It was Thursday, a day after Shavuot holidays and the Tiberias market was emptier than usual. The vendors were lamenting the sad turnout “It’s like a Sunday”, one said to no one in particular. For me it was easy to maneuver from stall to stall, for them it cut into their livelihoods, the worry felt but not seen.
Tiberias is covered with the alluvial silt of changing times, shoddy apartment complexes, hastily built, a municipality that has neither the resources nor imagination to redefine itself. Pistachios and Coca-Cola are sold from buildings that once belonged to the city’s dignitaries; the money goes into the crass neon signs, the beautiful stone structures are left to fend for themselves.
It wasn’t always like this. This sleepy town on the banks for the Sea of Galilee had a tumultuous history of political upheavals, natural disasters and even love and deceit. It is considered one of the four holy Jewish cities, together with Jerusalem, Safed and Hebron. After the Roman conquest of Jerusalem and the subsequent Jewish exodus, Tiberias became the seat of Talmudic learning. The city also mentioned in the New Testament as a site where Jesus performed miracles and has become an important pilgrimage for believers. Today it is inhabited by Christians, Jews and Muslims and by domestic tourists looking for inexpensive hotel deals.
When I told my brother in law about our plan to visit Tiberias he raised his eyebrows and said “You know Tiberias isn’t what it once was” That should have been enough of a warning of the impending anthropological experience that awaited us. The hotel receptionist spoke like a passport control officer and the clients behaved like high school delinquents. Someone was going to have a good time telling me “I told you so”
But we came here to enjoy ourselves and that we did. We took a trip to the Gilaboon in the Golan Heights, a visit to Gan Hashlosha on the way back and a glimpse of the real world at the Tiberias outdoor market.The parliament in Tiberias Market
Towards the back sat a man at a rickety table, brooding a cigarette and waiting…above him a large sign written in Russian. I had inadvertently found a little restaurant selling Bukharian food, just this man and his wife. The owner sat down with me as I ate a freshly fried pastry stuffed with spiced meat and he told me how life brought him to this little corner of the world. He was born in Russia and moved to Bukhara in order to study. When he immigrated to Israel twenty years ago his degrees were useless. “I had no choice” he told me “I had to work to feed my family”. I asked him what he studied “law and another degree in food engineering”.Serving osh plov as well
So if you ever find yourself in Tiberias, skip the expensive restaurants and go to the Bukharian eatery at the end of the lane, some things are not always what they seem.