Merkaz means the “center” and the “merkaz” in Ma’alot, like most towns, is the commercial and social center of town. Ma’alot’s merkaz is like looking through a National Geographic with Russian-European styling and an eclectic sprinkling of Middle Easterners.
On the edge of the main courtyard there is a stretch of tables where old men get together to play dominoes, backgammon or whatever, throughout the day. There is some guy selling eggs, probably from a local moshav, right outside the grocery store(!?). There are two shawarma shops – right next to each other, who share in the of feeding the locals, plus a whole bunch of clothing stores, banks, and random stores providing for the needs of daily living.
Here are some of our favorite people who we have come to appreciate and enjoy their services or wears.
For example, Tzvia at the bank Ben Leumi – she provides the best customer service! Never believe that you cannot get good customer service in Israel – it is simply not true. Tzvia remembers her customers by name and knows English too – a real perk. With one call to Tzvia you can get any information about your account that you need or transfer funds from dollars to shekels – quickly, painlessly and without needing to provide 16 pieces of personal information.
Eli’s shop in right next to Ben Leumi bank, and he is a real sweet guy. He knows less English than we know Hebrew and he has a little store stocked with random items – like pens, paper, undergarments, toys, ceramic tchockies, dolls, socks, Purim costumes, umbrellas, and just about anything else imported from China. We have come to enjoy his fake-Lego and cheap toy selection, and in preparing for the winter – his complete selection of “goofia chorif” (thermal undergarments).
If you need a guitar pick, an old concert poster or a Led Zeppelin CD – Aron is the man to see. Aron’s store, “Musicali” services the local community (including the local conservatory) with instruments and supplies for the beginner or veteran. Aron’s English is excellent, allowing him to express his philosophical ideas about the benefits of living in Israel, of which I happen to agree with.
There are other friends in the merkaz like, Nabir (Arab or Druze) – owner of the optical shop, the pharmacist (Russian) – who is more than happy to help, and, ahhh…. the list goes on. Needless to say it, going to the merkaz blurs the line between shopping and visiting friends.