Broadcasting from the coffee shop

Salon Shabazi, a ‘social-leisure’ business, is home to both Nahlaot 20-somethings and a radio station.

The Salon Shabazi radio station 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem /The Jerusalem Post)
The Salon Shabazi radio station 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem /The Jerusalem Post)
Sunday afternoon, on the corner of Shabazi and Even Sapir streets in Nahlaot, Ayelet, Sarah, Yovav and Dara are sitting around one of the small tables on the veranda of the cafe, enjoying the warm weather and their cups of coffee amid the friendly atmosphere. Nothing unusual about that, except for the fact that this is not the courtyard of a regular coffee shop but the city’s first socialleisure business initiative that offers much more than freshly brewed coffee and light fare at reasonable prices. Salon Shabazi is celebrating its first year of operation and recently added an Internet radio station for its customers.
Ayelet is a Jerusalemite in her 20s. Since graduating from Ben-Gurion University last year, she has been working outside Jerusalem and says she doesn’t come to the city very often.
“However,” she points out, “whenever I do come to Jerusalem, Salon Shabazi is one of my first stops.
It’s the closest thing to home while still being a nice place to hang out and meet friends.”
Since its opening, the place has indeed become a second home for many – mostly young but not only – and its mixture of social interaction, good music and a relaxed atmosphere is working fine. For the past few months, many of the protest and demonstration groups have planned their events here, through endless debates about the best way to promote the social messages they want to convey.
Open debates on social and current political issues, meetings with activists, lectures and films followed by discussions about the issues raised in the films have turned the salon into a place that is highly appreciated by many.
Eliasaf Ish-Shalom is the man behind the dream and its realization. He is both a social activist and a businessman. After spending a few years in Switzerland, he returned to Israel and decided to try to fulfill his dream of combining business with community commitment. He believes that business shouldn’t always mean one side making a profit at another’s expense, and he strives to achieve a balance in which business will be successful while community, neighborhood and social engagement can still be part of it.
First and foremost, the salon is conceived as a homey place. Whenever a new patron tells Ish- Shalom that it is “like being at home with friends and family,” it makes him feel on top of the world.
Salon Shabazi is a two-story structure – the street level part, with the veranda open to the street, the kitchen inside and bookshelves on the walls; and a larger room in the basement, “where films are screened, debates are conducted and dreams to change the world are turned into plans for social actions,” says Tzurit Yair, the manager. Born in Kibbutz Ma’aleh Gilboa, Yair, who is in her late 20s, came to Jerusalem to study and remained here, met Ish-Shalom and decided to join the initiative.
“Everything in the salon invites one to feel at home,” says Sarah Allen, who doesn’t live in Nahlaot but goes to Salon Shabazi frequently to meet friends, to hear a lecture or see a movie that has social impact.
“There are many fancy places out there,” she adds, “but only here do I feel I am at home and not in some cold, unfriendly urban – though perhaps beautifully designed – place where people sit alone, facing their laptop, with no one to talk to.”
On Sunday afternoon, Sarah and Yovav, a tall, bearded and smiling young man, formerly from a kibbutz in the North and today a teacher of math and physics, host a new client, Dara, who has just arrived in the country and found her way quite easily to the salon on Shabazi Street. The three are busy discussing plans to advance some new social initiative, “something it is natural for us to talk about here rather than any other place,” says Yair, adding that the idea is to renew a feeling of community life, no matter where one lives – as long as they share the need for a kind of familial and friendly atmosphere.
“Everyone is invited to propose items for the cultural programs provided by the salon,” says Yair, “be it a film, a musical performance or a debate on a current issue. It’s all open. It belongs to all the members. No one is a guest here – it’s home.”
Until a few months ago, Naty Orbach, 27, hosted a radio program about music and culture in Jerusalem on the Mount Scopus Internet radio.
Since the closure of the station, Orbach has been looking for an alternative home for his program, which he has now found at Salon Shabazi. The radio program airs once a week, every Sunday between 7 and 11 p.m. It broadcasts the music of local groups and performers – who also give live shows at the Salon – and talks about cultural life in Jerusalem, from a social commitment point of view, of course.
Listeners are invited through the social media (Facebook mostly) to tune in to the broadcast, and their numbers are increasing every week. Not so long ago the figures totaled some 35 “registered” (through mailing lists and Facebook), but today the number has reached its first 100 (including friends who join without appearing on the radio’s mailing list).
Most of the listeners are among the “sensitive” cases of young people who were born here or studied here, love the city and want to remain here but number among the “at risk” to leave, for lack of housing or employment or the feeling that they don’t have a place in their own city.
“Community is the key word today,” wrote Ish- Shalom on the Salon Shabazi website, and community is exactly what the place – and the radio it runs – offer to the young and less young.
“Of course, at first glance it looks like a place for young people or students,” admits Yair, “but the truth is that even older people, young parents too, have found this to be the perfect place they were looking for.”
And the neighbors? Well, there things are a little less simple and straightforward. The salon holds musical performances, and the “full volume” policy – albeit only until 11 p.m. as required by law – doesn’t please everyone.
“We are midway between Sha’arei Hessed [a haredi neighborhood] and the Mahaneh Yehuda market,” explains Yair. “Lots of haredi residents pass by, stare at us – some with indifference, others with some sort of sympathy, but quite a few with suspicion. It’s not easy or obvious for some, but the fact is that we manage to run the place. We make it clear that it is open to all, and so far it works.”