This is an homage of sorts, a dual tribute, actually, to a unique journalist and the institution of tradition. In the early seventies, while working as an engineer in Dallas at Texas Instruments—the Vietnam War was still raging—I discovered the talent of the late, great Paul Crume, whose amazing editorial column, “Big D,” appeared in The Dallas Morning News, front page, every day, from 1948 to 1975. To Crume’s vast, Southwestern following, he was E.B. White in cowboy boots, a genius at wit and irony who kept millions of Texans laughing (and sighing) by sharing regular, hilarious anecdotes of irregular, mundane things.
Like no one else was able, Crume quipped about poker, boating mishaps, government chicanery, college football, Texas barbecue and, at least once in his life, about the nature of angels. When his readers weren’t laughing aloud while reading his columns we were likely blinking back tears. He was that good, every day, his gift for extracting insight from chaos having blossomed from his obvious and immense empathy for mankind (and the good sense to trust no one).
Less bragging and big vehicles, Israeli sabras are much like Texans. Crume would have loved them, I think, and one can only imagine the stories he might have told had he ever set foot in the Land.
Yesterday, for breakfast, Marcia and I visited one of our favorite sabra establishments in Jerusalem, the Parash family pastry shop and cafe in Kiryat HaYovel. I’ve mentioned Parash in this blog before. Established in 1961, the bakery, coffee shop and diner is now managed by the founder’s grandson. The wife and I got our first mini-scolding of the morning at the lad’s hands in Kiryat HaYovel for showing up minutes before opening time (and somehow expecting to be seated). I thought about Crume then and the wry observations he might have shared if similarly treated that morning, or any other, to the sometimes comical, often irritating and seemingly ever-present abuse/affection one enjoys here in Israel when dealing with the natives.
It’s not love-hate, how sabras so often interact with others who weren’t born here, it’s more like love, so what?
Once you get to know them, you will never find warmer, more caring and genuine people on this planet (but never rely on these qualities to appear in Jerusalem traffic), and perhaps Israeli sabras can be forgiven, if not admired, for their impatience and brusqueness given that almost all of them have served in the IDF, have experienced hostile fire and witnessed the wounding or deaths of friends or family while at war or as victims of terror.
They came to a desert and made it bloom and climate was the least of their problems.
So, when Marcia and I stepped up to the cafe entrance a few minutes early, threatening to enter, the once cute little kid in the mural, now a full-grown man, didn’t offer a, “Good morning, y’all,” he said, “No, no.” (Actually, “Lo, lo,” because, at Parash, English is a foreign tongue.) He and his assistant were still hard at work setting up tables. Why couldn’t we see that?
“When do you open?” I asked.
“No,” he answered again.
But this was not our first sabra rodeo. “When do you open?” I asked again, having learned that persistence is king in even the simplest Israeli transactions.
The boy-become-manager paused before returning to his chores, frowned a bit then graced us with, “Eight.”
That’s how it’s done here. Eight it would be.
After eight, we learned of the management change at the diner because we asked. And we asked because, well, the place seemed different (and, yet, the same). The small, round Parisian-style tables-for-two out front on the lawn, for example, were no different than in the past but now each bore a number. And they were arranged on the grass in an orderly grid, not scattered as before! The few, small and somewhat threadbare umbrellas with which we had grown familiar outdoors had been replaced by a sturdy, awning-like structure to shade the tables (like those in the cafes downtown).
But once inside, though the old display counters had been repositioned and the stocked shelves rearranged, our eyes were quickly drawn away, as always, from the exquisite pastries and fresh-baked bread to the mural that has been there forever; a grayscale collage of three generations of Israeli bakers, the youngest of whom now proudly ran the show.
Throughout the Land most restaurants offer what they call an Israeli breakfast, differing renderings of a huge morning meal pivoting on salads, eggs, olives, salmon, breads, rolls, juices and coffee. The Parash version is wonderful. Our hosts, after huffing and puffing a bit more to get their morning started right, became warmer, more friendly and accommodating as time passed, a change in demeanor not unexpected, also part of the norm.
Angels live daily at our very elbows, and so do demons, and most men at one time or another in their lives have yielded themselves to both and have lived to rejoice and rue their impulses.
As Marcia and I sat together watching locals file in and out of the busy place to dine or buy coffee-to-go or pastries or bread, our eyes were continually drawn back to the three generations of Parash men smiling at us from their place on their wall, suspecting that they, almost certainly, like most sabras, found both angels and demons at their elbows during their pioneering journey, and had lived in the Land as Paul Crume promised, both rejoicing and regretting their influence.
In addition to blogging here, at goodStories, Cliff Keller has authored five novels, the latest of which, The Lion or the Lamb, Samson, Ruth and Salvation, was released in September of 2018. He maintains a blog at Standing by the Gate and does freelance writing for magazines in Israel and the US.