Written by: Carl Hoffman
Ask anyone why he or she stays in Israel, and you are apt to hear a plethora of rather surprising answers. Of course, most people will immediately declare that their abiding belief in Zionism has kept them here, despite the daily strains and rubs of life in this ever-challenging country. Others will tell you that what has kept them in Israel is the opportunity to live as a Jew in a Jewish country. Yet others will proclaim that the future of the Jewish people is here in Israel and not in Diaspora. Once these more or less de rigueur declarations are out of the way, however, you are likely to discover that it is really a myriad number of odd, small things that people like about this country—a bunch of weird little reasons for staying here.
One of my weird little reasons for staying here is…coffee. Yes, I said coffee, and please do not doubt the sincerity of my minimalist approach to life; one of the things that kept me in the Philippines for 13 years—13 years!—was the quality of their cigars. I really like coffee, and the coffee here in Israel is pretty good. Mind you, I am not a gourmet—just an old fashioned slob who likes a good cup of “joe.”
Years ago, as a graduate student in Philadelphia, I frequently had to withstand the ordeal of being invited to the apartments of other graduate students for dinner. Inevitably, dessert time would loom, and my host would proudly display the coffee of the evening. “It’s essentially Jamaican,” he or she would boast, “with just a hint of Ethiopian blended in.” The Ethiopian coffee beans, my host would further inform me, had been eaten, digested and excreted by a komodo dragon on the Indonesian island of Flores before being brought to Ethiopia on an Arab dhou and planted on a shady Eritrean hillside overlooking the outskirts of Asmara. My host would then place the coffee in an elaborate drip device, with multiple filters and several chambers—an obstacle course through which the coffee needed about three quarters of an hour to navigate. The result: invariably the worst cup of coffee I had ever had. Oh, and dessert would more than likely consist of some exotic and unpalatable fruit, or a bowl of nuts that we would actually have to crack open.
When I finally decided I’d had enough of this, I invited everyone over to my place. I don’t recall what I served for dinner, but I vividly recall the elegant finesse with which I proudly displayed my can of Chock-Full-o-Nuts, not to mention the contemptuous sneers and condescending remarks of my guests as I spooned the coffee into my circa 1955 GE electric percolator, an heirloom house gift from my mother. To make a long story short, I had to perk no fewer than three pots of Chock-Full-o-Nuts that night, as my guests clamorously enjoyed perhaps the first decent coffee they had ever tasted. I didn’t even have to wash the cups when they left; my guests had licked them clean. Dessert, incidentally, was a Carvel ice cream cake—“Fudgy the Whale,” a delicious chocolate ice cream leviathan, swimming on an “ocean” of dark chocolate with whipped cream waves. I never even got to remove the thing from the box it came in; I had to drop it on the table, box and all, and jump back as my guests pounced upon it like a pack of hungry wolves.
So you see, it’s not gourmet coffee that keeps my feet firmly planted on Israeli soil; it’s good coffee. I like the fact that I can get a reasonably good cup of coffee in this country almost anywhere I happen to be. I also like the fact that, with minimal effort, I can have a perfectly good cup of coffee—brewed of course, not instant—at home or at work in two minutes. Spoon Turkish coffee into a cup, add hot water, stir, let settle, and drink. Bada-boom, bada-bing. Even more, I like the growing café culture visible on the sidewalks of virtually every city in Israel. From Nahariya to Eilat, thousands of conversations—brilliant, banal; inspired, idiotic—are going on at this very moment over big delicious mugs of cafe hafuch, tiny demitasse cups of espresso and tall fluted glasses of iced coffee. Moreover, there’s a good chance that you, dear reader, are perusing this little article while sitting with your laptop at some café, at a sidewalk table, nursing the same cup of coffee through this magazine, some ten or twelve other web sites, and a handful of blogs. Am I right?
I love the cafes here. I love the ambience, and the delightfully relaxed atmosphere. I love the mix of people that habituate these places, and the fact that no matter how “eccentric” I may have become in my middle age, someone even weirder is likely to be sitting at the table next to mine.
Where else, in all of Israel, could I sit undisturbed for hours on end, enjoying a leisurely conversation, or some sorely needed time alone? Where else could I sit comfortably and observe the colorful pageant of Israeli life, with a great cup of coffee and a nice piece of cake? Where else could I idle my way through most of a morning—at a table all to myself, behind the same empty cup—with a child’s spiral notebook and an old, chewed Eberhard-Faber Mongol no.2 pencil, writing this article?
Of course, I have a deep and abiding belief in Zionism. And yes, I am grateful for the ability to live as a Jew in a Jewish country. And, of course, it goes without saying that I believe that the future of our people is here in Israel, and not in the Diaspora.
And I really like the coffee here.