for great prices. These guys are out there rain or shine , morning to evening, servicing the city of Ofakim. They have an order by the government to close up shop when there are kassam rockets, otherwise they might be out there still. I fill up the back of my car with all the produce we will need for the week. I have six boys and they eat this fresh fruit all week long to stay healthy and happy. It's what I build my meal plans on and what provides us with the nutrition we need on a budget I can afford.

Ofakim is growing and changing, there are new neighborhoods sprouting up and traffic and parking are slowly becoming more of a thing, but the shuk hasn't changed in all these years. It has it's permentant space on the outer limits of the city. Up until now it has been made from old construction that was always temporary . But the city has recently invested in this little corner and is erecting a permanent roof with stable construction that will make the new shuk a modern, clean safe place. It will include more parking, more shade and will attract younger residents to the shuk. Thus allowing it to cater to another generation.

The shuk has been a staple in almost every city since the beginning of the state. It was a "farmer's market" before they were popular. They allowed farmers to bring their produce to market and for city residents, who had no means of growing food, to get fresh local produce.

Farmers have been the backbone of society and economy throughout history. The shuk was always a romantic backdrop in movies and in marriage match-ups. It was a place where Jews from different backgrounds came together to buy food , socialize and support each other .

The purpose remains the same: a market with great prices, fresh produce and Jewish pride . All of this is still true in today's shuk in Ofakim.

The markets in Ofakim and a neighbouring town, Netivot remain some of the last standing Jewish shuks. The Arab sector has slowly and quietly taken over the bigger cities' shuks. It has become a sad reminder of how nothing is being done to protect our once proud Jewish farmers. Many Jewish farmers once came to the shuk to sell their produce. When it was time, they passed the business on to their children who continued to provide a service to the local population. But as time goes by and the Arabs are moving in and fighting with the Jews for the monopoly of the shuk. The scene has changed dramatically from what it once was and what it represented.

This is why I value our Ofakim shuk, the people who work there, the quality and low price of Israeli grown produce. I hope this little known gem continues to thrive and provide for the local people for generations to come, because it just wouldn't be the same without it.

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