Nava Bibi: Larger than life

Honoring the renowned Jerusalem restaurateur

Nava Bibi (photo credit: MAYA EISENBERG)
Nava Bibi
(photo credit: MAYA EISENBERG)
Friends of Nava Bibi, the renowned Jerusalem restaurateur who passed away last month at the age of 76, are finding it difficult reconciling themselves to the idea of her absence. “It still hasn’t sunk in that she’s gone,” says Ya’ara Shilo, a fellow colleague from the Hitorerut (Awakening) movement in Jerusalem. “Nava did so much good in the world. There were soldiers, and lots of old people and haredim [ultra-Orthodox] at her funeral. Even the woman who works as the cleaner on the street where her restaurant is located came to the funeral and couldn’t stop crying. We lost such an incredible person.”
Bibi wasn’t just a person – she was an institution. In the late 1960s, she was a manager at the King David Hotel and, in that capacity, she served world leaders from all around the globe. Afterward, she managed the kitchen at other hotels in Israel, as well as the Little Jerusalem restaurant at the Anna Ticho House. In 2014, she opened her own place, Piccolino, in Music Square in Jerusalem’s Nachalat Shiva neighborhood.
“Nava and her family are extraordinary people,” continues Shilo. “I don’t think someone ever needed something that Nava didn’t notice. I met her through a common friend. One day I found out that she was treating lone soldiers to a free breakfast on Friday mornings. So I asked her daughter, Anat, why nobody knew about this. ‘Not every good deed a person does needs to be broadcast all over the world.’ At her funeral, I also learned that Nava had been supporting a yeshiva and at-risk children, too.”
What other qualities did Nava have that you admired?
“She was a trailblazer for other women leaders who followed in her tracks. She was an active public figure and a successful businesswoman, yet she managed somehow to never neglect her family. Anyone who came in contact with her benefited from the light that emanated from her beautiful soul. She was noble, while at the same time so humble. She also knew how to help people recognize their own good qualities. She managed to broach sensitive topics without insulting people.”
“I met Nava over 30 years ago, before she entered the restaurant sector,” says Shalom Kadosh, head chef at the Fattal Leonardo Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem. “We met when she was working as the HR manager at the Sheraton Plaza, now the Leonardo Plaza. I saw how much she cared about her job and about people. She made sure that every single employee was well taken care of.
“I was very surprised when I heard she was opening up her own restaurant,” continued Kadosh. “I couldn’t believe she was going into such a tough and demanding business. But Nava proved that with the proper management, intelligence and sensitivity, it’s possible to succeed. And boy did she succeed. Whenever I was walking through Nachalat Shiva, I’d try to stop by and say hello. I think a big part of her success was her high standard of service and her excellent rapport with customers. That’s what set her apart from others.”
“Nava treated all of her customers the same way she’d dealt with prime ministers when working at hotels,” says her friend, journalist Sarah Davidovich. “She treated lone soldiers like princes. She was consistently sweet and organized – and also a bit of a perfectionist. Nava had a tremendous personality.
“Everyone who ever met Nava came away feeling happier,” Davidovich continues. “Her restaurant was always bustling with life and, over time, she acquired an amazing reputation internationally. Anyone who worked for her didn’t feel like it was just a job. They felt like they were part of the family. I still feel part of her inside of me, making me want to continue her legacy of helping and giving to others. I still can’t believe that our Nava has gone and left this world.”
Translated by Hannah Hochner.