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Snoozing, Shopping and Schepping Nachas on Ben Yehuda Street

Following a Havdala ceremony to end Shabbat and a surprise cake and candles for this Rabbinic Birthday Boy, we shared dinner with Lucille and Ryan Goldin at the Rimon Café, just off Ben Yehuda Street (Paul Goldin stayed back to recover from a bad cold). We chose Rimon Café upon discovering that Michelle’s favorite Aroma Café had shut down years ago after a series of suicide bombings decimated the nightlife on Ben Yehuda Street during early 2000’s Second Intifada. Yet from tonight’s activities, you would never know that mindless hatred had once turned this into a dangerous place to stroll.

Ben Yehuda Street has always been Jerusalem’s equivalent of Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade, a no-cars pedestrian walking mall lined with shops (tourist traps) and restaurants (mostly open air). It is a place of people watching and people meeting, where the game of Jewish geography can be played on an international scale. I bumped into a colleague from Pennsylvania and his synagogue tour group; others reconnect with old friends from NFTY programs, college, youth group and more. Inundated with tourists and Year-in-Israel college students, modern orthodox and motivated hawkers, it serves on Motzei Shabbat (Saturday night, post Shabbat) as THE center of Jerusalem’s almost non-existent nightlife. Midway down the walking mall a yeshiva band plays rock and roll. Farther down, at Kikar Tzion (Zion Square) an ever-growing group of yeshiva bochers (students in their early 20’s, boys only) dance wildly in a circle to music of their own making. Of course, smells of falafel and humus waft through the streets near a small hole-in-the-wall where more than 36 people line up for an evening meal.

Rimon Café is really two Kosher restaurants in one: on the left basari (Hebrew for meat) and on the right chalavi (Hebrew for dairy). Although we saw the Wolfson clan consuming a fleishig (Yiddish for meat) meal (they must have arrived before the crowds), we were only able to find seats in the milchig (Yiddish for dairy) section. Even under the heat lamps, we were still chilly. And exhausted. Post-ordering, four of us took naps. Michelle and I enjoyed a romantic (?) birthday snooze, dozing in our seats, while Noah and Ryan put their heads down on the table and slept full on. Grandpa Murray, Rachel and Lucille enjoyed some conversation while waiting for the food to come.

Well, the meal was a bust. My lox, cream cheese and avocado sandwich arrived cold with a rubber band toasted within, while the pizzas were bland and cooler too. Michelle’s onion soup was tasty but Daniel did not enjoy the baked parmesan cheese atop his pasta. The other boys merely nibbled on their pasta, while Rachel grazed off other people’s plates upon learning – after all of our food was sporadically delivered – that they did not have the burekas she ordered.

Funny though, lousy service aside, it was a great evening. We were mildly entertained by a loud-mouthed New Yawker at the next table whose grating voice reminded us that we were in a Jerusalem melting pot. I enjoyed “tay eem nana” whose warmth and flavor (fresh mint drowning in chamomile tea) brought back memories of many a night trying to keep warm from the Jerusalem chill. The restaurant’s manager appropriately provided a new lox sandwich and offered a complimentary dessert (I took a gift certificate to share with our tour guide instead). Jews serving Jews in a Jewish city at the end of a Jewish Holy Day. I would still come back to Rimon Café just for the experience.

Noah perked up at the opportunity to purchase a new shofar. A natural at sounding the shofar (he is a main blower at his Heschel West Day School in Agoura), this kid initially blanched at the thought of getting a four-foot long curly shofar until I promised that he would grow into it and that until he did, I would hold the end up until he did. We acquired two other shofarot that night: one for novice Ryan and another for trumpet-playing Andrew Gurewitz. I had to assure all the parents that shofarot of such length would easily clear customs and fit in the overhead compartment. I am sure, sort of, that I am right. Andrew and I made a deal: I would teach him the names and lengths of the sounds if he would show Noah just how to tighten his lips to alter the tone. I informed the bunch of them to be patient and practice. Although they would begin in the Shofar Blowing minor leagues (sounding at family and youth services on the High Holy Days), one day they might blow clean up as part of the ever growing group sounding Tekiah Gedolah at the Neilah closing service.

Other trip participants spent their shekels shopping as well. My family surprised me with a versatile, multi-colored Shabbat ritual box for my birthday. The Shabbat candle holders flip over to become a Havdala spice box and candle holder. The Kiddush cup and plate find use in both ceremonies. The Kelemans bought various items including a gorgeous chanukiah, even as Mishpacha Coordinator Rachel Isaacson found and fell in love with the perfect tallit for her wedding chuppah. Exhausted by 9:30 pm (touring is tiring), we dragged ourselves down the street to find a cab home. Of course, my two girls decided that since we needed two taxicabs to transport our family back to the hotel, they would hang back a bit to shop some more.

I awoke at 6 am this morning to a note assuring me that my girls returned back to the hotel around 11:30 pm. A smile spread across my face. My family spent the night out in Jerusalem. My girls undoubtedly boosted Israel’s economy spending their share of shekels in Israel’s capital. My congregants were spent from a Saturday night in the heart of Jerusalem’s secular hot spot. And I slept soundly even before they were all in bed. Much still needs to be done to bring comprehensive peace to this part of the world, but for the moment, it feels darned peaceful to me.

Shavuah Tov, may it be a good week for us all.

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