Scene of the shooting attack at a pub on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv on January 1, 2016.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
I recently came face to face with a shrimp cocktail and survived.
It happened in Old Jaffa during an organized tour of the area for journalists, that included a stay in newly opened boutique hotel and dinner in one of the trendy restaurants that have proliferated in the gentrified flea market.
Nashat Milhem was still at large after his murderous rampage in the Simta pub in Tel Aviv, but that didn’t prevent the cafes, bars and bistros in the alleyways of the market from being jammed with patrons.
The other journalists and their spouses or guests were all younger Gush Dan residents, part of the vibrant Tel Aviv cosmopolitan culture. That must be why our PR hosts, of the same ilk and spirit, had no qualms at culminating our tour with dinner at the appropriately named Flea Market, a spacious, two-floor former furniture store transformed into a bustling eatery in the heart of the shuk.
During our orientation earlier, we went around introducing ourselves, and when my turn arrived, I remarked that my wife and I had arrived from Ma’aleh Adumim. And, deciding to needle them over the common Tel Avivian notion that Jerusalem, and the West Bank in particular, are dangerous places to visit, I added, “We were a little apprehensive to come to the Tel Aviv area because of the threats. But we wanted to show solidarity with you.”
There was nervous laughter signifying the acknowledgment of the irony over the turned tables of the situation, in which Tel Aviv-area residents were for the time being even more on edge than the rest of us.
The restaurant manager came over and greeted us with a brief explanation of the establishment and its offerings which he described as “Israeli with an international flavor.”
Because this was an outing organized for Israeli journalists and because nobody had previously inquired of us whether anyone had dietary restrictions – like, for instance, keeping kosher – we had naturally assumed we would be taken to a restaurant whose fare was appropriate for all the diners.
I’m sure that’s exactly what the well-meaning PR folks thought they were doing, without a glint of recognition that any of the 14 Israelis invited to the table might abide by Jewish tradition. Instead, about a minute before a steady array of the chef’s hand-chosen specialties began making their way to the table for group sampling, one of the servers called out, “Does anyone have any dietary requirements, like gluten or lactose?” We raised our hands and said, “We love gluten and lactose but we keep kosher!” Our colleagues looked at us with childlike curiosity, as if they were witnessing the return of the horse and buggy to the streets of Jaffa.
“No problem,” the server answered. “When every course comes out, I’ll let you know if it’s OK for you or not.”
That plan obviously wouldn’t go over well with the Chief Rabbinate, but since we’ve eaten in non-kosher restaurants plenty of times, we figured we could handle the situation.
That’s when the shrimp cocktail landed in front of us.
Now, I’m from Maine and spent my youth surrounded by crustaceans. My wife, on the other hand, had never been so close to a shrimp in her life. While we politely pushed the dish away, the other diners grabbed enthusiastically at the ripe shellfish.
We satisfied ourselves by tucking into the mushroom risotto that the server – now unilaterally promoted to resident mashgiach – had certified as containing no treif.
It went on like that for the next 45 minutes, with Asian seared tuna getting the thumbs up and the beef gnocchi swimming in a cream sauce getting the pass.
A couple courses into the meal, our fellow diners had caught on and were enthusiastically vetting each course to insure we wouldn’t transgress to the dark side.
“Why can’t they eat that, there’s no seafood in it?” asked a woman in her mid-20s sitting across from us to her journalist friend of the same age.
“Because it has meat and milk together,” the journalist whispered back as her companion nodded knowingly, smiled at us with empathy and piled some gnocchi on her plate.
By simply by traveling 45 minutes on Route 1, we had been somehow transmuted from egalitarian-minded Jerusalem Jews who push the envelope by holding musical kabbalat Shabbat services and supporting Women of the Wall, to the most frum folks in the Tel Aviv bubble – a latter-day version of Grammy Hall’s shtetl Jew from Annie Hall, grasping on to ancient customs amid a changing modern world.
We had arrived for our Jaffa adventure with only slight apprehension about the fugitive killer at large, unaware that the biggest threat to our continued existence would be seafood served with tangy sauce.The writer, the managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, is co-author of the new book Goodbye Parkinson’s, Hello Life, published by Divine Arts.