“This isn’t a soup kitchen, it’s a gourmet restaurant,” the kitchen-duty
volunteers tell me when I show up to help cook dinner for demonstrators at the
tent city in Jerusalem on Wednesday night. “Just make sure you check in with the
‘minister of the kitchen,’” they add, as I’m handed a pile of beets to peel and
Aside from public pressure on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to
make significant changes in housing policy, a true community-driven spirit has
arisen in the tent cities scattered across the country.
Nowhere is this
more evident than in the kitchens, which are churning out giant pots of pasta
and rice to fuel hundreds of hungry activists.
The kitchen at the tent
city that popped up in downtown Jerusalem starts working in earnest only after
the majority of the demonstrators have left for a one-kilometer march to the
prime minister’s residence to protest the proliferation of expensive,
foreign-owned “ghost apartments” in the capital.
Organizers struggle to
keep up the enthusiasm. After nearly two weeks of the same chant (“The nation
demands social justice!”), they mix in a few improvised songs, one based on a
Purim ditty about the evil Haman, with unmistakable references to
At the kitchen, donations have been pouring in all day. People
bring their own vegetables from home, and supermarket magnate Rami Levy offered
to “empty his storeroom,” says one volunteer named Shahar.
“He told us,
whatever we need, just tell him and he’ll deliver it,” says Shahar. “But that’s
also problematic, because people here have problems with Rami Levy and the way
he pays his workers, and he’s really part of the cycle.”
kitchen voted to accept Levy’s donations, including half-a-dozen whole
watermelons for dessert. Area restaurants have also pledged
The enthusiastic idealism that propelled the demonstrators
into the streets in the first place stretches to the tent city kitchen, a
hastily erected corner located in Gan Hasus (Horse Park). The area has been
outfitted with tables and giant pots, courtesy of a generous kibbutznik who
dropped off the cookware earlier in the week.
Staffed by young students
who are environmentally and socially conscientious, waste is set into piles of
trash and compost, and people who are eager to help fight over the five knives.
Activists have been instructed to bring their own non-disposable utensils and
plates from home in order to cut down on waste.
On the menu on Wednesday
night is couscous with onions, vegetable soup and cabbage and beet salad,
according to Nadav, the unofficial “minister of the kitchen” I heard about upon
my arrival. The 28-year-old youth counselor was one of the first demonstrators
out in the Jerusalem streets near the Old City walls, where the tents had been
set up last week.
“I felt like something was really missing – a communal
dinner, cold water – so I went home and made a giant pot of rice with
vegetables,” he says on Wednesday, in the midst of directing 15 people to cut
cabbage and carrots for salads.
“The day after that, Friday, I think it
was, I wrote on the Facebook wall that I wanted to make a dinner there at 8:00
p.m. I thought there’d be five to 20 people,” he says.
Soon, the National
Student Union got wind of the announcement and promised to donate funds.
Restaurants stepped up with more food donations. Suddenly, he was overseeing a
Friday night meal for 70 people.
When the tent city moved to Gan Hasus
and the activists met to divide up the jobs, “I just ended up being in charge of
food,” says Nadav, who has worked in restaurants as a chef for a second job. He
was then interrupted by five people who had spent the past week in Tel Aviv:
“Hey, where should we put the refrigerator?” asks one, as more people show up,
each holding a piece of a partially disassembled and unattractive green
refrigerator from the 1970s.
The passionate activists, who have been
living in tents for almost two weeks, said they are now floating in a strange
“I’m not really sure what day it is,” confides a demonstrator
named Ayelet as she watches the soup boil. “I know we were in Kikar Tzahal, and
then the Rose Park, and then we came here – but I have no idea what day of the
week it is,” she says.
“I took off from work almost all of last week. I
had to work yesterday, but I’m taking off the rest of this week, as well,” says
another volunteer as he struggles to string up electricity so the kitchen
workers will have light. “I’m going to feel it next month in my bank account,
but we’ll figure it out.”
Ayelet, organizing the donations from the day
to make sure they hadn’t forgotten anything, asks, “Can we not put paprika in
Dusk is falling and it’s getting hard to see.
“Why not?” asks
“Because I can’t eat paprika, I’m allergic,” Ayelet
“Come on, you remember, we voted that we can’t deal with rare
diseases,” sighs Nadav.
As the work continues, more and more people offer
to help. It feels like a big kibbutz cookout, or the children’s book Stone Soup
with everyone donating what they can, in small spurts, to make a meal for
hundreds of people.
What’s the most the ad-hoc kitchen can serve? On
Tuesday evening it served 250.
“As many as it needs to,” says Nadav, as
the activists return from the march to the prime minister’s residence, chanting
and waving signs.