Tasty offerings – and good deeds

Only a small number of Israel’s 12,000 adults with intellectual disabilities are employed in Israel’s mainstream job market – Harutzim represents one significant step to changing that.

Harutzim bistro cafe (photo credit: YAEL BRYGEL)
Harutzim bistro cafe
(photo credit: YAEL BRYGEL)
On a recent Thursday, as the brown dust of Israel’s sandstorm shrouded the Talpiot industrial zone, a mirage- like oasis emerged, in the form of a new bistro café with fresh, healthy menu items. In a neighborhood where hummus is king, Harutzim is a striking addition, set to serve as an upbeat lunch destination for local business employees during the day, and a fun hangout for locals in the evening hours.
Harutzim’s appeal extends beyond its swank design and rich menu of salads, pasta, sandwiches and pizza (take note: the green pizza with pesto and roast vegetables is delightful). A new venture of SHEKEL, an NGO for the integration and advancement of people with special needs in the wider community, the kosher café employs young adults with cognitive or developmental disabilities, teaching them the ropes in every area of restaurant life, including food preparation, serving, cleaning and filling orders.
On any given shift, seven people with special needs work at the café.
One of these workers is A., 34, who expresses excitement at being part of such a great team.
She previously worked as a waitress at Café in the Park, a SHEKEL- Beit Ross voluntary community project in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood. Each shift team is rounded off by an additional three workers.
“We wanted to create a space to provide meaningful professional training,” explains Ayelet Fishbane, director of vocational rehabilitation at SHEKEL. “It was also important that the café be a sustainable and thriving business in its own right. We view it as a local hotspot that will host events in the evening hours.”
Dedicated to creating food of the highest quality, the business has taken aboard acclaimed Jerusalem chef Udi Meiri, who worked in the past with Jerusalem restaurant Chakra, and was an integral part of the café’s planning stages. Built onsite at the SHEKEL complex on Yad Harutzim Street (fittingly, harutzim means “diligent” in Hebrew), the café is a modern take on the traditional cafeteria setup, sans oil, with customers making their order from the counter and moving along various stations as their meal is prepared and assembled on a tray. The trendy open-kitchen design – in the vein of upmarket shuk establishments such as Machneyuda and Jacko’s Street – creates an intimate and communal atmosphere, enabling workers and patrons to interact – precisely what business partner Nir Segal had in mind.
On a recent Thursday, only a few days after its opening, the café was simmering with activity as customers sat at tables and counters, and SHEKEL staff members busied themselves in meetings at the café. The NGO’s adjoining gift shop, with a selection of products that are handmade or packaged by people with special needs, was filled with pre-Rosh Hashana traffic, as local SHEKEL personality, Dina, 38, worked her charm, urging customers to purchase as much as possible.
Currently, only a small number of Israel’s 12,000 adults with intellectual disabilities are employed in Israel’s mainstream job market – and Harutzim represents one significant step to changing that.