|The Panorama Towers viewed from Hadar|
The Ego Food and Coffee in the world famous Dan Panorama Hotel Mall is my favorite place in Haifa to eat Cinnamon rolls and sip an occasional vodka and diet coke. The cafe is located in the center of an upscale shopping mall within the hotel facility. There are two levels of jewelry shops, restaurants, clothing stores, and my spiritual home – the local Habad gift shop and study center. The building is modern and well lighted, unfortunately it seems to always have a musky smell perhaps that of mold in this humid metropolis, and the background music always seems just a bit too loud. The hotel is part of the Dan Hotels Corporation founded by the Federman family in 1947. They own the world famous King David Hotel in Jerusalem and luxury hotels throughout Israel. They operate a school for chefs in Haifa and help cater The Israeli Defense Forces. I am planning to study sugar sculpturing 101 at the vaunted institution of higher learning.
The Ego is owned by Serge and Hannah. They are vatikkim (or old timers) in Israel. Serge is a French oleh or immigrant who came to Israel in 1948. Hannah and family came during the same period from Chelm Poland, yes the famous home of Polish humor. Both of them were fortunate to come from families that managed to escape the horrors of the holocaust. They have two sons in their twenties and five grandchildren.
|Sitting at the Ego cafe|
The cafe serves family style meals in respects similar to a mid-priced cafe in the states. Patrons and employees come from every nation and background on earth. The world famous Bahai Gardens is a few hundred yards behind the hotel, which means that we hear several languages spoken every time we enjoy the culinary delights of The Ego. Baha’i visitors come from all over the world. The languages of Israel, Hebrew, Arabic, and English are dominant but Spanish and Russian are widely spoken as well. My favorite servers Samantha and Eileen are from Argentina and converse in Spanish at home and work. My American style Espanol is a great source of joy to them due to my accent plus hesitancy in pronouncing the words. We just laugh and enjoy the sense of camaraderie. Samantha is about twenty five and studying graphic arts. Eileen is just twenty and recently completed two years of national service in place of the required military service for women in Israel. Her family is Haredi or Orthodox and she chose to do volunteer service for our country. She had the option as a religious Jew to avoid any commitments. Eileen, like many Israelis never forgets the lesson of Nazi tyranny and found a way to serve her country. We have no other choice. Many of our enemies still vow our destruction.
Katia is another one of my favorite servers. She is razor thin, aged twenty, and a former citizen of Russia. She informed us yesterday with great joy that she just got married. We inquired about the details. All of us were taken by surprise. She responded by telling us that they eloped to Cyprus. It was not done simply for romantic purposes. She and her spouse are not from religious backgrounds and never received formal Jewish studies. The laws relating to marriage in Israel are strictly Halacha based. As a result, non-traditional Jewish couples are forced to submit to an Orthodox marriage ceremony with an Orthodox rabbi and are compelled to take classes on family purity. No Jewish Israeli may marry outside his faith in our community. Thousands of Israeli citizens from the former Soviet Union who are not "Jewish" or whose Jewish ancestry is in doubt are unable to marry at all inside Israel.
|Britt and Katia|
Mati is another of the employees of The Ego. She is twenty and from Jerusalem. Her family is very Haradi or Orthodox Jewish. They immigrated from Morocco in 1952 along with tens of thousands of Olim from Arabic countries. Many of the citizens of Israel come from similar backgrounds. She has jet black hair and is a student of architecture at The University of Haifa. Sadly, my friend is now living in Haifa because she fled her Orthodox home to study and learn about the world outside of traditional Judaism. Her family in many ways has rejected Mati. “I wanted to learn to be an architect she moaned”. Woman should have the right to learn, study, and travel. Her story is not unusual in this complicated nation. She is leaving next month to work in Canada for a year. She wants to earn money of course, but fine tuning her English skills is her main goal. This is very common among young Israelis.
|Earl and Mati|
Serge is a hair stylist. He and his wife also own the upscale beauty salon in the mall. The services include pedicures, manicures, and facials. Liah who performs these wonderful services is in her late 30s, married, and the mother of two teen aged sons.
She was born and raised in a Kibbutz or collective settlement in northern Israel. Her family moved to Haifa five years ago to enjoy the benefits of city life. “We were just plain bored and grew tired of agricultural life” explained Liah. The trend from rural to urban life in Israel is fairly widespread as it is in much of the world.
Today is Monday and, as usually is the case, the mall is filled with shoppers, employees, and hotel guests from virtually every background and nation on earth. I am writing this post while listening to numerous languages spoken simultaneously around me. Jews, Christians, Druze, Muslims and of course Baha’i work together, shop together, and of course enjoy the food at the wonderful cafes. The is a reflection of life in this wonderful city. The manager of the elegant Dan Panorama dining room is a Christian with Italian roots. His family came here long before 1948.
Another of the cafe managers, Muad is a follower of the Ahmadiyya stream of Islam. There are about one hundred million Ahmadis in the world. They rarely get much attention due to the fact that are universally peaceful.
|Ego Cafe (All rights reserved to http://www.haifacity.com site)
Haifa indeed earns its reputation as The City of Peaceful Coexistence. Jews, Christians, Muslims, Druze, and others live together with a fair degree of respect and freedom. The mall is a panorama of life in our beloved city. People often ask me why life in Israel and the rest of the region is not similar to the one that we share. The answer is that this is a unique and separate urban entity. The conditions that exist in Haifa differ from those in other communities in our region. Is life in Detroit the same as San Francisco? Hebron and Ramallah are also different places. Israel has a wide variety of political parties, social views, family backgrounds, and ethnic origins. The same is true of our Palestinian neighbors. Life here does offer hope that people can live together in harmony in this troubled region. Will it happen? Haifa is an example of one community in this region where it has been done. Hopefully, others will do the same.