“I’m a big fan,” says James Snyder, executive chairman of the New York-headquartered Jerusalem Foundation, Inc. (the US fundraising arm of the Jerusalem Foundation), who left Israel at the end of last week to return home after a two-week stay in the capital. Snyder would like to come to Jerusalem more often, but is frustrated by the ever-changing travel regulations.
When he talks about being a big fan, he’s not referring to a pop star or a visual arts exponent. It may be remembered that he was the longtime executive director of the Israel Museum and oversaw its 50th anniversary renovation; and before coming to Israel to take up his post at the Israel Museum, he was deputy director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).
His ongoing and enthusiastic admiration is for a 33-year-old restaurant entrepreneur by the name of Nir Levi, who operates several eateries around the city. Snyder’s favorite used to be Talbiyeh on Chopin Street, tucked beneath the Jerusalem Theater on the site of what was once Jan’s Tea House.
But since Levi opened the kosher Talbiye Patisserie in the gallery of the lobby of the Jerusalem Theater, Snyder arranged to have most of his meetings there, and also invited people to join him for brunch or lunch and listen to him draw attention to the open kitchen and enthuse about how everything is prepared fresh daily, and that there is also a takeaway service
The ground-floor coffee shop in the theater no longer exists. The space has been taken over by Levi, who now operates a popular kosher fish restaurant there, which he calls Fringe, in that the cuisine borrows from all over the Mediterranean, and Israel is one of the countries that sits on the fringe of the Mediterranean. Judging by the nightly volume of clientele, theater patrons are very happy to have the choice of a fish or dairy restaurant on the premises.
Levi, who started out as a kitchen hand, progressed swiftly to being a chef and then a partner in a restaurant which he now fully owns; and then a culinary entrepreneur with both kosher and nonkosher outlets.
Some of his other enterprises include the coffee shop at the Smadar Cinema on Lloyd George Street, The Wine Bar, Gelato Variegato, and Burger Room, which are in different locations on Aza Street, and Junior Pizza on Harav Berlin Street. Recently, Levi, in response to many requests, has also taken up catering.
Much as he admires Levi, and enjoys giving him a boost, Snyder’s main purpose in coming to Jerusalem several times a year is to familiarize himself with developments in the various projects to which the $1.25 million innovation fund that was launched last year, has given grants.
The grants are relatively modest, ranging from $10,000 to $50,000. Of close to 200 grant applications, 45 were selected. Snyder is hopeful that the second time around the Innovation Fund will have $2m. at its disposal, and that it will continue to increase annually and provide seed money for more projects.
When most people speak of innovation, they are referring to technology. When Snyder speaks of innovation, he is talking about social, cultural and communal innovation, which are all somehow intertwined.
What pleases Snyder greatly is that many residents of Jerusalem who define themselves as Palestinian Arabs are participating in the city’s cultural events, both as visual and performing artists and audience. Whatever political differences and animosities that may exist are left at home, and they come to participate as Jerusalemites in Jerusalem events.
This leads to cross-cultural cooperation, which in some cases also leads to intercommunity friendships and a better understanding of each other.
He also sees a similar trend in relation to ultra-Orthodox artists, who mingle with secular Jewish artists and with Arab artists, because regardless of their differences, they have art as a common denominator and a language that speaks to all of them.
Snyder also believes that when people are drawn to social activities, this often leads to communal activities and training and contacts that will lead to paid employment.
■ APROPOS THE Jerusalem Theater, which this year and next is celebrating its 50th anniversary, a glossy Hebrew magazine that it produced – replete with vintage photographs of plays, dance recitals, concerts, festivals, movies, comedy shows and other cultural events for adults and children – makes for a delightful trip down memory lane and reminds anyone leafing through it of performers and public figures who used to make headline news and are long deceased.
Among the photographs are those of David Ben-Gurion and the theater’s founder Miles Sherover, philanthropist Gitta Sherover, mayor Teddy Kollek with Barbra Streisand (who happily is still in the land of the living), Golda Meir, Yitzhak Shamir, Chaim Herzog and Yitzhak Navon, who was not only Israel’s fifth president, but also the writer of the popular musical Bustan Sephardi (Spanish Orchard).
Among the magazine’s featured veteran singers, actors and dancers who are still with us are Yehoram Gaon, Yardena Arazi, Dudu Fisher, Lea Koenig, Liora Rivlin, Sandra Sade, Ohad Naharin and Natan Datner.
■ FOR A brief moment, it seemed as if the Oud Festival had moved to the VERT hotel at the entrance to the city, although it was somewhat early for an oud exponent to be playing in the lobby well before 8 a.m. But that was the way a 15-member delegation of journalists and bloggers from Morocco were greeted when they checked in on Sunday morning at the start of a visit from November 20 to 23 as guests of the Foreign Ministry.
Sheldon Ritz, the hotel’s general manager, was on hand to welcome them, along with hotel staff who served them mint tea and baklava.
In September, an 11-member academic delegation from universities in Morocco participated in a conference at Bar-Ilan University. More recently, another group of Moroccan academics participated in a conference held at the North African Heritage Center in Jerusalem. During the center’s renovation and expansion stages some years ago, special artisans were brought from Morocco to create authentic decor. This week it was the turn of Moroccan journalists and bloggers to discover Israel.
Trade ties between Morocco and Israel are improving; and on the diplomatic front, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid was in Morocco in August. Several cooperation agreements have been signed between the two countries.