Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

For Americans in Israel, a Home Away from Home

December 20, 2012 5:25 pm 0 comments

Inside "Mike's Place" in Jerusalem. Photo: Deborah Fineblum Raub.

JERUSALEM—”The guy is an animal!” shouts one of the white-shirted guys from Mir Yeshiva, as he gestures at the helmeted jock on the screen above his head. And coming from this fan, the word “animal” has about it a tone of grudging respect.

For these normally studious young men, Jerusalem’s “Mike’s Place” sports bar means Sunday nights away from the Talmud (sorry, Mom and Dad) and, just a few weeks back, away from the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza.

Walking down the steps at Mike’s Place on bustling Jaffa Road, you might as well be in Baltimore, Boston or Boise.

“This is our only connection to home,” says Mir student Tuli Tyberg, an 18-year-old a long way from his Brooklyn beginnings. “It’s a great outlet for American guys in yeshiva.”

It was precisely because of this connection to home that, a few weeks ago, when the Gaza conflict was on everyone’s mind in Israel, Mike’s Place felt safe. “During the war it was a little scary and it was kind of nice to come here,” adds Tyberg’s pal Yechiel Perr who hails from Far Rockaway, NY.

But not everyone who packs into Mike’s Place on football night is a yeshiva guy. Brooklyn’s Efrayim Goldberg, for instance, was in town visiting his son, who is learning in Israel for the year. “This place is pure nostalgia,” he grins after ordering his burrito. “It’s comforting, and the kind of place you wouldn’t mind your son coming to.”

For the young, however, there is one very distinct difference from life back home: in Israel, 18—not 21—is the legal drinking age.

It’s a privilege that on a recent night was being enjoyed by four friends in Israel for a gap year program in which they do volunteer gigs, take classes, and learn Hebrew. “Coming in here brings me back to America for a few hours,” says Becca Segal of San Diego, 18.  “The burgers are good and the French fries are real American ones. They’re not Israeli chips,” she adds, swooping a specimen through a pool of ketchup and popping it into her mouth.

“Since they’ve never been able to order alcohol before, it’s for us to teach them how to drink responsibly,” says Reuben Beiser, who’s ringmaster to the happy hubbub. Beiser, who owns Jerusalem’s Mike’s Place with his general manager Udi Kaniel, is a native of Providence, RI, who left the U.S. two decades ago as soon as college was behind him. And he never looked back. As the resident sports king, the power rests in his hands to determine which games air on the screens. Sometimes, the wisdom of Solomon is called for when competing groups of fans vie for their teams’ games to be broadcast.

“Sorry, I promised the Boston game to that group over there,” Beiser calmly tells one employee who approaches him with a conflicting request. “Maybe next week.”

Beiser is also an architect who continues to work in that field. He will tell you that he certainly didn’t intend to run a kosher sports bar/restaurant (this Jerusalem location is the only one of the six Mike’s Places across Israel to cater to a kosher clientele). But years ago he used to hang out at Mike’s Place’s previous location a few blocks away, and he began to see the value of this “American home away from home” for newly minted Israelis (who still know every word of The Star Spangled Banner), along with the countless American students who come to learn in Israel.

After the original building was condemned in 2008, Beiser bought the Jerusalem franchise, using his architectural skills to create a homey, open and distinctly American ambiance in a new locale. Two years later, he swung open Mike’s Place’s doors at the corner of Jaffa Road and Rivlin Street.

Though Sunday night is all football all the time (with a bit of American basketball thrown in for variety), other evenings are devoted to arguably more civilized activities: live music and even a lecture series on a range of thought-provoking topics. All washed down with a cold Sam Adams.

“People feel good down here,” says Beiser, gesturing to the crowd. “For Anglos it’s like home, and for Israelis it’s a trip to America without the airfare.”

On the Sunday night when JNS.org visited the bar, the lone Israeli who braved the roomful of boisterous American fans was a 28-year-old native Jerusalemite named Tal Katz. His passion for American football? It dates back to the day in 2009, when an American friend schlepped him to a football game at Jerusalem’s Kraft Stadium.

“I got hooked,” he says good-naturedly, his eyes glued to the screen. “Most Israelis don’t know much about football and baseball, what the heck is that?” So what’s the best thing about being an Israeli fan of American football? “If a team loses, I’m not all that upset,” he says with a shrug. “One team is as good as the next when you’re not American.”

Yes, Americans do love their sports, something abundantly clear this night at Mike’s Place. In fact, back at the Mir Yeshiva table, Tuli Tyberg had one bit of advice for Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Now that you’ve got football here, it would be great if you could just open a basketball stadium here, too,” he says he’d tell the prime minister, should they ever meet.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Blogs Features Israel and the Apartheid Narrative: 2 South African Student Leaders Weigh In

    Israel and the Apartheid Narrative: 2 South African Student Leaders Weigh In

    JNS.org – About two-dozen people file into Dodd 175 at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) campus on a Thursday night, scouting out seats and picking at the kosher pizza in the back of the lecture hall. Miyelani Pinini knows the drill. A former student president of the University of Cape Town in South Africa, she’s attended and even organized her share of free-pizza events. But now she and a fellow South African student leader were the stars of this […]

    Read more →
  • Food Spirituality/Tradition The Brewish State: Israel Taps Into Growing Craft Beer Bazaar

    The Brewish State: Israel Taps Into Growing Craft Beer Bazaar

    JNS.org – It’s widely known that Israel has penetrated the wine market, with some of its sophisticated Israeli blends surpassing historically excellent wines from areas such as the Napa Valley or Bordeaux. But what about beer? For decades, Israel has offered solely the Maccabi and Nesher brands. Not anymore. “There is a huge push of people making beer at home. The country is approaching over 30 craft breweries in the last year or two, making nearly 200 beers,” says Avi Moskowitz, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Natalie Portman Says She Behaved Like ‘Average Everyday Jewish Mother’ on Set of Latest Movie

    Natalie Portman Says She Behaved Like ‘Average Everyday Jewish Mother’ on Set of Latest Movie

    Actress Natalie Portman acted like a typical “Jewish mother” on the set of her latest movie, Jane Got a Gun, the Israeli-born star told the New York Post‘s Page Six on Sunday. The 34-year-old, who also co-produced the western, said she made it her job to look out for everyone involved in the project, because the film has had to overcome “so many obstacles,” such as losing its director early on. She explained: “Actors changed. We suffered financial and legal challenges. We endured so many replacements. There were delays. […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Music Scorpions Lead Singer Sends Message to Israel Ahead of World Tour, Tel Aviv Performance (VIDEO)

    Scorpions Lead Singer Sends Message to Israel Ahead of World Tour, Tel Aviv Performance (VIDEO)

    “We’re looking very much forward to coming back to Israel this summer,” said the lead singer of the German rock band Scorpions in a video on Monday. “Make sure you don’t miss it because we rock you like a hurricane!” said a jovial Klaus Meine, quoting the band’s seminal 1984 anthem, “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” The hard rock band lands in Israel for a show at the Menorah Mivtachim Arena on July 14 as part of its 50th anniversary tour. It will be the band’s third time […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews The Collected Works of Primo Levi, Edited by Ann Goldstein (REVIEW)

    The Collected Works of Primo Levi, Edited by Ann Goldstein (REVIEW)

    Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel were the two most immediate and authentic literary voices who gave witness to the Holocaust. Wiesel was an extrovert and a very public figure who wrote initially in French. Levi was a modest retiring chemist who wrote in Italian. Whereas Wiesel was rooted in the Eastern European Jewish Hassidic world, Levi was the product of an assimilated, secular Italian society that saw itself as Italian first and Jewish as an accident of birth. As Levi himself said, “At Auschwitz I […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Lifestyle Wine Brings Judea and Samaria to Tel Aviv

    Wine Brings Judea and Samaria to Tel Aviv

    JNS.org – Wine has long been considered a social lubricant, and it’s Nir Lavie’s hope that wine from his Har Bracha Winery in the Samarian hills will serve as a social lubricant between the city-goers of Tel Aviv and the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria, two locales split geographically, and often politically, on the left and right of the country. The new flagship store of Har Bracha has recently popped its corks on 190 Ben Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Gentile Actor Zachary Levi Says He’s Denied Roles for Being ‘Too Jewish’

    Gentile Actor Zachary Levi Says He’s Denied Roles for Being ‘Too Jewish’

    Actor Zachary Levi said casting directors have denied him roles for being “too Jewish,” despite the fact that he is not a Jew, the New York Daily News‘ Confidenti@l reported on Wednesday. “I guess they were looking for more of a corn-fed, white boy look,” he said. “My family is from f****** Indiana! Come on, I’m like dying here!” The Thor star clarified that he is Welsh, and that Levi is actually his middle name, while his real last name is Pugh. He said he […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Spirituality/Tradition Tracing Chabad’s History and Success (REVIEW)

    Tracing Chabad’s History and Success (REVIEW)

    The secret of Chabad’s worldwide success is revealed by veteran Chabad shliach (emissary) Rabbi David Eliezrie in his new book, The Secret of Chabad. The Chabad movement was founded by Rabbi Schnur Zalman of Liadi, Belarus, in 1775. Years later it came to the US with the arrival of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn in 1940, after his escape from Nazi-occupied Warsaw. Upon his arrival in New York, a number of his co-religionists advised him that there was no place for traditional […]

    Read more →