The Short Stories of Edward R. Doughty
Dinner In Tel Aviv
We had never been to Israel before but as we disembarked from the plane from Paris we were there now. The two connecting flights had taken a long time and we were tired. But after we checked into our hotel, threw some cold water on our faces and sat down for a while, we were ready to dine at one of Tel Aviv's finest restaurants. In Hebrew the name meant "Golden Gourmet". We were seated at a four-top despite the fact that there were just two of us. Menus were given to us immediately. A few minutes later we ordered a fine Boudreaux. I then began to look around at the other diners. Most of the suicide bombings had been in Jerusalem, but some had been near Tel Aviv and a particularly cruel one had happened right in Tel Aviv. There was what appeared to be a family of four seated to my left --- a father, mother and two daughters. To my right was an elderly couple --- which meant they were at least ten years older than us. In back of me I noticed a table with three Arabic looking men, but they were drinking and laughing and appeared harmless.
The waiter came over to take our orders and Jane opted for the rack of lamb. Her favorite meal --- a stuffed pork chop --- was not on the menu --- unsurprisingly. I ordered the filet mignon and I specified our salad dressings. The waiter took our menus and we continued to sip our wine. The table in front of ours was a table for six and it was occupied by what appeared to be an extended family, a father, a mother, a grandfather, grandmother, a daughter and a son. In back of them was a four-top that seated four young women of college age. Nobody really suspicious yet caught my eye. "Are you nervous?" I asked Jane. "No --- just tired! Well, maybe just a little bit. I mean it never crosses your mind that someone might blow you up in Mac's or Obadiah's." Jane and I then spent some time discussing our favorite restaurants and great meals that we had had over the years. We considered ourselves "diners".
The waiter returned with the salad. The presentation was excellent and the salad was delicious. My head turned to observe the three Arabic-looking gentleman in back of us. They were still laughing and getting a little bit louder. I realized that they could well be Israelis because it was very difficult to differentiate a Palestinian from a Sephardic Jew. Their features were quite similar --- at least to an outsider. Jane and I had always kept up on the news. In fact, some might say we were "news junkies". But we had always been intrigued by the Jewish-Palestinian conflict, which had continued since the founding of Israel in 1948. Now Jane and I were retired and although we had not traveled extensively during our marriage, we decided that we really wanted to visit this area of conflict while we still had the health to do so.
It was the fall now --- in fact it was September 11th ironically. The waiter was taking our salad plates away and told us in perfect English that our entrees would be served shortly. Jane and I had been to Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Acapulco, Mexico, and Arizona and had made three trips to DisneyWorld, but we had never been to a place that was known for suicide bombers. I mean a bomb going off next to you while you are eating a great filet mignon can really spoil a good dinner. We would only be in Israel for four nights and would then return to Paris for three nights. While in Israel we wanted to visit a few of their most important sites: the Wailing Wall, Bethlehem and the Temple Mount. We also planned to shop in some Palestinian markets because even though most Palestinians were not too keen on Americans, they were very appreciative of American dollars.
Now the waiter was putting our entrees in front of us as well as the compliments. The family of six was ordering dessert. The three college-age girls were having beers after dinner, while whispering and giggling. The three Arabic looking men were having brandies and still talking loudly. The older couple was leaving, as was the family of four.
Just then I noticed a very Arabic looking young man enter the front door of The Golden Gourmet. He walked back to the kitchen without anyone but me really paying any attention to him. "What are you staring at?" asked Jane. I said "A young Palestinian guy just walked in and went back to the kitchen". "So?" inquired Jane. "Well it's not really that cold out and this guy was wearing a heavy jacket that seemed rather wide around the waist". "Stop it, Ed --- I don't even want to hear about stuff like that!" Jane replied. But, in truth, I was really nervous for the first time tonight.
Suddenly I heard someone in back of me yell "Allah Ackbar" (God is great). I almost lost control of my bodily functions. Both Jane and I looked in the direction of the voice only to see the three young men toasting each other. It would turn out that the three men were Israeli Reservists who had just completed their six months of mandatory service. I started to calm down. Then I saw the young man who had entered through the front door wearing a heavy coat. He was now in his busboy uniform and he was clearing our plates from the table and scraping off the breadcrumbs from the table quite professionally. I had been getting somewhat paranoiac.
We ordered after-dinner drinks and about 45 minutes later we were back in our hotel room. The room was about on a par with a Holiday Inn, but it was suppose to be one of Tel Aviv's finest hotels. Let's face it, Americans are spoiled. But at least the room had air conditioning, heat and a color TV set. Jane went into the bathroom to change and take off her make-up, while I kicked off my shoes and fiddled with the TV remote. I had been warned in advance that Israel only had three TV channels. Two are in Hebrew and one is in English. I turned to the English channel and poured myself a nightcap and one for Jane. The channel was showing a re-run of Happy Days. Yeah, our kids used to love that one --- especially Fonzie --- or Arthur Fonzorelli.
About ten minutes later Jane came out of the bathroom and sat next to me on the loveseat across from the TV set. Ten minutes later Happy Days was interrupted by "Breaking News". We both leaned forward and I lit a cigarette. It was Tom Brokaw with a Special Report. It seems that five hours ago there had been a suicide bombing in a New Jersey Restaurant. It was a Saturday night in New Jersey. As the details came in, it turned out that the restaurant was Mac's Restaurant in Somers Point --- one of our favorite restaurants! Brokaw than switched to a local reporter from KYW who was at the scene. The front of Mac's that faced Shore Road was completed devastated! The area was awash with police, ambulances, rescue squad people and just civilians trying to assist the wounded. It seemed like a madhouse! It looked like something you see on TV --- in Israel!
The next morning we would find out that twelve people were killed and forty-one were injured. Of the twelve who died --- two were our favorite waitresses. One of the wounded was a local doctor.
The suicide bomber was later identified as a Saudi National studying at Richard Stockton College --- a local four-year college. But he had only been in this country for two weeks. The bombing of Mac's really spoiled the rest of our vacation. We saw all of the places that we had planned to see but we were also saddled with the realization that no place was really safe anymore. We had avoided going to Europe or the Mideast over the years primarily because I didn't like to fly and Jane didn't like to cruise. But after 9/11 there was another reason: safety. But now we both knew that no place was completely safe anymore and it saddened us.
After we returned home we visited the site of Mac's and while there we talked to the owner, Mrs. Previti. She was 78 years old, the restaurant was not covered by insurance for acts of terrorism and Mac's would never open again. A month later there was another suicide bombing in Tel Aviv that killed 14 people and injured about sixty. It happened at a restaurant named the Golden Gourmet.
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