The anarchist's playground

A vegan restaurant with a menu and an agenda, Salon Mazal offers much food for thought.

Anarchists with experience know that plotting the next revolution requires energy. It is perhaps for this reason that Tel Aviv's Salon Mazal has opted for an in-house restaurant and bar that serves good, inexpensive vegan meals. Pictures of ape heads with electrodes welded to their brains and flyers of bloodied chickens, however, don't seem to phase the handful of diners munching away on noodles loaded with tofu chunks. Some Tel Aviv residents may remember Salon Mazal from Rehov Montefiore off Allenby. Two years ago, the bookshop, library, and meeting ground for some of the country's most prolific activists picked up and moved to the homier locale on a quiet cul-de-sac seconds away from the frenetic King George bargain-basement shopping zone and minutes away from the fashion maven's Rehov Sheinkin. For those who hanker for university campus-style activism and anti-establishment activities, Salon Mazal's collective offers one of Israel's very few pit stops where all this is happening under one roof. At the newer location, Salon Mazal has doubled in size - half of the shop is the vegan bar and a free Linux-based computing and surfing galley that serves groups of activists who converge daily; the other half is an alternative literature bookstore and library. For a small fee, locals are invited to partake in the library, which offers reading material on how to be a woman pirate up to more modest endeavors such as growing one's own organic vegetable garden. Literature runs the full gamut expected in an anarchist/activist's playground. Subjects include feminism, globalization, and the environment. Of the thousands of books, about half are in English. Books for sale are mostly in Hebrew, covering local issues which are bountiful. It's All Lies is among the collective's favorite. The large poster book attempts to expose the State of Israel's history of propaganda, starting from the Sixties and includes fodder on the controversial nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu. Another featured fave is Rise Up for Direct Action, written by Rony Armon, one of Salon Mazal's founders. "We need a deep social change in this world where people take responsibility for what they do," explains Armon, who believes that books are a good way for people to get the tools to initiate this change. Armon is one of some 30 local activists working at Salon Mazal. Others converge from groups such as Anarchists against the World, Indymedia, and the radical environmental group Green Action to volunteer their time running the kitchen, selling books, and organizing workshops. No one except Rosana Berghof, 28, who has managed to assume a managerial role without the title, receives payment for their work. She may get a small stipend for the work she does, but eschewing capitalism is one of her priorities. The bespectacled petite woman, who retains a thick Romanian accent, has gone so far as to live in a squat on Rehov Yehuda Ha'levi in Neve Zedek to espouse her ideals. She and some friends cleaned up an old apartment and lived there for a few months despite having no running water or electricity. Today she lives in the lower income Yad Eliyahu neighborhood with four roommates. She doesn't buy organic food usually "because it is expensive," but she cultivates her own vegetables in the backyard. She started her activist career as a supporter of animal rights, the environment, and human rights. Today, like Salon Mazal volunteer Uri Ayalon, 26, she has anarchist tendencies and is against the establishment of both a Palestinian and an Israeli state. Berghof and Ayalon believe in a world free of borders. Ayalon defines himself as part of Anarchists against the Wall. He has done extreme maneuvers in the area of civil disobedience and direct action to sabotage the existence of Israel's security barrier. He was most affected by the death of American activist Rachel Corrie, who in 2003 died in a bulldozer-related accident in Gaza. After that, Ayalon decided to throw himself into more serious activism - or anarchism, as he calls it - going so far as to be a human shield. "When a soldier knows a Jew is in front of him, he won't shoot," says Ayalon, who has darted from the occasional bullet. He identifies himself as a religious Jew - a brave statement while working among a group of left-wing radicals. Ayalon has little contact with government-mandated policies, refused army service, and doesn't use state facilities. His dream is to see a world of borderless communities not defined by nationality, religion, or race. Ethics and rules, Ayalon and Berghof agree, should come straight from the soul The two therefore help educate the soul by organizing daily workshops and lectures that are filed under monthly topics. In June, lectures were on animal rights; in July, it was crime; in August it's ageism. Although invited speakers tend to hover around the politically left, the collective is interested in hearing other points of view, such as that of Moshe Feiglin who gave a talk at Salon Mazal recently. Feiglin founded the right-wing Zo Artzeinu (This Is Our Land) movement in 1995 to protest the Oslo agreement. Talks have included Sarit Michaeli, spokesperson for B'tselem, who works to document crimes mainly against Palestinians in the disputed territories and the Gaza Strip. "This group is considered radical to the mainstream," says Ayalon. "But they really aren't," he adds, explaining that among activists there are definite degrees of radicalism. Vegan terrorists was the topic of a recent workshop, which attempted to show the difference between direct action versus terrorism and crime. There was also a talk led by Spain's Yomango, a group that is attempting to liberate people from the power of corporate logos. On any given day at Salon Mazal, customers come in all shapes, sizes, races, and religion. One customer, a former neighbor who lived across the street, is Jackie Levy, 20. She was drawn into running Salon Mazal for a stint, and found that she could spend up to three weeks at a time without leaving "the bubble of the neighborhood." Whether one is a seasoned anarchist or a curious newcomer, Salon Mazal offers something for everyone. Open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m; daily workshops start at 8 p.m. Salon Mazal closes at 3 p.m. on Friday and remains closed on Saturday because "Shabbat is for resting," says Ayalon. After all is said and done, even anarchists need a break. For information about workshops, call (03) 629-7734 or visit Simtat Almonit 3 (across from Gan Meir)