Bagels have been part of a Great Debate in Israel for as long as I can remember, which would be 1984. This quintessential Jewish food is seen as somewhat of a throwback to Eastern European Jews, and while attempts had been made to recreate a proper bagel in this country, efforts have fallen well short of the mark. Eventually, probably through acclamation, it was decided that New York bagels are simply beyond the manufacturing capability of anyone who is not in New York. As a New Yorker (you can never really be a “former” New Yorker), we kind of knew that all along, and while I might enjoy the occasional round roll with a hole through it, called a “bagel” for expediency, it’s never, ever the same thing.
There’s a store at 12 Beit Hadefus in Givat Shaul called Bagel Man. I’ve been there to eat a couple of times. This last time, I went in and ordered what I always order in a bagel store: onion bagel (if they don’t have salt bagels, an ‘everything’ bagel being third choice) with chive [ or scallion] cream cheese [or herbs and garlic], red onion, and tomato. No, you do not want me to breathe on you after I eat a bagel ;-)
[By the way, did you notice anything strange in that last paragraph? First, I said “always order.” I never ‘always order’ anything. In this case, I don’t have any explanation for it, but I simply don’t like any other combination on my bagel; not olive cream cheese, not lettuce. The second is “tomato”. I don’t like fresh tomatoes. Except thinly sliced on a bagel as per the aforementioned salt bagel with chive cream cheese and red onions.]
And I got a coffee.
I’m not about to reveal that I found a real New York bagel in the middle of Jerusalem; sorry to disappoint. Truth be told, there was something funny about the cream cheese, too. Not that it was off, it just wasn’t Philly style, and you could taste it. The fish and chips were exactly how they should have been: hot, fresh, and tasty. The salads were fresh and overlarge, the coffees hot, the tables clean and the television muted. All in all a very positive experience. But the absolute best part of the meal was the Orna.
Orna, presumably the owner of the shop from the way she took care of us, only wanted to make her guests happy. Not in a mamale or saccharine way, but as a restaurateur should. By now, we can talk ourselves through ordering a meal in Hebrew, but she confirmed everything back to us in English, just to make sure she had it right. She smiled constantly; not vacantly, pridefully. When she sliced my bagel, I didn’t cringe at the thought of her losing a couple of fingertips [you’ve seen me cringe; you know who you are], because she did it right. Everything was Good.
It could have been that she was in a good mood because it was a good day, or that she’s less cheerful when there’s a lunch crush. We were there fairly late in the afternoon, so perhaps she had the extra time to pay more attention to us. I wasn’t very happy that a restaurant claiming to be a bagel shop only had poppy seed and onion bagels, but even that dissipated when we started receiving the care and attention from Orna.