BiographyBook ReviewsJoin Mailing ListScheduled AppearancesArticlesFeedback


Sunday, Sunday...
by Judy Lash Balint
April 7, 2002

The walls of the Menorah cafe are lined with bottles of Israeli wine. The bar, displaying a selection of enticing baked goods, is a fashionable light wood. The high arched ceiling sports a funky chandelier. The floor is made up of cool stone slabs, and the light grey metal tables and chairs scattered outside would fit in at any cafe in Italy, France or Seattle.

But this cafe is not in any of those calm places, it's on the nebulous seamline where the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City meets the Muslim Quarter. Still, today, a beautiful spring Sunday in the midst of the war dubbed Operation Defensive Shield, proprietor Benny calmly holds court over his state of the art espresso machine, and warmly greets every customer who stops by for refreshment and shmoozing.

There's Ruth Katz, a local artist and long-time Jewish Quarter resident who drops in to finalize arrangements for her paintings to grace Benny's walls for the next few months. With her slimstyle jeans and close-cropped hair, Ruth does not look the part of a typical Jewish Quarter resident. Yet the native Jerusalemite proudly proclaims her allegiance to the neighborhood.

Two young men lounge at an outside table. They're dressed in the uniform of the formerly wild, now newly-religious teenager. Big, multi-colored, knitted kipot, pulled down hard over protruding long curly hair. Tzitzit (ritual fringes) dangling from their long untucked shirts. As they leave, Benny leans over to whisper that one is a former street kid. "He's been through the whole scene..." he sighs.

Just across the alley from the cafe is the Menorah from which it takes its name. Set down in the Cardo, a Roman era shopping arcade, the five foot high gold candelabra is a replica of the Menorah that graced the Temple, constructed according to Talmudic sources.

It's at the Menorah cafe that I spend the last hour of daylight this Sunday afternoon. The day started with a visit to the state of the art media studio operated by The Medialine--an independent hasbara (PR) initiative run by Michael and Felice Friedson. (See It's here that serious efforts are being made to provide resources to visiting foreign press; monitor Arab media; and send out daily feeds from Jerusalem to hundreds of radio and TV stations all over the US. The studios bustle with activity--Michael and Felice field phone calls from sources and reporters as they try to prepare for the radio show we're about to broadcast. Information about the latest Arafat papers found in Ramallah and Orient House floats in, and bureau chief David Harris presides calmly over all.

Bibi Netanyahu is scheduled for the segment following mine--I hear later that he showed up late, but he's one of the few Israeli spokesmen worth waiting for....

I head over to the Jewish Quarter to meet a friend who's been away for several months. The Quarter feels like the safest place in the city. People are out on the streets. Students are shlepping suitcases as they return to their yeshivot after the Pesach break. Mothers with strollers stand chatting in the square, their older kids running freely over the low walls, and IDF soldiers are everywhere.

We sit outside enjoying the warm,spring sunshine and each other's company. Slowly we meander over to one of the shops along the main square. In the good old pre-war days, Shorashim on a Sunday afternoon would be jammed with tourists eager to purchase a momento of their visit to Jerusalem. Today, Moshe and Dovid have time to shmooze with their few visitors. We exchange notes on our respective e mail lists, and how to encourage Israeli product shopping over the Net. ( )

For much of the day, I was thinking about the pro-Israel rally in New York organized by Rav Avi Weiss and the Coalition for Jewish Concerns-Amcha. Rav Avi spent much of last week here doing the rounds of hospitals and funerals in an effort to bring chizuk (strength, support) to the victims of terror.

Just around the time the demonstration was starting, I found myself in the car on the way to a meeting. On the radio, I was incredulous to hear Israeli Consul General for New York, Alon Pinkas, state in an interview on the IDF station, that New York Jews were not turning out publicly the same way the Arabs had done the day before! Is Pinkas that much out of touch with the Jewish community? Originally the event was scheduled to take place outside his consulate--NYPD forced a change of venue to accomodate the expected thousands who did indeed turn out to support Israel. Is there any chance that he would not have seen the ads in Jewish papers; the e mails on every Jewish newslist or the flyers in every synagogue in the area? Is it possible, just possible, that because the demonstration was not organized by the Jewish establishment, but rather by a grassroots group in cooperation with an ad hoc coalition of rabbis, that the Consul felt compelled to deny the event to the Israeli public?

Meantime, I go back to retrieve my car from the (expensive) Jewish Quarter parking lot. The whole operation is run by Arabs who have closed up shop by the time I return. As I approach my old junker, I see that someone has snapped the plastic rod that supported the Israeli flag that I'd left contentedly flapping off the back window when I parked the car.

So how was your Sunday?