Winds of change

Take a gander down memory lane, as longtime Jerusalem resident Greer Fay Cashman revisits its old-time landmarks and meeting places.

Much as we are aware that nothing lasts forever, it is almost a traumatic experience when the icons that comprise our world begin to disappear.
Change has always been part of the human condition. Sometimes it is welcomed, but often it meets with fierce opposition because so many people are reluctant to let go of the past.
In Jerusalem, change has been moving at a much more rapid pace over the past 10 to 15 years than many of the city’s veteran residents can remember.
While it is true that enormous shifts took place under the stewardship of mayor Teddy Kollek, who was often characterized as the greatest builder of the city since King Herod, it has become much more obvious during the tenure of Mayor Nir Barkat – whose program for revolutionizing the city and turning it into a vibrant metropolis is progressing in leaps and bounds in some places, and falling into neglect in others.
Some of the modifications that have been introduced, though not necessarily at his initiative, have impacted negatively on tourists who have not visited the capital in a long time.
The bus routes have changed, causing confusion and frustration to visitors who used to know that a certain route would take them to a certain destination, and who discover to their intense annoyance that this bus now goes somewhere altogether different – as a result of which they are either late to where they intended to go or they miss out altogether.
In Kollek’s time (1965-1993), with a few exceptions, the height of apartment blocks was limited to three or four stories, and the selling point for real-estate agents was that on a clear day one could see all the way to the Judean Desert. But these days, with residential and office buildings becoming ever higher, not only is the desert obscured from view, but even the immediate neighborhood – as new structures adjacent to existing ones keep reaching skywards, blocking the view of penthouse dwellers in buildings that are not as tall.
If Tel Aviv is beginning to look like Hong Kong, Jerusalem is beginning to look like Manhattan.
While tourists may find the changes disconcerting and Jaffa Road merchants had a terrible time during the construction of the light rail, imagine the reactions on the part of long-gone residents and movers-and-shakers, were they to try to find their way in the Holy City today.
My husband Dan Landau – who died nearly 21 years ago – was born and raised in Jerusalem, where he lived his entire life; he was in the same class at the Gymnasia Rehavia as MK Nachman Shai. If Dan were to come alive again, he would have difficulty finding his way home – because in the interim, new roads have been built, new streets have been established and there are new neighborhoods.
One such neighborhood is adjacent to the International Convention Center, which used to be a British army barracks and after the creation of the state was gradually taken over by the Foreign Ministry. Although veteran ministry employees now work in a modern building with more spacious interiors, many of them miss walking through the extensive garden surroundings to get from one office to another. A particular camaraderie that existed under the previous sprawl of huts converted into offices is absent in the present structure; apparently what worked horizontally does not work vertically.
Wherever one goes in Jerusalem these days there are construction projects, renovation projects and For Sale or For Rent signs.
Among the most obvious changes taking place are those in Romema, which has become an ultra-Orthodox enclave of yeshivot, residential complexes and commercial centers; and on the other side of town along Emek Refaim Street, King David Street through to the Mamilla Mall, then along Jaffa Road and Shlomzion Hamalka and to some extent Ben-Yehuda streets.
There are changes in Hillel Street, but these are perhaps less confrontational – because the entertainment thoroughfare is slowly dying. Café Hillel has closed its original premises in the street from which it took its name, and has also closed its Emek Refaim operations; there are For Rent signs at both locations.
The Café Hillel chain is a relatively recent enterprise, launched in 1998 by Kobi and Yossi Sherf. But long before Café Hillel and its predecessor, the Café Aroma chain down the road, was founded by Yariv and Sahar Sheffa in 1994, there were favorite hangouts – such as Café Alaska on Jaffa Road (now an Aroma after having previously served as the venue for an airline company); and Café Atara on Ben-Yehuda, where it was impossible to get a seat on Fridays and where it was pretty full the rest of the week as well.
Café Alaska was around the corner from Havatzelet Street, which was once Jerusalem’s Fleet Street and home to The Palestine Post – the name by which The Jerusalem Post was previously known.
Alaska’s chief patrons were journalists and politicians.
During the first year and a half of statehood, the Knesset did not have a permanent home and meetings were held in the White City at the Tel Aviv Museum, the Kessem Cinema and the San Remo Hotel. In December 1949, the Knesset moved to Jerusalem and was housed in Beit Frumin on King George Avenue, until the end of August 1966 – when it moved to Kiryat Ben-Gurion, where it now stands. Beit Frumin was subsequently occupied by the Tourism Ministry, and now serves as one of the main offices of the Chief Rabbinate. The building was purchased several years ago by a private developer who wanted to demolish it, but was prevented from doing so by the Council for the Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites.
Unfortunately the council has not been able to save as many old buildings as it would like, and even when it does succeed, the building is often dilapidated and funds are not always available to restore it to its original glory.
When the Knesset left town, Café Alaska lost a good portion of its original clientele, and many made a move to Café Atara – a city landmark founded in 1938 by German immigrant Heinz Greenspan.
Not only did it serve excellent cakes and pastries, but it also provided classical music for its patrons. The Atara was a favorite meeting spot for the Hagana, and after the Holocaust, survivors – especially those of German and Austrian backgrounds – found a remnant of the ambiance that had existed in their home countries before the war. It was something to cling to, especially for those had lost most if not all of their relatives.
Atara was later taken over by Heinz’s son Uri, who closed the coffee shop in 1996 and moved to Rehavia. The people at city hall, who wanted him to move back to downtown, created many problems for him and offered no solutions; Greenspan eventually got fed up and moved to Mevaseret Zion.
In an illustration of how much a single storefront sometimes changes hands, after he vacated his Ben-Yehuda Street premises, Atara was replaced by Burger King, which in turn was replaced by Café De Masa, a branch of the Ne’eman Bakery, coffee shop and restaurant chain. De Masa, which was initially well-patronized, didn’t last long and now a hamburger joint is once again in place – this time a kosher McDonald’s.
Café Alno, a Ben-Yehuda Street alternative to Atara, has also disappeared and been replaced by a gift and souvenir store.
Another iconic Ben-Yehuda establishment that is no more is the barber shop of Marcel Sellouk, whose clientele consisted of every level of society – including presidents, prime ministers, MKs, mayors and low-wage laborers. He set up business in November 1958 and closed in 2008, after half a century of meticulous snipping and styling. Marcel was an institution.
Of the eateries and bars that were longtime institutions, one was Pfefferberg’s on Jaffa Road near King George, which served a variety of authentic-tasting Eastern European meat and fish dishes that ironically had been prepared by Arab chefs; another was the legendary Fink’s Bar on the corner of King George Avenue and Histadrut Street. Founded in 1932 by Moshe Fink and owned and managed since 1945 by Dave Rothschild, it was frequented by visiting American film stars, authors of international bestsellers, journalists, artists, diplomats, politicians, members of the Hagana and the Irgun, and all the Who’s Who of Jerusalem.
After Rothschild’s death, Fink’s was run by his son-in-law Muli Azrieli, who in response to a decline in clientele decided to overhaul the bar/restaurant and make it kosher in the hope of attracting clients. The rabbinate gave him a lot of headaches, and he bowed out. Today, there is a chain where Fink’s once stood: a Ne’eman baked goods store and coffee bar.
Among the remaining veteran eateries is the Rimon Café, which was founded in 1953 and has actually expanded. It is still run by the Rimon family.
The Mandarin Chinese Restaurant of approximately the same vintage is probably the oldest Chinese restaurant in Jerusalem; it is not kosher, even serving pork and shrimp.
Until this year, two veteran shoe stores stood only a few meters from each other on Jaffa Road. Freiman and Bein closed down earlier this year after well over half a century in business, and the premises are now occupied by a retailer of office equipment. Khalifa on the corner of Harav Kook Street was opened in 1954 by Meir Khalifa, and is still in business.
Two enterprises that are destined to disappear are the original Hamashbir store on King George near Ben-Yehuda, which has been a city landmark since 1947; and the Bank Leumi branch in the Sansur building in Zion Square. Earlier this year the branch, which started out as part of the pre-state Anglo Palestine Bank, notified its customers that it was transferring their accounts to the neighborhood branches nearest to where they reside.
Just down the street on Jaffa Road, no sign remains of the original Steimatzky store, which was opened in 1925 and had a certain ambiance that no other Steimatzky could emulate. Approximately a decade ago, Markstone Capital acquired the Steimatzky chain of bookstores and publishing house – run jointly with Keter – from Eri Steimatzky, the son of the founder. Last June Markstone Capital sold the chain to Yafit Greenberg’s G Group, which has completely revamped the company’s marketing strategy.
These days, pedestrians strolling through the Ben-Yehuda Pedestrian Mall are annoyed by motorcyclists and bike riders who almost run them down. The street was closed to traffic in 1982 when Teddy Kollek turned it into a pedestrian mall; before that it was part of the route for bus No. 5.
Until some 20 years ago, there were only a handful of hotels in downtown Jerusalem. Now there are more than 20 – most of them boutique hotels, albeit a little fancier than the ones that have cropped up in suburbia.
There also used to be numerous movie theaters, all of which gradually closed down and made way for other commercial enterprises.
Now, movie theaters are becoming popular again, but the closest to downtown are the Smadar, the Jerusalem Theater, the recently launched Orlando Cinema at Beit Shmuel, the Cinematheque and Cinema City. An additional option is scheduled to open in Abu Tor in August.