'Nobody can defeat us,' citizens of Tel Aviv say after bombing Cafe reopens

festival of Purim goes on with air of determination

March 24, 1997|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

TEL AVIV, Israel -- Four men in ostrich suits arrived at the Apropo cafe atop wobbly tin-can feet. They came for a cappuccino. They came to celebrate the festival of Purim with strangers who days before saw a suicide bomber explode in their midst.

Shai Levia looked pretty silly yesterday -- a man transformed into a long-legged, orange-beaked flightless bird in a wig. But after Friday's deadly attack at the sidewalk cafe, Levia decided this was the only way to celebrate the Jewish holiday.

"We feel a part of these people, the Israeli people," said Levia, who traveled from his home at a nearby kibbutz to attend the reopening of the bombed restaurant.

Three days ago, a homemade explosive tore through the luncheon crowd at Apropo, killing three women and wounding dozens of patrons. It shattered the cafe's windows and any illusion that Purim might no longer be a harbinger of terror.

In Tel Aviv, violence has accompanied the advent of the holiday for two consecutive years. Michal Kapra, a columnist for the newspaper Yediot Ahronot, summed up the town's dilemma.

"How can one live in a city where the simple question of whether to go with the kids on Purim becomes an existential question? A matter of life or death. Even a cup of espresso outside, in a cafe, a bulwark of Tel Aviv culture, becomes part of the Middle East conflict," she wrote.

But Tel Aviv is Israel's swashbuckling secular soul.

"It's the only city in Israel likely to have a real sushi bar or a gay bathhouse, where it's easier to find a pork chop than a kosher hamburger," said Ze'ev Chafets, a popular novelist and longtime resident. "It's motto is 'the city that never stops.' And that means we don't stop for Shabbat or for a Jewish holiday. It's that in-your-face kind of attitude."

So while fear may have gripped many residents on this occasion, a dogged spirit also seized them. Listen to the words of the resilient: Nachi Laor, the owner of the Apropo restaurant chain, explains why he rushed to reopen the Tel Aviv cafe on the same afternoon families buried their dead.

"To show that nobody can defeat us," said Laor, as waitresses, cooks, barmen, the maitre d' and cleaning staff prepared for the restaurant's opening timed to coincide with the end of the funerals. "It's very painful. It hurts especially when it happens in your house. But the show must go on."

The city also was determined to carry on with Purim, the commemoration of the Persian Jews' deliverance from a planned massacre more than 2,000 years ago. Despite overcast skies and a persistent drizzle, a jazz band played swing music on Dizengoff Street, Tel Aviv's main thoroughfare and the site of last year's bombing. Balloons floated overhead. Miss Piggy and a pink gorilla greeted colorfully costumed children.

The crowd was sparse. Some who turned out were ambivalent about attending the street fair. Others appeared determined to enjoy themselves.

Tami Cohen convinced her friend Miriam Ben Hamu to put aside her fears. With increased police patrols in the area, why not come? A terrorist can attack anywhere, anytime. "You can't stay at home all the time," said Cohen, a 33-year-old teacher. "We can't stop our lives. That's what they want -- to make us afraid, not to enjoy, not to be happy."

The politics of the Middle East peace process provoked Friday's attack -- construction of a new housing settlement in Jerusalem enflamed Palestinian protests. The attack appeared only to harden Israeli positions on the faltering process.

Proponents say it must continue. Opponents call for a tougher stand.

"The city of Jerusalem will be a city of peace," said Ben Hamu, who works in an architect's office in Tel Aviv. "Two people can share it; but it will be Israel's. Maybe there will be peace with the Palestinians, but not with Hamas."

"We must keep talking," said Tal Zrihan, the 23-year-old host at the Apropo cafe. "First, we need to do something to show them we are strong -- and can give back war."

Zrihan arrived for work yesterday wondering how he survived the blast. "I don't know how I'm talking now. I was five meters from him," he said.

He found the restaurant not as he left it Friday afternoon, but as he saw it when it opened that day. The shattered glass windows had been replaced, the garden patio scrubbed clean of blood, the splintered wooden chairs replaced. The silk flowers had been arranged, the kitchen ovens fired up, the dessert case stocked with delights.

But of course it was a changed place. A black-draped chair, holding three memorial candles, stood at the entrance to the dining room. A psychologist counseled the entire staff upstairs while a Tel Aviv radio station set up for a live broadcast.

Waitress Moran Mizrachi came to work in her street clothes. She brought with her the Purim costume she wore to school last week. She wasn't sure she could put it on. She wasn't sure she should put it on. But her colleagues convinced her.

"They told me I should keep on going. I should be strong," Mizrachi said.

So when the first patrons entered the restaurant, they were met not by a 17-year-old high school student, but Wonder Woman in a red cape.

A crown graced her dark hair. Gold glittered about her brown eyes. And a silver scabbard hung on her hip.

Shira, the Princess of Power, the teen-ager said, attains her super strength "when she holds her sword."

Pub Date: 3/24/97

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