Jerusalem, 1995-1996: Eating Standing Up

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On Monday, Assaf Gavron wrote about moonlighting as an Israeli mover in New York City. His most recent book, Almost Dead, is now available. He’s blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog series.

My book Eating Standing Up started life as a weekly column for the Jerusalem local magazine Kol Ha’ir in 1995. The concept was simple, and is clearly evident in the title: to review each week one of Jerusalem‘s hundreds of fast food joints — sandwiches, burgers, pizzas, shwarmas, humus places — and the jewel in the crown: falafel.

Jerusalem prides itself, among other things, for its fast food, which derives its inspiration from the unique multicultural experience of the city: east and west, oriental and European, Arab and Jewish, ancient and new. My colleagues and friends found the idea that I should undertake such a task anywhere between disgusting and astonishing. But I -– despite a couple of undesired stomach troubles along the road -– simply loved the job, and within weeks the column became widely popular. My rave reviews were framed and hung on walls of the lucky joints, while angry reactions, threatening phone calls in the middle of the night and a handful of lawsuits were filed by the victims of my less favorable reviews.

As the column gained popularity, a story started to emerge within its pages, the ongoing story of “The Eater” – a single, frustrated Jerusalemite in his mid-20s, along with a regular cast — his faithful right-hand man “The Arab-Issues Reporter,” “The Most Beautiful Girl in Jerusalem” (who was the target of The Eater’s desires), “The falafelVegetarian Commentator” — and several other recurring characters. As much as it was their story, it was also the story of Jerusalem in the mid-90s, a city in transition from the optimistic, quiet, peace-process days, through the Rabin assassination and the following bloody suicide bombings and their depressing aftermath.

In 2009, the one hundred or so reviews that appeared between early 1995 and the end of 1996 were collected in a book by the Jerusalem publisher Uganda. Even thirteen years later, with about half of the places reviewed not existing anymore, the book was received as an authentic slice of life, a memento from the not-so-distance past of the city. And for those visiting Jerusalem, here are a couple of must-eat joints which scored high on the Eating Standing Up scale:

Shalom Falafel, 34 Bezalel St., Jerusalem
A small, falafel-only joint just outside the center, with the unique, orange-colored falafel balls and a perfect, always fresh and inexpensive portion.

Burekas Musa, 30 Jaffa St., Jerusalem
Another tiny shop not far from the old city with only one item on the menu -– a large, triangular burekas (Balkan pastry filled with salty cheese), served with a hard-boiled egg, hot tomato sauce, tahina and a divine pickled cucumber.

Eating Standing Up was published in 2009 in Israel. Assaf Gavron’s most recent book, Almost Dead, is now available. He’s blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog.

Posted on April 21, 2010

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