Once upon a time, 1951 to be precise, I had a classmate at Chavat Halimud in Jerusalem by the name of Moshe. He was from Iraq and had arrived in Israel in the previous year. After early afternoon classes, he and I would walk down either Derech Hebron or Derech Bethlehem to the center of the city for ice cream.
We passed along Julians Way, now known as the deluxe King David Street, so named for Israel’s premier hotel, the famous King David Hotel, home to royalty and dignitaries visiting in Israel. During his exile from Ethiopia, the Emperor Haile Selassie made the hotel his home.
From there, we crossed onto Mamillah Street, now known as rehov Agron until we reached the midrachov, the bustling pedestrian hub in the center of downtown Jerusalem, a place crowded with cafes, restaurants, and jewelry shops.
The main café, a landmark for 58 years, was THE place to go for pastries and ice cream and to be seen by the rich and famous. Café Atara on Ben-Yehuda street was the jewel of all cafes in downtown Jerusalem.
During the years of the British Mandate, high ranking officers would dine there with their ladies, not knowing that among the patrons seated were members of the Haganah and the underground organizations, the Irgun and Lechi (the Stern gang). Following statehood, it was largely populated by journalists, foreign correspondents and politicians. Some say that even the cappuccino cups were “bugged” !!
It was the one café that Moshe and I would walk to for light-as-a-feather cheesecake and café hafuch. I have very pleasant memories of Café Atara. My wife and my children always enjoyed the cakes and ice cream. And no one ever counted calories.
Moshe and I used to talk about our futures, what we saw ourselves doing ten years from that time. I don’t remember what Moshe’s first choice was but in all events, he did not follow it preferring a more prestigious career.
I, on the other hand, followed my original dream and for 60 years I embraced it.
Moshe went on to join our diplomatic service. His first post was the Israeli Embassy in London where he served as commercial consul for several years. Much later, he was posted to Israel’s Consulate-General in New York and that is where I happened to be when we renewed our friendship.
Moshe told me that he was the commercial attache at the consulate and that his job required him to travel through the United States making contacts with business companies for sales in Israel.
One evening, I invited him to join me with two other friends for dinner at a kosher Japanese restaurant.
While dining, one of my friends asked Moshe to describe the nature of his work. Moshe replied that he was at the present time involved with a number of large furniture manufacturers in North Carolina. My friend, who happened to be in the furniture business, became interested and he asked Moshe which companies he had contacts with. Moshe sat quietly for a moment and answered, “to tell you the truth, there are so many companies there, I cannot remember all the names”.
My friend looked at me quizzically as if to ask how it was possible for an Israeli commercial consul not to remember a few names of companies he had been dealing with.
It was at that moment that a light shone over my head and I concluded that Moshe was in fact an agent of the Israeli Mossad. When once I had the nerve to ask him, he shrugged it off as foolishness. But from that time on I always referred to him as my friend Moshe the “Mossadnik”.
From the New York consulate, he was attached to the consulate in Miami, Florida and after two years he returned to his Israeli home in Jerusalem.
We saw each other occasionally and would meet for coffee, but the famous Café Atara was then closed forever.
Whenever I am on the midrachov on Ben-Yehuda street I am filled with nostalgia of years of long ago.
And passing the spot where Atara once stood, I could taste the cheese-cake and yearn for it once again.