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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Jerusalem gets entertainment hub

Some businesses open on Shabbat (Photo: Eli Mandelbaum)
Some businesses open on Shabbat (Photo: Eli Mandelbaum)

With both kosher and non-kosher restaurants, initiators of cultural and culinary center at site of former Ottoman railway station in Jerusalem hope it will bring different types of Jews together

In the old days, trains left from this station for Damascus, Beirut, and Cairo. Today, its organizers hope the cultural and culinary hub it will bring different types of Jews together.
In a unique twist, some of the businesses at the site will be kosher and therefore closed on Shabbat, while others will be open. According to Orthodox Jewish law, it is forbidden to do any “creative activity” on the Sabbath, including driving a car, cooking, and spending money.
“We must remember that there are different populations in the city,” city councilor Ofer Berkovitch of the Hitorerut (Awakening) party told The Media Line. “There are Jews who are religious, Jews who are non-religious, Arabs and tourists. Everyone must have the opportunity to observe Shabbat as they want.”
In 2009, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s decision to open a parking lot in the city on Shabbat sparked weeks of riots. More recently, there have been demonstrations against a multiplex theater in another part of Jerusalem that wants to stay open on Shabbat.
But at the First Train Station, Fresh Kitchen, which has yet to open, and the yogurt bar Re:bar are clearly marked kosher, while Adom, a trendy restaurant that moved here from the center of town and offers shrimp and oysters, is clearly not kosher.
“Now it’s 50-50 or 60-40 to the kosher side and it’s perfectly okay,” Noam Rizi, one of the owners of Adom told The Media Line. “It’s like all of Jerusalem. I don’t think it’s an issue if some businesses are open on Shabbat.”
The First Station complex is in southern Jerusalem, near the expensive neighborhoods of the German Colony and Baka. It is just off the new bike path that cuts through the city. A large wooden deck will house a wholesale produce market, as well as offer free events like midnight movies over the summer.
“We’re surrounded by a very varied population here so this complex which is under private entrepreneurship tries to approach all of the people,” Noa Berger, the First Station marketing manager told The Media Line.
“The businesses are aware of the character of the complex. Everyone in Jerusalem is aware and so far it’s been received positively that we have both kosher and non-kosher places. We don’t see it as a problem – we see it as a blessing.”
The building was originally an Ottoman train station that opened in 1892, and served for decades as Jerusalem’s main train station.
“I took a train from Jerusalem to Haifa 50 years ago when I was in the army,” Yonatan Avrech, who has come from Kibbutz Yagur near Haifa with a group of friends to tour Jerusalem told The Media Line. “I think it should be open on Shabbat. Not everyone can come on weekdays.”
At the festive opening, there were street performers and troupes of Israeli dancers. Fathers maneuvered strollers along the large wooden deck as kids ate healthy fruit pops or splurged on ice cream. There were funky toys for sale including huge hoops to make soap bubbles and, of course, train memorabilia.
“This is such a lovely addition to Jerusalem,” Noomi Stahl, who had come with her family, told The Media Line. “It’s got such a nice feel to it.”
Berkovitch, 25, said he hopes that the complex will help stop the emigration of young secular Israelis from Jerusalem.
“A lot of my friends are leaving Jerusalem and one reason is that they can’t even find a place to have coffee out on Shabbat,” Berkovitch said. “If people want to keep the pluralistic character of Jerusalem there must be activities for secular people as well.”