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 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 *


  • Arts and Culture Features Opinion Playwrite Iddo Netanyahu: ‘Hitler Always Talked About Peace’ (INTERVIEW)

    Playwrite Iddo Netanyahu: ‘Hitler Always Talked About Peace’ (INTERVIEW)

    Late Friday night, on November 13, I was headed for bed when an ominous news bulletin flashed across my computer screen – something about a shooting in Paris. It wasn’t long before the “small number” of shootings and casualties began to double and triple and quadruple. The locations of attacks seemed crazily disorganized, and the tweets and videos became more and more horrifying. It was a long night for many stunned observers. We tried to understand what was happening, and […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Theater BDS Gives Belgian-Jewish Actress New Lease on Life in Tel Aviv

    BDS Gives Belgian-Jewish Actress New Lease on Life in Tel Aviv

    In an interview with the Israeli site nrg on Wednesday, Belgian-Jewish stage actress Noemi Schlosser recounted immigrating to Israel after her career in Europe was destroyed by BDS. Schlosser said she had enjoyed success in Belgium and international acclaim until she was targeted by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement for her pro-Israel stance during Operation Protective Edge — last summer’s war against Hamas in Gaza. She described watching the theaters where she performed go from packed to nearly empty over a short period of […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    The manager of the Chelsea Football Club said on Monday that he is looking forward to playing in Israel this week against Maccabi Tel Aviv, in spite of the security situation, Israeli news site nrg reported. Jose Murinho, who is already in Israel with his team to compete against Maccabi in the Champions League soccer match, was  asked whether he was worried about the current wave of Palestinian violence sweeping the country. “I have no worries at all regarding the security situation, and neither do […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Opinion In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    Blaming the West has become the most pervasive method of teaching for many Middle East studies departments, which are becoming the heart of pop-culture academia. Efraim Karsh, a distinguished professor of Middle Eastern studies at Bar-Ilan University and professor emeritus at King’s College London, in his latest book The Tail Wags the Dog: International Politics and the Middle East, dispels this myth. “Britain’s ‘original sin,’ if such was indeed committed, lay not in the breaking up of Middle Eastern unity but […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About

    With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About – The Mensch on a Bench is so much happier now than he was a year ago. Look carefully and you will notice that, whereas the previous Mensch had a decidedly worried look, this latest version of the popular Hanukkah toy is flashing an exuberant grin. Is the erstwhile Mensch smiling because he expects to be in some 100,000 homes by year’s end? In truth, the change in visage was suggested last year by the “sharks” on ABC’s Shark Tank […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Actor Adam Sandler unveiled a new version of his famous “Chanukah Song” on Saturday, adding a slew of Jewish celebrities to the ditty’s updated lyrics. The comedian — who released the original song about being Jewish during Christmas in 1996 — performed the latest version of the comedic track during the New York Comedy Festival at Carnegie Hall. Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee, actor Jake Gyllenhaal and “the two guys who founded Google” are among the famous Jewish celebrities now in the line up. Sandler also included lyrics about Star Wars‘ Princess […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

    Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom – Famed Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman will be among the 17 recipients of America’s Presidential Medal of Freedom next week. He is the fourth Israeli to receive the highest civilian honor in the US. “A native of Israel, he came to the United States at a young age and was introduced to Americans broadly when he appeared on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1958. Mr. Perlman made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1963 when he was 18,” a White House […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots

    Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots – While Israel is a common destination for cultural and religious pilgrimages, travelers seeking the best hotels, fine dining, and upscale relaxation less often find themselves in the Holy Land. Yet in recent years, the country’s burgeoning tech scene has attracted a business crowd accustomed to ritzy accommodation. Besides, the permanent summer of Tel Aviv and Eilat makes them prime destinations for European vacationers. Israel’s populace managed to tame the swamps and irrigate the desert — so going luxury should […]

    Read more →