Sunday, July 19, 2009


When I asked Shosh owner Nir Efrati if I could write a story about the cafe, he smiled and said "you don't have to ask my permission, this is your home, and you can write anything you want about your home."

That, in a nutshell, describes this very special coffee shop in Jerusalem's Old Katamon neighborhood. It is like home to it's customers and to it's staff because Efrati, with the assistance of his father-in-law Fiko, look upon everyone who enters as family. What better place to come just to sit and visit and have a coffee or a meal together.

In fact, this is how one of the customers (Daniella) described it..."Shosh is a neighborhood place where you can walk through the streets, hand in hand with your husband, and find a nice place to sit and visit for an hour. There is something special about this new location - it's a naim sort of place.. I asked Daniella to explain......"it's like when you get into a warm pool of water and you feel comfortable and pleasant."

Nir has been the owner of Shosh Cafe for over three years, beginning with the original location on Rh. HaPalmach. In May 2007 he renovated a corner building at Rh. Haserut 20 (which once housed a bicycle shop, now moved next door) and relocated to the current spot. This quiet and cozy neighborhood location is indeed one of the contributing factors to it's success.

But not all by any means. Efrati feels the restaurant is popular because of the family atmosphere provided, and because the food is very good. It is fixed fresh "on the spot", that is, as the customer orders. Nothing is pre-made, waiting to be ordered - the pasta is cooked, the vegetables are cut, the shakshuka is made only upon the customer order. Nir's wife Oshrat bakes the amazing cookies offered (the tahini & chocolate Irish cream cookies are omg good) and the chefs turn out fresh entrees with pride.

Efrati brings a sense of family business to the plate as he worked for many years in the Efrati owned company that held the Pazgas distributorship for Jerusalem and Bet Shemesh. His father-in-law Fiko was Vice President of Customer Service with Bezek and their combined experience makes for a winning team at Shosh.

Nir and Fiko are often seen in the kitchen with the chefs and workers or behind the bar with the baristas, or helping serve the customer during busy times. The support and interaction between this business owner and the entire staff is clearly one of the reasons the interaction between the staff and the customer is also excellent, and why it is a warm welcoming place to be.

In fact, it is the staff - the servers, the baristas and Nir & Fiko that draw me to return time after time, to a place "where everybody knows my name." I've gotten to know the staff and they are now like my family. On a bad day, if I sit down and burst into tears, or a good day, when I celebrate some event or share good news, it is the genuine caring of this circle of friends that makes me feel so at home.

Most of the servers and bartenders are also students, or working other part time jobs between studies. Each individual's story is so interesting and would take an entire article of it's own for each one, but because this Israeli Profiles column is meant to introduce you to the people of Israel, even more than the places, a snapshot picture of each person deserves mention.

Amongst the baristas, for example, Eliran, (whom i wrote about in the first Israeli Profile regarding his dream to own a motorcycle) began his career at Shosh a couple of years ago. He is now about to begin his engineering studies in Sderot and will squeeze in a trip to the British Isles, but says he will definitely stay connected and be back to "nosh". Yarden (creator of the featured coffee artistry) has also been a bartender at Shosh for the last 2 years. Yarden tried other coffee shops but never stayed more than a few months because of the working environments. He attributes his longevity at Shosh to owner Nir Efrati, whom he says is so understanding and desiring to help the staff to do their best and to succeed. Being a Shosh barista is only one of Yarden's accomplishments. He is currently involved in some serious musical competition (piano, jazz) and just completed a year's training to be an assistant veterinarian. Yaara, now living in Jerusalem but originally from Tekoa in the Gush (Gush Etzion - a bloc of towns in Judea) is fairly new at Shosh, but not new to the world of coffee, having worked in other coffee shops prior to Shosh. Yaara is studying naturopathic medicine at the Jerusalem branch of well known Reidman-International College of Complementary Medicine. About Shosh, Yaara states that it is a place of unique character, something not often found, a place of good avirah (atmosphere).

Another "Shosher" studying at Reidman-International is Clil, one of the servers. She is in her first year of a five year program at Reidman, studying alternative psychotherapy. Part of Clil's interesting story is that for 3 summers she served as a shluchah (emissary) in Australia, and served in the IDF as a commander for Zionist Identification for potential converts.

Sarah and Moran are both finishing their second year in Social Work Studies at Hebrew University. Sarah's background in working with the disabled and Moran's background as a youth guide on Kibbutz Shefayim (near Netanya) are factors that propelled them towards social work. As to Shosh, Moran states that it feels like "home" here, and Sarah again mentions that word good avirah (atmostphere, ambiance). Sarah specifically looked for a place that was smaller and family run, and she is delighted to have found it at Shosh, where she very much likes the other people she works with and finds Nir to be a great boss.

Pnina, who recently returned from an extensive tour of Central America(Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama) and Mexico, is settling back down in Jerusalem and at Shosh, getting ready to continue her studies in Jewish Philosophy and History of Art. Lilac, another server, continues her studies in Science and the Environment, planning on focusing her second degree specifically in Environmental studies. Her dream, Lilac states, is to invent something in science. Pnina (who has been a server at Shosh probably the longest, 1-1/4 years) and Lilac both cite the atmosphere, and interaction betwen the customers and the staff as drawing points for Shosh. Lilac even goes so far as to say ".....people are calm here, no one ever shouts at me.!"

Taly, one of the new servers at Shosh, brings with her, like the others,
a rich and interesting background. Taly recently completed her 1st degree in International Relations, with emphasis on East Asian studies and the Chinese language. This fall she will begin studying for her 2nd degree (MA) in International Relations, along with beginning the application process for acceptance into the Foreign Ministry Program of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Rounding out the brief personal stories of my friends at Shosh, there is Shiran, who, in addition to her job at Shosh, is a dental hygienist at a dental clinic and who will begin her studies in criminology in the fall. Shiran finds everything about Shosh - including the customers and the neighborhood - to be really nice.

Of course, like any coffee shop, sometimes people have to move on. Naama, fairly new as a server, has just left for a 3 week trip to the US and Jamaica, but in the fall will move to Be'ersheva where she will begin studies at the medical school there. Whether she will be able to squeeze in a few weeks at Shosh before heading for the south remains to be seen. In fact others to whom I felt attached are traveling right now or have moved. Rachel, for example, is now treking through Nepal and India, and Or has moved to Tel Aviv. But because the staff become close friends with one another, I am sure one day I will walk in and see them there, visiting and hanging out.

The comraderie, the ambiance, the good food all make this a special place not only to visit, but, as is evident, at which to work. One of the challenges Nir faces, he feels, is to continually, day after day, make sure all these important ingredients come together, to make it so good that the staff is happy and the customer leaves with a smile.

Judging by the reaction and comments by both staff and customer, and simply by observing the interactions in the place, I would say he has succeeded.

Owning a restaurant has been a dream of Nir Efrati's since he was young. It's nice that the rest of us can participate in the fulfillment of that dream and enjoy fruits of his labors to make Shosh a special place of avira yerushalaymi (Jerusalem ambiance).

Shosh...a place where everybody knows your name.

Friday, July 17, 2009

When The Heart Cries......

As Israeli Warships enter the Suez Canal, preparing for war against an ancient enemy, the Israeli public is pensive and the always present pain in our heart is starting to awaken. The street, though looking normal, is expressing despair...not just about this situation, but also in lives and hopes and dreams delayed.

Today I am feeling the loneliness that is Israel. And as we face the weeks and months ahead, charting a course in war, we will pull together as a people, insulating ourselves against those who try to destroy us.

I wonder if the collective soul of our people is instinctively mourning without even knowing it, as we have entered into the Days approaching Tisha b'Av, with the specific Nine days beginning midweek.

In the silence of Erev Shabbat we utter this prayer. It was written by Yossi Gispan and Arlet Tzfadia after the brutal murder of two of our soldiers in Ramallah in 2000, and the singer is popular Israeli artist Sarit Hadad. The video maker states that Sarit sang this song after the death of her father. Whether she did or not, Israel stands alone in her battles against ancient enemies. Whether in personal loneliness or collective, as we face the weeks and months ahead of us, only God hears the cry of our heart.