Behind my building there is a parking lot (my balcony looks out onto it – luckily there is a tree right there, so it’s not as bad as it sounds). If you walk across it, there is a little alleyway that goes through the buildings on the other side that face one of the main roads in the center of Jerusalem. And just across from where you come out of the alley, tucked between a belt-maker and an appliances shop, is my coffee place.
It’s the kind of place where everyone’s a regular – Ovad, the owner, manages to engage everyone from his place in front of the espresso machine and coffees behind the bar. My first time in here I asked for his best coffee – and I’ve not been allowed to have anything else since. On my second time in he introduced himself and asked all kinds of questions about me, in a genuinely interested way that wasn’t creepy or anything like that. Now when I come in, he knows my order of “my coffee” (french press) and a glass of water.
The place is warm and homey, with aged white walls lined with old back & white pictures and wood furniture. Foreign operas or classical music play softly in the background.
On the average Friday morning the place is filled with regulars, from regular Israelis to English and other foreign-language speaking long-time residents to well-known Jerusalem-based authors and everything in between. Ovad knows us all and the people all know each other, at least by sight. It makes Israel, and this city, seem warm and cozy, safe and friendly.
I sit outside or at the bar facing the wondow, watching Jerusalem from my little cocoon. The tourists, religious people, soldiers, crazies – they all seem softer, less threatening, somehow.
A couple of weeks ago I walked in and saw my roommate’s mom – so we sat together and had a lovely little heart-to-heart chat. Last week and old man fell in the middle of the road right in front of the cafe while crossing the street – a woman passing by came in to ask for water for him, a young man sitting with someone went out to take care of him, an older man with a beard and a pipe sitting at the bar called an ambulance. Everyone got involved to make sure the man, who was dazed and bleeding on his head a bit, was ok. Even a taxi driver stopped in the middle of the road to make sure the man was all right and to help him off the street. People who say Israelis are impersonal and heartless don’t really know; they haven’t experienced this Israel.
I think my little coffee shop is Jerusalem. And on a Friday, sitting here amongst tables of old friends and brilliant coffee, I am truly content.