August 8, 2002
A Reason to Party
Jerusalem holds summerlong festival in defiance of terrorism.
After Osama bin Laden demolished the World Trade Center, then-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani made a point of dining out in Manhattan. Last week, after two more bombings, Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert went one step further.
Olmert persuaded hundreds of citizens to join him for a fressfest in the downtown Ben Yehuda pedestrian street. Rock groups blared, lights twinkled, steaks sizzled, wines were tasted. Chefs baked the world's longest challah and a kugel worthy of the Guinness Book of Records.
The four-day food fair opened, as planned, a few hours after five Americans and two Israelis were murdered in an bombing at a cafeteria at the Hebrew University. The opening was not callous commercialism, but a deliberate act of defiance.
Ilan Siboni, owner of the Darna Moroccan restaurant, was offering couscous, savory cigars and oriental grills from an improvised, open-air kitchen. On that first night, he sold out. He -- and his customers -- were refusing to let the terrorists win.
"We choose for life; they choose for death," said Siboni, who opened his first Jerusalem restaurant 27 years ago. "Despite everything, we decided to go out. If we do what they want us to do, we can just stay at home and be miserable. You see how Jerusalem people react. It's what we have to do."
The food fair launched a nine-week summer festival of events designed to revitalize Ben Yehuda, which has been targeted by bombers and abandoned by shoppers. Future events this summer will include a local fashion week and a schoolbook fair. An advertising campaign -- on television, radio and newspapers -- is urging Israelis to take a break in Jerusalem.
The city fathers noticed that people preferred the suburban Malcha shopping mall because it was enclosed and guarded. So they enclosed and guarded Ben Yehuda, too. They erected barriers at all entrances and renamed the paved street the "Open Mall." Police checked everyone coming in. Paramilitary border guards, armed with automatics, patrolled the streets.
A young mother, Rena Schwartz, brought her 3-year-old son, Ben, to the food fair. "I was a bit afraid," she confessed, "but I trust the security. It's lovely here. People are walking about freely. That's how the summer should be."
Angels Bakery greeted them off Zion Square with the record 66-foot-long challah. The Israel Chefs' Association, a quarter of whose 500 members are out of work because of the tourism slump, flaunted the biggest kugel and the biggest kubeh, a popular Middle Eastern delicacy.
Rafi Yefet, association president, revealed the secret of the distinctive, gigantic "Jerusalem kugel": 220 pounds of lokshen, 600 eggs, 110 pounds of sugar, 55 pounds of raisins and a gallon of olive oil. Bake slowly for five hours, three with a high-tech oven.
"Jerusalem Buys Blue and White" read a streamer across a side street. Old men licked cornets outside an ice cream parlor that had put chairs and tables back on the sidewalk. Yuppies nibbled goat cheeses from the Sataf Dairy's stall.
Fancy French restaurants -- Arcadia and Cavalier -- offered quality dishes at knockdown prices: fillet steak in wine sauce for 29 shekels (about $6), "rostbif" for 25. The El Gaucho Argentine restaurant was grilling huge steaks alfresco. Shanti (Sanskrit for "peace") peddled vegetarian salads.
A Lubavitcher Chasid with a wispy white beard invited passers-by to lay tefillin. He had few takers. They had come out for fun, not devotion, to make a point, not to worship.
As Olmert, shadowed by his bodyguard and spokeswoman, put it: "This is the strongest and most relevant manifestation by the people of Jerusalem that nothing will break our spirit. This is where we belong. Nobody can force us out."
If the food fair was any guide, he was right about the people of Jerusalem. The rest of Israel seems in no hurry, however, to weekend in the lonely capital. And foreign tourists are still as hard to find as a silver coin in a Jerusalem kugel.