Come to the Kretshme

A tavern turns to crowdfunding to reopen as an alternative haredi community space and micro-pub.

Zusha’s Kretshme, an alternative community center/pub for Jerusalem’s young ultra-Orthodox population. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Zusha’s Kretshme, an alternative community center/pub for Jerusalem’s young ultra-Orthodox population.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
On the corner of Avinadav and Yehezkel streets in the heart of Mea She’arim, behind a temporary, corrugated aluminum wall, sits a small building that is slated to be transformed into a sort of alternative community center/ pub for Jerusalem’s young ultra-Orthodox population.
The place, Zusha’s Kretshme, is undergoing extensive renovations. When In Jerusalem visited last week, the large courtyard was strewn with rubble. The interior, designed in dark wood in the style of an old Eastern European tavern, was piled with chairs and prayer books.
But, according to partner Harry “Tzvi” Rozenberg, when finished, the site will feature a micro-brewery, organic produce for sale, an outdoor aquaponics system, a college counseling center and will still function as a pub in the evenings.
The word kretshme means “tavern” in Yiddish, he explains. The project is intended as a throwback to old Europe, where a Jewish tavern was often a one-stop shop featuring food, spirits, companionship and prayer.
Rozenberg, a well-spoken and intense 29-year-old from New York, says the tavern was opened in 2014 as a sort of bar/ restaurant. It closed temporarily to make some additions to comply with Health Ministry requirements and then opened again in early 2015. However, despite some mention in the press and the “lines out the door,” Zusha’s Kretshme, which is mostly geared toward men, was forced to close down around Passover when operating costs spiraled out of control.
Rozenberg’s role is finding investors, which was crucial to the initial opening.
The project’s original silent partner, “a true tzaddik [righteous person],” was not necessarily interested in making money on the project but rather in providing an appropriate place for the young haredi community. Now, after some setbacks, the owners of the Zusha’s Kretshme project are turning to crowdfunding in order to reopen with a new, more sustainable model.
The whole idea started because “guys from yeshiva go out late at night. They learn all day, so they have to go out and do something,” says Rozenberg. But, he adds, it is hard to go downtown, where they might be exposed to influences “not conducive” to a “spiritual warrior of the mind” Torah environment.
“So last year, my friend Eliezer Cohen started making good cholent and kugel [traditional Shabbat foods] at night, and the guys started hanging out around him instead of going downtown,” he recounts.
Eventually, the rabbi at the local Breslov yeshiva where Cohen was studying, who saw “how beneficial it is that people can hang out, laugh and talk, but in a good environment,” gave him a blessing to “open up a place,” and the tavern was born. The “miraculous” location, Rozenberg says, was an empty building that had been utilized as a school and actually has a mikve ritual bath on the property, which they plan to open eventually for use as well.
Even though the location hasn’t been a functioning business for a few months, “we didn’t want it to sit idle,” Rozenberg says, so they decided to open it as a prayer space for a local hassidic group, which now meets every Shabbat. The Shabbat prayer services attract up to 200 people, and “everyone loves it over here.... There is no rav here, no rabbi. They have agreed that everyone has a say. Guys from the neighborhood are coming out who had stopped going to synagogue, which is beautiful,” he says.
“The interesting thing,” he continues, “is the Hassidim coming to pray with shtreimels [fur hats]. They are davening a Carlebach nusah... a very beautiful merging.”
In other words, this hassidic group, primarily adherents of the Breslov sect, are integrating the melodies of the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach into their prayers, notable because during his lifetime Carlebach was often looked down upon by many of the ultra-Orthodox for his touchyfeely, outreach-oriented practices.
ROZENBERG GROWS passionate when describing future plans for Zusha’s Kretshme, explaining that it is part of an effort to provide alternative services to the haredi and yeshiva community, especially young men who are sometimes “traumatized” by their experiences growing up in a stark, “all in or out” world.
His main business, he explains, is running a college counseling service, which is also accredited to provide college credits for Torah study via a supervised testing system, credits accepted at many universities in the US, including the state university system in New York. During the day, the space will function as a college counseling center, aimed primarily at American yeshiva students studying in Israel but also at Israeli students who want to enroll in distance-learning programs at American universities.
Contrary to a lot of stereotypical thinking about the ultra-Orthodox, Rozenberg says that today many yeshiva students feel a lot of pressure to get a degree, which can ensure better employment prospects and therefore a better match when seeking a wife.
At night, the tavern will function as a traditional pub with food and drink. But this time, the focus will be less on the food and more on the beer. The partners are in the closing negotiations stage with a master brewer, whom Rozenberg declines to name but describes as “the best brewer in Israel, no question,” who will open the first micro-brewery in Mea She’arim. Premium beers will be made on site and sold at the tavern, but the brewer will also have a base in Jerusalem to sell his limited-run beers in the shuk or elsewhere.
The owners plan to have a cholent and kugel night every Thursday, which was very popular in the tavern’s previous incarnation.
Students traditionally learn all night Thursday and then, in the wee hours, need a place to eat and unwind.
The large courtyard space is planned to made into an aquaponics area, part of an effort to encourage healthy eating in the community. Aquaponics is a system in which one can raise fish and plants in a closed symbiotic system. The waste products from the fish pool are used as nutrients for plants grown hydroponically. According to Rozenberg, such a system is easy to maintain and can fit into a small courtyard or balcony.
“All these rooftops and backyards, we think it will be aquaponics one day...
and everyone will have their own way of producing healthy foods. We’d like to make an opening for that here,” he says.
The final piece of the project is introducing more organic food into the neighborhood.
Rozenberg notes that while ultra-Orthodox eating habits have been perceived as unhealthy, that is slowly changing. He owns a 10-acre organic farm in the Lower Galilee that produces fruits and vegetables, including a newly popular super food called moringa, a leafy tree native to Africa and Asia. The project owners plan to create a “zip-line” between the farm and Zusha’s Kretshme, turning it into a direct outlet for food produced on the farm and allowing the farm to be used as a sort of therapeutic getaway for yeshiva students.
Once the next round of capital is raised, Rozenberg says they plan to reopen with all these systems in place, hopefully by the end of the summer. The crowdfunding is a way to see if “the world is behind” their ideas, he notes.
“This place is clearly a needed space for the community,” he says. “It doesn’t have to make a lot of money, but it has to sustain itself. Here is a safe place to be who you are, without losing the code of transmission from the great [biblical] forefathers... a one-stop shop.”
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