On Wednesday night, Margalit Bergman was sitting at a table in the Benedict restaurant in Tel Aviv’s upscale Sarona Market, next to the Max Brenner cafe, when two “wealthy Italian -looking businessmen in fancy suits and skinny ties” opened fire, murdering four people.
On Thursday morning, traumatized and shaking off the sleeping pills she took the night before, Bergman returned to the scene of the attack – and to the exact same table. Her friends told her that it might help her deal with the shock and to feel safe again at Sarona Market, a regular hangout spot across the street from her job at the Defense Ministry complex.
As Bergman told it, she and her friends had just sat down at Benedict and hadn’t even ordered food when the shooters sat down a few tables away in the common eating area.
“We heard one shot and then they [the gunmen] stood up and started shooting at everyone, we ran the other way as fast as we could. But it’s all luck.
It’s all fate that I’m still alive.”
A friend and Bergman got separated, and she instinctively ran toward the Defense Ministry headquarters hoping to find soldiers with rifles who could come save the day. En route, two young men gave her water, and had her sit with them as clinical shock washed over her, she said.
Bergman said the shooters looked like “rich businessmen, not like haredim, as some people said. They were wearing these nice, shiny suits with ties and suitcases. They looked like they were foreign businessmen coming to buy up Sarona Market.”
Just like businessmen – except for the guns and the “cold, calm look on their faces as they fired everywhere,” Bergman said.
The terrorists hit a soft target with lax security where the boutiques and elegant restaurants seem like a cliché of the detached, upscale Tel Aviv bubble. It would be a push to say that bubble was burst by Wednesday night’s bullets.
Looking around Sarona the morning after, if it weren’t for the scrum of local and foreign media and the politicians trickling in and out, one might think it was business as usual.
There were no visible bullet holes, no shattered glass, no blood stains or police tape to be seen. Evidence of the terrorist attack was already cleaned up, in a classic example of stubborn Israeli insistence to return to normal after deadly tragedy.
There were more police on the scene – including a large deployment of YASAM (Special Patrol Unit) police. As is typically the case, security was stricter the morning after the attack.
Part of this is due to people like Tal Sharabi, 22, a waiter at Benedict. He wasn’t working on Wednesday night, but he rushed there 10 minutes after hearing about the gunshots, to check on his co-workers.
For hours they searched in a panic for the restaurant’s hostess, who was feared dead until she reappeared at midnight.
Tal said he and his co-workers remained there till 4 a.m.
cleaning up the blood and the police tape, and getting things back to normal. They also collected the property left behind – credit cards, cellphones and assorted personal items customers abandoned during the mayhem.
Behind his air of defiance, Sharabi looked tired and shaken.
“It’s a terrible feeling. In one of the videos you see one of our customers, who just a moment earlier was talking to us, and he’s shot dead, and they [the terrorists] shoot him again to ‘confirm’ the kill.”
Asked if he thought it was odd to return to normal so quickly, he said: “It’s strange but we live this every day already. We can’t put our lives on hold. We must do this. We can’t let terrorists stop our lives.”
David Vana, 53, was born in Israel but lived in Miami for 50 years before coming to Israel recently to stay with his sister at her apartment at the Sarona Market. His sister was a few blocks away on Ha’arba’a Street Wednesday night and would have been walking right past Max Brenner during the attack if her aerobics class hadn’t run 10 minutes late.
Vana seemed taken aback by the patrons eating at Max Brenner and Benedict as if it were a typical Thursday. His sister – who asked not to be named – said that was everyday Israeli life, something her brother hadn’t gotten used to spending all those years in the United States.
Liran Sher, 33, had a different approach. He lives 200 meters away from Sarona Market with his pregnant girlfriend, and for him, the market is a “second home,” and where he takes friends “visiting from abroad [outside Tel Aviv].”
Sher – who said if he hadn’t missed his bus he might have been arriving at the Sarona just as the shooting took place – placed four memorial candles outside Benedict. It’s best to take time out following such tragedy, he said.
“I think you don’t need to reopen the place so quickly. I feel bad that someone is sitting right here where someone was shot dead on the floor the night before. It hurts me to see people sitting here eating breakfast. They could wait till after the funerals till we know who the people are. What their stories are.”
That was a minority opinion Thursday morning at Sarona Market, which less than 12 hours earlier was the site of horror and blood, and had by now perhaps joined the worst club in Israel – locales such as Café Moment and Sbarro pizza in Jerusalem, and the Dolphinarium in Tel Aviv, which are forever associated with a terrorist attack.
Rivka Yanai, 55, takes a stroll through Sarona Market almost every day. The Toronto native and veteran immigrant was walking her year-old granddaughter in a stroller after visiting her son, who works at a restaurant there. She was unequivocal about it – today is a great day to visit Sarona Market.
“This is how it needs to be, people coming back, going on with their daily lives. I feel sadness, but not fear.”