Grapevine: Tunis tragedy

Today, more than a million Israelis can trace their origins to somewhere in North Africa.

THE TUNIS city center. (photo credit: GIDON UZAN)
THE TUNIS city center.
(photo credit: GIDON UZAN)
■ TODAY, MORE than a million Israelis can trace their origins to somewhere in North Africa. There might have been several hundred more, were it not for a fateful plane crash on November 20, 1949. Twenty-seven Jewish children from Tunis, accompanied by three adults, were on their way to Israel under the auspices of Youth Aliyah, with a planned stopover in Oslo. There had been a tuberculosis epidemic in North Africa some weeks prior to the flight, and some of the children who had suffered the disease were still not fully recovered. It was planned that all the children would enter a youth camp in Norway, where they would be taught Hebrew, and where those who were still not entirely well could recuperate.
The children were part of larger group, which was divided, with each of the two groups boarding a Dakota transport plane. One of the planes landed safely in Norway. The other was caught in a severe snowstorm, crashed, and none of the passengers survived. It was a shocking loss, yet for more than half a century, there was no official memorial ceremony in Israel, though memorial ceremonies were held annually under the auspices of the World Organization of Tunisian Jews.
The ceremony in which an elected Israeli public official participated for the first time was on the 60th anniversary of the crash. President Reuven Rivlin, who was then serving his second term as speaker of the Knesset, was the official who attended. For members of Tunisia’s expatriate community in Israel, this represented a significant change in attitude by officialdom. This year, on the 70th anniversary of the tragedy, Rivlin will again attend the ceremony, this time as president of the state. Also attending will be Norwegian Ambassador Jon Hanssen-Bauer and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion. The service will be held at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, November 20, at the Ohavei Zion Synagogue, 10 Mekor Haim Street.
■ FOR MORE than 60 years, the Taami Restaurant at 5 Shammai Street in Jerusalem was a popular mainstay for people who wanted simple but tasty Middle Eastern fare. There was nothing fancy about the restaurant. At first glance, it was typical of the kind of eatery that attracts blue-collar workers on minimum wages, but its regular clientele included people such as Israel’s fifth president, Yitzhak Navon.
Tourists also liked its homey atmosphere, its made-on-the-premises hummus and its delicious shakshuka.
What contributed to the homey atmosphere was the number of iconic Jerusalem “parliaments” that gathered there to discuss the nation’s issues of the day and to offer solutions which seldom reached anyone in high office.
There was also the friendly welcome they received from Jackie Magar, who together with his brothers inherited the restaurant from their father, Albert, who founded it. Jackie continued to run the business, but when he died in March of this year, none of his four daughters were prepared to continue with what had been the life’s work of their father and grandfather. Taami was closed down, and remains closed.
But for those who have a nostalgic yearning for items that were staples on the Taami menu, there is still an opportunity to pamper the taste buds. A relatively new eatery, called Hummus Yafo in Hebrew or Jaffa Hummus in English, has opened up at 212 Jaffa Road, and is run by Moti (Muhamed) Bron, who worked at Taami for almost 40 years, and claims to have been not only the waiter but also the cook. Before working at Taami, Bron used to work at a nearby, now defunct steak house that was owned by businessman Shlomi Ben Gur, who is his financial backer in his new enterprise. Ben Gur himself is no longer in the restaurant business, but manages several mini-markets.
■ EVEN THOUGH he is now a member of the Jerusalem City Council, former municipal legal adviser Yossi Havilio – who was constantly at odds with former mayor Nir Barkat, who is now a Likud MK – is now finding himself at odds with Lion.
Havilio is siding with residents of Beit Hakerem who are opposed to the construction of a convalescent home for women who have recently given birth. Someone put out the word that the convalescent home was designed to serve only Orthodox women, despite assurances from the investor Avi Soliman that it would be open to all women convalescing after childbirth. Residents of Beit Hakerem, which is a distinctly secular neighborhood, are afraid that once the Orthodox get a foothold via the convalescent center, there will be an Orthodox takeover of the neighborhood. Protest demonstrations have been planned, and at least one has already taken place.