The Human Spirit: A cup O'Zionism

A chain based on the idea of "to build and be built" in Zion.

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February 15, 2007 13:44
4 minute read.
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The Formachencko, Mosevitz and Kopelov families, chocolate manufacturers from Riga, decided to "sweeten" the lives of the struggling pioneer. And so, by 1934, Elite was turning out chocolate bars in Ramat Gan. Reb Klonimous Wissotsky tucked contraband pamphlets to promulgate Zionism into the tea chests he sent around Russia before the family tea business moved to Tel Aviv. I couldn't help thinking of these particular Zionist role models when I recently toured the Cup O' Joe warehouse in Holon. Burlap sacks of coffee beans from exotic locations - Colombia and Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Brazil, Zimbabwe and Tanzania - lay in neat piles. Beans traversed a maze of pneumatic pipes through roasters into specific company blends. The aroma was heavenly. Cup O' Joe coffee is hot these days; new franchises of the eponymous cafes are opening all the time, and the brand-name coffee is popping up in luxury hotels and roadside takeaways. But like the food Zionists of the past, the entrepreneurs behind Joe began with a passion to bring a good product to the Zionist enterprise. My guide at Cup O' Joe is one of the owners, Brooklyn-born Dov Goldfarb. Before moving to Israel, he exercised his business acumen by running sneaker sales for the family footwear business. His Zionism was honed in his local chapter of Young Judaea, where the mantra was "to build and be built" in Zion. He made aliya in 1984, went into the army and moved to Kibbutz Ketura, where other Young Judaeans were living in torrid conditions near Eilat. While Goldfarb was supervising the fruit packing line, he became acquainted with the disgruntled David Klein, from Boston. The heat didn't bother Klein, the coffee did. The no-frills kibbutz offered the two traditional Israeli coffee choices: botz and nes. Botz means mud and nes means instant, as well as miracle. With every box of dates and mangos Klein packed, he sighed, "If only I could get a good cup of coffee." Goldfarb and Klein met again in 1996. Both had married, had kids and left the kibbutz for the center of the country. Klein was still grumbling about his cup of coffee. The two couples got together at Klein's home and ate homemade lasagna. It was so delicious that Goldfarb was convinced of Klein's highly developed sense of taste. They decided to act on an idea that had been brewing for years. In 1997, they opened a coffee shop on Rehov Hahashmonaim in Tel Aviv. They called it Cup O' Joe - an American nickname for coffee which related to Joseph Daniels, the secretary of the navy who banned alcohol on ships in 1914 and suggested coffee in its stead. In Hebrew it sounds like Caf Joe. The self-taught immigrants, like ice-cream moguls Ben and Jerry's in America, began by roasting the coffee themselves right in the middle of their cafe, tasting and mixing five or six kinds until they got what they wanted. They worked in shifts around the clock to ensure that it roasted slowly and properly. Tel Avivians liked the homemade touch - and the flavor. Neighboring coffee shops got wind of their success and ordered coffee from them, too. The kibbutz ethic of cooperation that remained from Ketura made Klein and Goldfarb eager to share, and they happily cooked up coffee even for the competition. They got a break when one of Tel Aviv's top hotels and a trendy bakery chain began featuring "Joe." In their own cafe, they learned that Israelis expected food with their coffee. What kind to serve? Their coffee strove for a European panache, but the food style they wanted to import was that of the American diner. They'd planned to buy all their coffee beans from local importers. But one day they discovered a used wrapper from Bamba, a popular Israeli snack food, inside what was supposed to be a sealed sack from Colombia. So the two immigrants became importers, visiting trading houses in Trieste and plantations in South and Central America, choosing their own beans. Like the Formachenckos, Mosevitzes and Kopelovs before them, theirs became a family business, with spouses and children pitching in. As demand grew, they opened a plant in their cafe basement; gravity would bring beans from the roasters to the grinders. Eventually, they had to move to commercial facilities. In parallel, other coffee chains opened in the big cities as Israeli coffee tastes changed, not replacing botz and nes, but adding to the variety. BACK IN Young Judaea, no one had talked about starting a cafe chain, but Goldfarb feels he's built and has been built. Cup O' Joe is celebrating 10 years these days, with franchises 30 and 31 opening. In keeping with their pluralistic outlook, about half of the cafes are certified kosher, and the others are not. Interestingly, Goldfarb uses the language of Zionist social conceptualization when he speaks of his goal of bringing their coffee from the center of the country to the periphery. He wants Joe in Dimona, Pardesiya and Sderot. The Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency is meeting in Israel this week, and a lot of attention will be given to practical Zionism. Down at Cup O' Joe's, its 10th anniversary should serve as a reminder that Zionism requires trial and error, persistence and, perhaps especially, imagination. Ultimately Zionism comes in a multiplicity of shapes, tastes and aromas.


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