Hindel Schwartz Swerdlov

Breaking for falafel in Jerusalem before Rosh Hashanah

The handwriting on the wall reminds me that God is with me when times are hard, and a tucked-away food joint makes it all taste better
Falafel Shlomo. (screenshot, via Google Earth)
Falafel Shlomo. (screenshot, via Google Earth)

Nestled in our land between Giv’at Shaul and Har HaMenuchot cemetery is a little winding maze of car repair garages, dealerships, and gas stations. It is the most popular hub for the best falafel in all of Israel (minus Falafel Al HaDerech, of course — a drive-through caravan, off the highway, which is still the best in the world).

It’s a man’s world here at Falafel Shlomo, but sometimes we women get shlepped in by our other half. The line is out the door and its tables are grimy, but the food is clean and fresh. Not much talking in this man cave and everyone is pretty serious about their upcoming mission.

I choose one of the three communal tables outside and watch the goings and comings of all types of guys sharing this love of falafel. The employee emptying out the little bowls on the tables with the previous people’s trash brings me a plate of pickled veggies while I wait for my husband Yossi to order. This is my reward treat for smiling hello when I walked in.

Seated near me is Esther who has dementia. She is about 90 and is with her 60-year-old son Yossi, the taxi driver. I hear her tell him that she loves “end of school year trips” and she’s thanking him profusely. I smile at this and she comes over to me to brush the hair out of my eyes, rub my cheeks, and ask me to be part of her family. She has five kids, but she says I seem nice.

She blessed me Happy New Year and sits back down at her son’s insistence.

All the tables are set up outside in an open pergola. There’s loud constant honking around us as most cars are double-parked and blocking each other, hazards left flashing. There are only three parking spots for this popular joint in the curvy alley between Skoda and Paz stations. I had to move our car out only once to unblock another.

The turnover here is pretty fast. It’s eat-and-go. Not much chit-chat, as people eat their amba-covered, tehini-oozing falafel in fresh hot pita.

The sign hanging near me reads: “Daven Mincha with Abi at 2:30 daily at Skoda.” It warms my heart. This is my family.

Falafel Shlomo has been our “Get yourself a snack” treat, ever since we buried our daughter Shula, 13 years ago. The cemetery is just beyond the alley and across the street, on the mountains of Jerusalem, overlooking its hills.

We are so wiped when we leave the cemetery. We cannot just go home and be regular humans for the regular humans that need us. So we detox with these yummy toxins and unwind while we watch the simple world of cars, and mechanics, and people who are out to refuel for a quick lunch break.

Lately, I’m here twice a year, max! I used to visit Shula three times a week. (That’s a LOT of falafel). So I’ve come a long way. But today was rough.

They extended the mountain where Shula is buried at its edge and literally added dirt in front of Shula’s spot to yield another few hundred spots for inevitable Jerusalemites who won’t make the cut this year in the Book of Life.

Once again, I’m made to feel out of control in Shula’s death. Can’t control the neighborhood or the neighbors. (No pun intended, but it was begging to be written.) (Yes, I google the names on the newest tombstones that neighbor her — that’s my depth of control — post mortem. Darn, I’m funny.)

We cleaned her tombstone today as we usually do (sand and mud from the latest construction covering every letter and hand-picked rock purposefully placed), and on our way out, we saw graffiti in English on the cemetery wall. It spelled E.H.Y.E.H.

That’s one of God’s 10 names — this one being my ultimate favorite. “I will be what I will be.” Hashem has no need to give us reasons and explanations for what He does.

I saw this on the wall and realized that Hashem was letting me know He is with me. He walks alongside me. Just an hour prior, I had taught my new students that Rosh Hashanah is a time when we come to God, As is. We don’t use calculations of our merits or demerits. It’s not about the good or the bad of the last year. We don’t say, “We deserve it” or “I earned it.”

We come to God on Rosh Hashanah and we ask for another year simply because we want it. We want another year of being in a relationship with Hashem. We want to inspire Him to choose us, grant Him/ anoint Him, rebuild His will to be king over us, while we build ourselves up as the best version of soul HE wants us to be — while living in our reality.

Little reminders of God supporting us makes life easier. Falafel Shlomo makes it all taste better.

Let’s bless each other for a sweet new year. A blessed year. And let God do the rest! It’s on Him. Happy New Year!

About the Author
Hindel Schwartz Swerdlov grew up in Los Angeles as one of 12 children of the Chabad campus UCLA under Rabbi Schwartzie and Olivia. She has been living in Jerusalem for the past 27 years with her husband, Yossi, and seven children. Swerdlov is the founder and director of Shula’s Library, in memory of her young daughter, and is a contributing writer for Our Tapestry Magazine. She is an international lecturer and teacher of Chassidic Philosophy at Mayanot Women’s Yeshiva College and Oryah Women’s Seminary.
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