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(photo credit: Meredith Price)
By 6 p.m., the Choco-Latte cafe on Rehov Idelson in the heart of Tel Aviv is relatively quiet. The bright orange chairs on the glassed-in patio are empty, apart from one older gentleman in the corner who is savoring his second strawberry pastry and two girls inside on a retro couch sipping coffees.
"By this hour, things start to wind down," says Jackie Tsvi, 28, a Turkish immigrant who co-owns the caf with his friend and partner, Vedat Bahar, 30. "We opened this place eight months ago after renovating, but it has been a pastry shop for 70 years," explains Bahar as Tsvi excuses himself to greet a regular who has come in for his evening espresso. "We added some of our touches, but we had designers to help us," says Bahar, pointing to the traditional Turkish "eyes" embedded in the wall and floor tiles.
Friends since childhood, Bahar and Tsvi grew up in Istanbul in the Jewish community but like many in the assimilated community, attended regular schools. Tsvi studied media and communications systems at the University of Bilgi, finishing his B.A. in 2002.
Bahar taught Zionist classes in the Jewish community, but says he chose to make aliya because he couldn't see a future in Turkey. "The Jewish community in Istanbul is very wealthy and snobby," Bahar explains. "I'm not like that, and I wanted a chance to do something else with my life so I came to Israel."
In August 1995, Bahar arrived here for the first time. "I had never been here before I made aliya, but I wanted to study here so I came right after high school." He took exams for new immigrants that award them with a matriculation certificate and then enrolled in a Middle East and Islamic history program at Hebrew University. In the summer of 1999, he started his army service, After which he moved to Tel Aviv and worked as a manager in several caf s and as a freelance translator. "After living in Jerusalem for five years, I realized that Tel Aviv is the closest thing in Israel to Istanbul."
That being said, the pair consistently joke that compared to their hometown of 15 million, even Tel Aviv feels like a small town.
After Tsvi made aliya on November 1, 2002, he went straight to Kibbutz Yotvata, where he worked and attended ulpan. Afterward, he served in the army for six months, worked as a freelance advertising copywriter and then as a freelance graphic designer before finding a location where he could open his own caf . "Right after the army, I started looking for a place to open a caf but it took a long time to find the right thing," he says. About a year and a half ago, he found the Choco-Latte location.
"We both talk to our families every day, sometimes twice a day," says Bahar. "Not a day goes by without a phone call from them to us or vice versa. We're very close."
Both Bahar and Tsvi made aliya without their parents or siblings. Bahar has a younger brother in Turkey who works in transportation, and his father is a financial manager. His mother is not working right now. "It's hard without them here, but until we opened the caf we were going at least two or three times a year. Now it's less."
Tsvi is an only child, but his family has been in Turkey for many generations. "I have a large family in Turkey and we've been in the Jewish community there for over 500 years," he says. "It's a good life for Jews in Turkey, but for now I want to be here."
Tsvi's mother is a retired textile worker, and his father serves as the chief hazan of the Jewish community, certifies that meat is kosher, teaches others the profession, and studies Torah.
From 6:30 a.m. until 8 p.m., Bahar and Tsvi are in Choco-Latte. "I'm usually in the kitchen and Vedat takes care of the front of the house," says Tsvi. "We have someone else who makes our pastries."
For Tsvi, owning a caf is a childhood dream, but he nevertheless bemoans the long hours and having to smile on the outside even if he's crying on the inside. "At times I enjoy it, and at other times I don't. It's definitely slave labor."
"During the week, I go straight home. I don't see anyone after 8 p.m. I keep the hours of a retiree these days," Tsvi says with a smile.
Tsvi, who owns an apartment in Rishon Lezion, rents a flat in Tel Aviv. "I live alone and I love my apartment. I have one 400-liter aquarium and a few other small ones at home," he says.
Bahar shares an apartment with a friend. "I used to prefer going out to see a movie rather than watching TV at home, but now it's the opposite," he says. "I like having my own space and my time alone to surf the Internet at home."
"Friends are like the fingers attached to your hand," says Tsvi. "You don't have many who are true in life." Tsvi says that apart from Bahar and a few friends back in Istanbul, everyone in Israel is what he classifies as acquaintances. Bahar agrees that few people in life can really be called friends, and says that only his roommate and Tsvi fall into that category.
In his spare time, Tsvi plays the guitar. "I was in a band for 12 years in Turkey, but after I made aliya and started keeping kosher, I stopped going to late night parties and all the other crazy things that go along with it," he says.
Bahar, who was a member of the Turkish national team for one year, loves to swim. "I enjoy a lot of other sports, like basketball and soccer, too. And I like historical books and science fiction novels," he says.
Bahar's Hebrew is so fluent that he worked as a translator to earn money as a student and while serving in the army. "I used to come home after army duty and translate texts late into the night," he says. He also speaks English and understands French, thanks to his grandmother, who immigrated to Turkey from France.
For Tsvi, learning Hebrew was relatively easy, and he speaks, reads and writes fluently. "I knew the word 'shalom' before I got here, but after six months of ulpan, I could get by."
"I don't keep Shabbat, but I go to the synagogue on holidays. I guess I would say I'm traditional," says Bahar.
Tsvi, who became more religious after making aliya, keeps Shabbat, eats kosher and regularly attends a modern Orthodox synagogue in Tel Aviv. He believes that to maintain a healthy spiritual life, it's essential to return to religion every day. "After the army service, I started to keep kosher again. I wear a transparent kippa," he says.
Both Bahar and Tsvi grew up in religious households and were members of Zionist youth movements in Turkey.
"In Turkey I was Jewish, but in Israel I'm Turkish," Tsvi says. "I consider Jewish to be my nationality."
Bahar agrees but says that his culture is still Turkish. "I will never get used to the lack of politeness in the Israeli culture," he says. "People here come in and say: 'Give me a coffee'. In Turkey, you ask politely and use please and thank you."
"In the near future, I want to return to university and get my Ph.D. in communications studies and learn in a yeshiva," says Tsvi, who adds that he also wants to marry and start a family. "I am not a complicated man. I don't need a lot of money. I need food and a roof over my head."
Bahar, who also wants to meet the right woman and start a family, agrees that money doesn't impress him. "I want to succeed in business and I want to be able to give my children what my parents gave me, but I'm not greedy."
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