For decades, the two-story Templer house at 57 Eilat Street stood empty and abandoned, dreaming of past glories. What was once the elegant Cafe Lorenz – a smart night-spot, dance hall, theater and cinema – was a gray shell, with bricked-up windows and graffiti-scarred walls.
Now, thanks to an initiative by the Schechter Institute for Jewish Studies, this long-forgotten building is being lovingly restored and will soon reopen its doors to the public as the Schechter Center for Jewish Culture.
The story of Cafe Lorenz begins in Ludwigsburg, Germany, in 1861 with
the creation of the Templer Society, a splinter group of the Lutheran
Church. The Templers believed that by colonizing the Holy Land, they
would expedite the second coming of Christ. After a botched attempt to
settle the Jezreel Valley, they established their first successful
colony in Haifa, in 1868. They arrived at Jaffa a year later, where
they founded more settlements, including one at the former American
Colony and another on the Jaffa Road. This colony was named Valhalla.
“Valhalla stood outside the gates of Jaffa, surrounded by the finery of
olive groves,” writes German Templer author Rudolf de Haas in his 1930
adventure story, The Orange Grower of Sarona
. It was
amid this rural splendor that Templer Frank Lorenz purchased a plot of
land in 1868, says Shay Farkash, a conservator in charge of the Cafe
Lorenz restoration. Farkash has spent years researching the building,
in investigations that have spanned the globe.
“Lorenz purchased a single-story Arab building on the Jaffa road,” says
Farkash. “He modernized it using local materials, including concrete
from a Templer factory in Jerusalem.”
Right on the edge of the sand dunes that, just a year later, would
become Neveh Tzedek, Lorenz’s house boasted all mod cons – including
In 1905, Lorenz opened a cafe. Well-situated on the busy Jaffa Road
next to the growing Jewish neighborhood of Neveh Tzedek, Cafe Lorenz
fast became a popular watering hole.
In 1909, the Lorenz family began screening movies in the cafe, and in
1925 the Kessem Cinema was housed there for a short time. Both Cafe
Lorenz and Neveh Tzedek’s Eden Cinema (opened in 1913) have laid claim
to the title of Israel’s first movie theater.
“Actually, no one can say for sure which came first, the Eden or Cafe
Lorenz,” says Farkash. “When a new movie came to Israel, it was shown
at both cinemas.”
Not a great deal is known about Cafe Lorenz during Ottoman times, but
there are more records from the British Mandate era. At one point
before 1939, the cafe was under the management of one Franz Nothbaum,
who ran a German restaurant and nightclub on the premises.
A 1935 menu printed in The Palestine Post
“Russian Salad, Roast Veal and Filet of Pork”; the cafe also boasted
such delights as cabaret shows with artistes like “acrobatic dancer”
Zipporah Zabari. Famous patrons included S.Y. Agnon, who immortalized
the cafe in his 1930s novel The Day Before Yesterday (Tmol
, in which one character complains about the tea.
In the 1930s, tensions had started to grow between the country’s German
residents and the local Jewish population. Despite living in Eretz
Israel, the Templers remained proud German citizens and nationalists.
As the Nazis rose to power in Germany, their ideologies found a
receptive home among some of Eretz Israel’s German colonies.
In 1934, a Palestine branch of the National Socialist Party was founded
in Haifa’s German colony. Later that same year, a swastika flag was
raised over the German Consulate in Jaffa – right next door to Cafe
Lorenz and just meters away from Neveh Tzedek.
The Templers’ days in Israel were soon to come to an end. When war
broke out a few years later, they were designated enemy nationals by
the British Mandate authorities. In 1941, they were expelled and sent
to internment camps in Australia.
Although its German owners were gone, Cafe Lorenz remained open. This
time it was in Jewish hands, specifically those of Max Rappoport, an
experienced restaurateur with an establishment on Dizengoff Street.
Rappoport completely revamped the cafe, but partially retained the
name. Lorenz’s Palm Garden, as it was now called, boasted a fancy new
Grill Room, but continued the popular nightclub – dubbed “the only spot
for dancing” in newspaper advertisements.
According to a 1943 Palestine Post
was sued – unsuccessfully – by a couple of British constables who
complained of being overcharged for the ginger beer in their Horse’s
Neck cocktails. “The British were pedantic,” remarks Farkash.
By all accounts, Rappoport’s tenure at Cafe Lorenz was successful as
well as colorful. It came to an end in 1948, when the newly established
Jewish state nationalized Templer colonies, including Valhalla.
In 1949, the Israel Defense Forces took over Cafe Lorenz, and
transformed it into the Soldiers Welfare Association with a mess hall,
bakery, wedding hall and theater. When the association moved to
different premises in the 1970s, Cafe Lorenz was abandoned.
After standing empty and forgotten for over two decades, the cafe was
rediscovered by Masorti Rabbi Roberto Arbib, a resident of Neveh
Tzedek. For years, Arbib had dreamed of creating a Jewish cultural
center, and was searching for suitable premises. Cafe Lorenz seemed
perfect, and the Tel Aviv municipality granted the Schechter Institute
permission to undertake the restoration work.
As Cafe Lorenz is a historic building, all renovations must preserve
the building’s architectural features as closely as possible, down to
the precise color of the original wall paintings.
As well as housing the Masorti movement’s Kehilat Sinai and Midreshet
Iyun, the new Schechter Center for Jewish Culture will house a theater,
a cafe, an art gallery, a Judaica shop and a kindergarten. Schechter
will offer lectures and workshops on Jewish topics, says Arbib, which
will give the overwhelmingly secular population of Neveh Tzedek and its
environs the chance to experience Jewish culture.
Schechter Institute president Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin is equally enthusiastic.
“This new cultural center will enable us to reach out to the
populations of Neveh Tzedek and beyond, to bring pluralistic Jewish
studies to as many people as possible in the Tel Aviv area,” he
In the closing pages of Haas’s Templer adventure story, the modern
Jewish city of Tel Aviv has risen from the sands, overshadowing the
German colonies. The Jews, writes Hass, have built “on the desolate
forsaken dunes near the sea splendid homes for a new generation driven
by a huge and happy dream, a completely modern city: Tel Aviv, the city
of the new Hebrews.”
In bringing Cafe Lorenz back to life, the Schechter Institute has
transformed an important relic of Tel Aviv’s past in the service of a
vibrant Jewish future.