Picture this: A group of teens hangs out at a bar, playing music and chilling out, and all this without a drop of alcohol. While this seems an unlikely scenario, Tracey Shipley is doing everything in her power to make it a reality.
The US-born, 55-year-old Jerusalem mother of three is working to establish Sobar (a play on “sober” and “bar”), a center where kids can meet up, listen to music and enjoy each other’s company in a positive atmosphere free of alcohol, cigarettes and other substances. Her professional background serves her well, as she is a creative therapist and addiction counselor who specializes in teens, young adults and consulting parents.
(She also writes a parental advice column for The Jerusalem Post.) While she already has a band and has organized musical events, Shipley is taking it up a notch and setting up a permanent place on Shoshan Street in downtown Jerusalem.
“I came up with the idea around three years ago,” she says, explaining that there’s no place for teens and young adults to hang out that doesn’t include alcohol. Sobar would provide “a safe alternative for the kids that would be equally exciting as a music bar, without the dangers of a bar.”
The idea came out of personal experience.
Shipley’s eldest son, Orr, a musician, was “pulled into the darker side” of the music world as a teen and “found way too much excitement in the wrong places.” Now 24, “he needs a safe environment where he can sing and enjoy music away from the bar scene,” she says.
She and a friend, the owner of the Blaze bar downtown, came up with the idea of a “kosher” Blaze bar, sans alcohol and cigarettes. Beginning last year, they ran a biweekly event “for kids, by kids,” where participants performed and hung out in a substance-free environment at different locations, such as Blaze and the Off the Wall Comedy Basement.
“There were times I had up to 60 kids,” recounts Shipley, adding that they were from different backgrounds – “metalheads,” religious teens, ultra-Orthodox kids, soldiers.
“That’s the beauty of Jerusalem,” she goes on. “I was able to prove a lot of people wrong on a number of points.”
One of those points was the notion that teens wouldn’t want to hang out in an alcohol-free environment, and that different age groups wouldn’t interact.
“I didn’t want to be a flag-waver regarding the alcohol-free aspect,” Shipley stresses. “The point was the music.”
There is already a Sobar “house band” that performs on a regular basis. Tchelet Perlmutter, 16, is one of the band members.
She and Shipley got in touch over a year ago after the latter saw her sing and play guitar at Mahaneh Yehuda.
“It’s really fun. First of all, the people are really nice. You come for the people,” Perlmutter says of the band.
As for the idea of performing music in a “clean” environment, she is all for it.
“Of course it’s something that’s needed.
I know of the problem [of teens drinking and smoking] firsthand because of a really good friend of mine,” she says.
“People try to prevent teens from doing it [smoking and drinking], but don’t provide an alternative,” she says about the Sobar concept. “When there’s no alternative, you go for such things.
Music is something that occupies a lot of people and could fill in the void. I highly recommend it.”
FOLLOWING THE success of the bi-weekly events, Shipley decided to open a permanent Sobar. The location on Shoshan Street was chosen “because it’s in the center of town, but far away from the bar scene. The place seemed ideal, but you needed a lot of vision to figure it out.”
Having funded Sobar from her own pocket, Shipley now needed more investors to make the center a reality.
She got in touch with councilman Elad Malka, who holds the youth portfolio a t the Jerusalem Municipality, to involve city hall in the project.
Following their meeting, she said that “the city [municipality] is willing to put down a certain amount of money, but that needs to be matched.”
Shipley is in the final stages of getting estimates for the renovation budget, and hopes that the center will receive support by different funds and private donors. Meanwhile, the Sobar band rehearses at the Lenagen Bekef center, which provides music lessons and helps people put bands together.
The Sobar center will feature two spaces.
One is an Indian-style “bar” that serves chai tea and snacks. The second is where workshops will be held; in the evenings, it will be transformed into the musical arena for performances.
The target age for participants and the audience is 16-24, but Shipley would like to open it to a wider audience once a week so that families, parents and teachers can also view the shows.
“We make assumptions that our kids don’t want us around,” she says, adding that this is not correct – as seen in the number of parents currently invited to their children’s performances.
“We see what’s happening out there in the music world – and it’s not pretty to see,” Shipley continues, referring to alcohol and drug abuse. “We want to show through the center that you can prove yourself in a positive way.”
This will entail some basic requirements.
Participants, for example, will have to stay throughout the workshops and n o t leave in the middle.
They will also have to pay a nominal fee, which will impart the feeling that they are investing in themselves.
“Every child is at risk; you never know,” Shipley contends regarding the need to create a safe environment for a wide audience. “They’ll be surrounded in the Sobar by young adults who will understand them.”
As to the volunteers, they “will become major positive role models.”
While the center will welcome all teens, Shipley has her eye on a specific group – teens who leave home for the first time and come to Jerusalem from abroad for a year. Describing them as “busy during the day, but wandering the streets at night,” she says that “they really need some guidance, but they won’t look for it.”
Another target audience is soldiers, who often find themselves home when their friends remain at their bases during the week or over the weekend.
“We want to provide them with a forum where they’ll meet kids their age, find excitement and enjoy music,” she says.
Shipley also has a message for parents: “We as parents can’t give up and say, ‘We can’t control our kids.’ Here’s a perfect opportunity to be proactive and create a space.”
An important thing to understand, she says, is that “it’s not only the city’s responsibility to make it happen, but also ours as parents.”
As to her personal visions for the center, Shipley has many.
The main one, however, will be to see the Sobar “open and running, and more kids than we know what to do with.”
The Sobar project has recently become part of the Musrara Morasha Community Center and it has formerly partnered with the Jerusalem Municipality.
There is a music show at the First Station on September 24 at 7 p.m., where there is talk about the Sobar project and a kickoff for the community Crowdfunding campaign.