Blue dragons, a pub and beer

How residents of East Talpiot turned a local falafel place into a community-owned pub and social center.

THANKS TO Barmon, locals finally have a place for evening meet-ups and relaxation. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
THANKS TO Barmon, locals finally have a place for evening meet-ups and relaxation.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Large freshly painted plastic dragons are the first thing one sees when entering the commercial center that serves residents of East Talpiot (also known as Armon Hanatziv) and beyond. The dragons serve as slides and climbing objects to the area’s children and are comfortably situated in a lovely green park with handsome benches and a pleasant view of the city.
As new olim trickle in from nearby Beit Canada and a white-bearded haredi father encourages his young daughter to compete in backgammon with a secular female patron, Shmaya Bender and Asaf Shahar begin to set the bar tables, take beer out of the fridge and place lights to shine as the evening progresses. David Mizrahi, who operates the falafel stand during the day, lightly rebukes Bender for the state of the tables and swoops in to help with the cleanup. When he sees me taking notes, he asks me to add that he can prepare a laffa in mid-air.
“All you need to do is to place the order in my hands,” he says, “I decide on how much hummus and amba, but you’ll get your laffa straight from the air.”
I’ve known Shahar since high school. As he grabs a beer, we sit down to chat and he explains why, with two young children at home and a day job, he took on the extra work of managing an evening pub.
“We hadn’t heard great things about this neighborhood when we moved here four years ago,” he begins. “It’s a bit removed from the center of Jerusalem, and sadly there were a few terrorist attacks, but the rent is affordable.”
He points out that many things could be done to make living in what is essentially a ring-neighborhood of Jerusalem more rewarding. Bike lanes, for example, or a sports group for men (one for women already exists). But as a native Londoner, it was the lack of pubs or coffee shops that caught his attention as the issue he would like to tackle. Pointing out that, like other young Israeli working couples with children, he and his wife had been pushed to live in a remote neighborhood, he explains how vital it is to have a place one can just “sit with friends in and relax.”
He emailed the local minhal kehilati (community administration) and got an encouraging response.
“They said they would have an innovation accelerator program that would be very hands-on,” Shahar says. “I attended all 10 meetings and during the program I posted on Facebook in a group devoted to the neighborhood and asked: “Who wants to open a bar?” That was about nine months ago.”
THE FACEBOOK post launched a series of neighborhood discussions; Bender joined one of the early ones.
“A friend of my parents, who reside in the neighborhood, told me about it and I really connected to this amazing project and the people in it,” he says.
Sporting a black shirt and an easy smile, Bender reveals that this is one of his last evenings working as a bar-hand as he intends to move to Beersheba and study toward working as a social worker.
“What many people don’t seem to grasp is that social work isn’t just rushing to the scene of the damage with a Band-Aid and trying to glue the pieces back together,” he says. “Of course, it’s very important to have social services for people who deal with extreme situations, but a part of social work is also to prevent difficult situations with a little forethought.”
Pointing to this pub, he says, “This is a place you can go out to in your house slippers or even with your toddler and grab a beer and watch the game, but it’s also where local residents can meet up and talk.”
Another aspect of the pub is how it is run.
“It is run by the people and for the people,” Shahar explains. “We’re a cooperative and all earnings go back to the pub with the eventual goal of getting our own place and registering as a nonprofit.”
“People can still go to the city center and pay NIS 20 for the same beer,” Bender says, “or they can hang out here and pay NIS 15 for an Israeli beer and NIS 17 for an import.”
So far, the pub has arranged three public singing events with Jerusalem-based band Sharim Bagina (Singing in the Garden). Each event attracted around 100 patrons. Bender points out that while social media made the first steps of the pub operating possible, “We’d like to get more people to come, and some don’t because they just don’t know because they don’t use social media.”
The pub also invites local politicians who are currently running for the office of mayor of Jerusalem to introduce themselves and their creed to the local residents. So far, MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu), council member Ofer Berkovitch (Hitorerut) and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) visited the pub and shared their vision.
Both Shahar and Bender are careful to point out the pub is first and foremost a social and local institution, not a political one.
AVI AND Ariela Losice, who reside in New York City, visited the pub for the first time to hear Elkin speak.
“We would have come to hear all the candidates speak,” says Ariela, “but we missed those events while in the States.” When in Jerusalem, they live in Baka. They were quite taken with the pub and promised to return for beer and perhaps a singalong.
“We represent the neighborhood,” Shahar says, “and hopefully that is enough to keep it going. In the future, we might have our own place that could serve as a coffee shop with Internet access to serve people who live here and work from home.”
The next project is likely to be Shab-Pub, an arrangement in which religious patrons could pay ahead of time and come after shul to rest and grab a drink during Shabbat in their local hang-out.
As the haredi girl wins another backgammon match and joyfully shares the news with her father, patrons begin to take their seats. Some speak English, some Hebrew; some are interested in what the evening activity is about and others drink and unwind while minding their children. They share a moment of coexistence in the city that may yet one day be the city of peace.
Barmon, a community pub in Armon Hanatziv, is at 2 Olei Hagardom Street.