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Heaven's Kitchen
By Sam Orbaum
Columnist of the Jerusalem Post.
You can contact Sam Orbaum through admin@eLuna.com.

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 or Goldstar.

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 Zusha's racket.

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."

Neighborhood shnorrers 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 Be He."

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 appeles.

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 kishke.

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 people, concurred.

"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."

Read more Orbaum at The Jerusalem Post wewbsite.
BUT SERIOUSLY (humor column) can be found under COLUMNS.

Also see these other entertaining reviews by Sam Orbaum:
El Gaucho Jerusalem
Blues Bros Steak
La Guta


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