Realization of a dream

A burgeoning artistic community in the small Wadi Ara town of Katzir now features a restaurant offering breathtaking views.

September 11, 2007 10:35
Ilil Tamir 88 224

Ilil Tamir 88 224. (photo credit: Lydia Aisenberg)

On top of a mountain, all covered in cheese… a few words of a song from more youthful days came to mind while sitting atop the Amir mountain range recently. The cheese covered plates of pasta. Even before making aliya from Chile in 1984, Sandra Pogozelits dreamed of having her own restaurant. With the opening in August of Bonita in her home community of Katzir straddling the mountain range, her dream became reality. Now the industrious Pogozelits works fast and furious - but with a broad smile and sense of satisfaction - in the Bonita kitchen. In what was once a collection of dilapidated caravans used to house newcomers to Katzir while they awaited the completion of their homes in the hilltop community founded in the l980s, an artists' village - and Pogozelits's restaurant - is beginning to take shape. The Ministry of Tourism has 'adopted' the mountain crest artistic community. Attractive pale stone pathways with low retainer walls, and shaded areas for relaxing while taking in the breathtaking view of the Wadi Ara basin down below, are slowly beginning to appear between the dozen-or-so caravans occupied by various local artists, a DVD rental business and a hairdresser. "Bonita was born out of love and so I am positive the venture will succeed," said Michael Ashkenazi, a businessman and Pogozelits family friend who was dining out with his wife and a friend at the restaurant, a 40-minute drive from their home town of Tzoran in the Sharon. Asked if it wasn't a bit of "schlep" to Katzir in Wadi Ara, Ashkenazi laughed heartily and pointed out that their town was also a 40-minute drive from Tel Aviv, yet people didn't think twice about driving to a restaurant there. Bonita ("beautiful" in Spanish) officially opened doors for business on August 8 with an evening of Beatles music and a menu including pastas, quiches, salads, cheeses, open sandwiches and tasty pastries with coffee. The phenomenal panoramic view is dished up on a platter, gratis. On one side of the mountain where the two hills that make up the 760-family community are situated, lies the West Bank-Samaria Dotan Valley. It was in this valley that biblical Joseph was purportedly thrown into a pit by his none-too-loving brothers. Scores of large and small Palestinian villages are dotted across the lower hills and mountain ranges in the near distance, and two Jewish settlements, Mevo Dotan and Hermesh, also sit snuggly tucked away in the folds of the valley. The course of the security fence can be followed as it snakes its way between lower hills, passing on the east side of the village of Barta'a, divided mistakenly by the Green Line in l949 - a mistake that has never been rectified. The sandy track visible from above can be seen streaking across the Dotan valley parallel to Kibbutz Metzer before climbing up the Samarian mountain range and dropping down the other side toward Bat Hefer and the Palestinian Authority city of Tulkarm. Viewing the scenery from Katzir, it seems that where the fence goes over the mountain a huge Hebrew letter 'gimmel' has been emblazoned in the mountainside before disappearing over the brow of the range. The Katzir observation platform takes in all the Dotan Valley down below, and to the right the width of the State of Israel can be literally overviewed while hardly turning a head. From the green-domed mosque of West Barta'a (which happens fittingly to practically sit on the actual Green Line) to the Hadera power station sticking up like a sore thumb on the coastline, is barely 27 kilometers. On a relatively clear day Netanya can be seen further along the coast, and on exceptionally clear days the high rise buildings of Tel Aviv pop up in the distance. The culinary venture and artists' village-in-the-making is situated on the other side of the rather large homes privately constructed on this Jewish Agency-owned hilltop. No two houses are alike. The Pogozelitz family consists of seventh-generation Jerusalemite Gil who works in hi-tech, soldier son Yoav (20) and twin daughters Ma'ayan and Hadas, almost 18, who double up as Bonita waitresses. "Don't write about us, this is Sandra's time, her dream and her huge efforts to attain it," says Gil, squeezing between tables to ensure that customers are satisfied with the food and service. Nothing could go wrong with the view! As the sun was about to disappear into the Mediterranean, there was still enough light to see the Carmel mountain range in the distance, the Druse villages on top clearly visible as was the tall University of Haifa building. Immediately below lie open spaces between the kibbutzim and army bases atop the Menashe Hills plateau, and sprawling across the lower slopes, Israeli Arab villages including Kfar Kara, 'Ara and Mus Mus. Winding its way through the narrow pass between the Menashe Hills and the Amir mountain range is the ever-busy, traffic-jam-prone Route 65 - an ancient thoroughfare known also as Via Maris, the Way of the Sea. Immediately below Bonita's spacious, open veranda, the village of 'Arara spreads over the lower slopes of the mountain, and just a short distance along the ridge the Israeli-Arab village of Ein el-Saleh, the Jewish community of Mei Ami and, covering the mountain as it drops down toward the Jezreel Valley, the 55,000-resident city of Umm el-Fahm where two gigantic mosques - one with a golden dome and both with high minarets - stand out in the near-distance horizon in the fading light. On the evening Metro came to call at Bonita's, charismatic Israeli singer and storyteller Danny Robas appeared before a capacity crowd. "We didn't advertise in the normal manner, just word of mouth," explained the proprietor as she welcomed her customers, the majority from Katzir and local kibbutzim. After just a week in business, she already had bookings for bar and bat mitzvah parties, and the venture's future looks bright. Cultural evenings of different shapes and sizes are also in the works, as are appearances by other well-known Israeli entertainers. Robas, standing on a small stage with the Menashe Hills and Carmel Mountain range as a natural backdrop, begins his performance. "Good Evening Katzir, it's good to be here," he says. As darkness falls, lights pop up all over Wadi Ara as the Arab and Jewish communities settle down for the evening. The number of bright green lights twinkling atop the mosques of the region is quite astounding. Robas begins his performance with his big hit of the early 1990s - BaDerech el haOsher (On the Way to Happiness), a suitable choice for the happy new restaurant owner. Meanwhile, another performance begins to take place down below in the wadi. With August being the height of the wedding season, according to the firework display that seemed to be at Bonita's feet, at least 10 weddings were being celebrated in various villages below. Bonita diners, Danny Robas and Sandra Pogozelits were not the only ones on the way to happiness in Wadi Ara that evening.

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