So hungry you could eat
a horse? Have I got a restaurant for you. Yeshurun offers both horse
and bear on the menu. And dessert is free.
As you might expect, this
place is near Tel Aviv's trendy Sheinkin Street, where no cuisine
is too new, too exotic, too outrageous.
To get to Yeshurun from
Sheinkin you make a left and a right, and keep going until you come
to another world.
Yeshurun, on Mazeh Street
between Allenby and a human landmark known as the Volvo Beggar, is
as ultra-anti- Sheinkin as any restaurant can be.
For one thing, the kitchen
serves up such retro-chic delicacies as kreplach, kugel and kishke;
if you ask to taste the horse you'll get horseradish (the menu-writer
ran out of space), and the bear is, of course, a choice of Macabee
Nothing much has changed
since Yeshurun first opened on the same location in 1962 -- except
that the guy behind the cash is not 35 years old anymore: Zusha is
now 70, with a full white beard that looks like it's been growing
there for at least 85 years.
His appearance startles
and excites some people, for he looks remarkably like a thinner version
of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who may or not be returning as the Messiah,
but would probably not reveal himself behind a cash register.
"Yeah, lots of people say
I look like him," Zusha says. You can judge for yourself: there are
three photos of the rebbe in the window -- or they could be photos
of Zusha: it's hard to tell.
You can't mistake the philosophy
of Zusha's establishment. There's a sign over the door that reads,
in Hebrew: "We prepared! We prepared! We prepared! For the coming
of the Moshiach. He's coming! He's coming! He's coming!"
That sign lures a curious
mix of unexpecteds, from smart businessmen to beggars, overdressed
haredim to underdressed seculars. And neighborhood kids who know about
Yeah, this is one for the
vice squad: kids come in, present themselves to Zusha, and by uttering
the password -- a brocha -- Zusha slips 'em a suspicious substance.
A plastic vial of frozen slush. (They have to pay for it, of course:
he gives them a 10-agora coin which they place in the Pushke box next
to the cash. Sort of a slush fund.)
One look at these kids
tells you this may be their only contact with religion. Zusha's motive
is obvious: he equates sweetness with prayer, promotes charity (even
if he's the one donating) and "so they should know there's a God in
the world. That will help the Moshiach come sooner."
<The youngsters are typically
dressed in Power Rangers or Batman T-shirts. Many of them, obviously
Zusha's regulars, know the prayer by heart. Some get their just desserts
by mumbling a version of the Shema I'd never heard before:
"Shema Yisroel Adonai Eloheinu
Adonai Ehad Yesh Mastik?"
It's Zusha's mission in
life, and he loves it. The benign smile that peeks through his beard
at clients is not satisfaction at the thought of profit-making, but
joy that he's bringing yiddishkeit and the godless together.
A punkish lad with a red
tattoo, a beach bum with a straw hat, a fat, greasy man with dreadlocks
-- the Tel Aviv parade comes and goes through Zusha's door.
Mind you, his smile froze
and vanished when a woman entered wearing hotpants and a halter. He
did serve her, but with his eyes at his feet. I asked him about it.
"What, I should throw her out? She'll go somewhere else and eat tref.
So I won't look at her, and she'll eat kosher."
don't go hungry: Zusha feeds them, but won't let them sit in the restaurant.
Even a place like this has to be discerning. "Of course I give them
food," he says. "It's not my food, it belongs to the Holy One Blessed
Zusha, who immigrated from
Russia 50 years ago, is charitable beyond the symbolic 10-agora coins.
Twenty years ago, he donated the money to build Beit Menachem, the
synagogue at Kfar Habad. Well, sort of. "Not true. I didn't give the
money. The Holy One Blessed Be He gave the money. Through me."
I figured I'd make like
Haim Shapiro and invite a companion (my mother, who works down the
street) to sample the fare.
The food may be provided
by The Holy One Blessed Be He, but it's served up by Allah -- yup,
that's her name -- a zaftig old Russian waitress with a smear of lipstick
and a blue and pink striped apron.
And the menu? Don't ask.
Hambur. Lung. Gulsh. Choped
liver. Bolied meat. Potato fancahe (pancake). And of course the horse.
We were particularly entranced by "besserts" such as waterme and cpmpot
I say "don't ask," because
that's what Allah said after we'd spent 20 minutes trying to choose.
"Never mind the menu," she said, "we don't have everything." It turns
out that Allah is the menu.
"Try the foot jelly," she
suggested brightly. Apparently she always pushes the foot jelly. We
declined. "You like choolnt?" Maybe it was the way she pronounced
it: we couldn't resist. Eventually we all agreed that a bit of this,
a bit of that, would be best.
My companion pronounced
the vegetable soup exceptional. "Full of vegetables," she enthused.
I made a note of that.
My kreplach arrived swimming
in a puddle of watery grease, just how I like it. Almost worth making
a brocha for.
The bellybutton stew --
it sounds better the way Allah said it, "pupiklach" -- is best enjoyed,
as any gourmand knows, with a mound of mashed potatoes, which nicely
offsets the rubbery umbilicus. Our navels were perfectly bouncy, but
tended to wiggle on the fork, splashing gravy everywhere.
The kasha was wet, as great
kasha should be, and we got through it oohing and aahing, whereupon
my date ripped into the kishke. If you don't mind eating something
that's been shtupped into an intestine, I can highly recommend Zusha's
The tzimmes tasted, well,
goyish: rather too carroty, too al dente, to my liking. "Not like
your Momma used to make," my companion noted.
The plates kept coming:
a slab of schnitzel a l'anglaise, goulash that would make a cow proud,
and a pile of red stuff I couldn't identify. Zusha himself came over
to reveal the secret: it's called gvetch - red pepper, carrot, onion,
tomato, zucchini and celery simmered together. (It was only then that
I noticed that Zusha's white shirt had a gvetch stain, like an advertisement.)
Allah came at us. "Finish?"
"Oy," my companion replied,
"how much can a person eat?"
Allah surveyed the carnage
on our table and, apparently giving thought to all the world's starving
"You don't want coffee,
you had enough," she told us.
But Zusha insisted I try
the free dessert. He beckoned me to the cash, grinned, gave me a not-so-clean
kipa from the pile (my companion insisted I turn it inside out, "because
of lice"), nodded as I chanted the brocha, and handed me a frozen
slush, on the house.
For all that, I wrote out
a check for only 90 shekels, which I assumed Zusha would later endorse
to "The Holy One Blessed Be He."