Empty street in Nahariya
Photo: Niv Calderon
Katyusha in Nahariya
Photo: Niv Calderon
1:30 p.m and Nahariya is not a city –it’s a movie set: A string of white cardboard buildings, eerily quiet, no cars in the streets. Just one man, in shorts and a red sports shirt, determined to walk his Labrador. That’s the way it is here. War or no war, the dog’s got to pee.
The only place open on Nahariya’s main street is the Penguin restaurant. Otto Oppenheimer opened the place in 1945, in the middle of a field of dreams, and Ernest Oppenheimer, his son stood at the stove frying up breaded schnitzels for which the place became famous, gold as honey and big as a wagon wheel.
Today it’s Ilan Oppenheimer, the 50-something-year-old grandson who runs the restaurant. He’s a big guy, bearded with broad shoulders. He cancelled a trip abroad in order to show Nasrallah that no one is going to force him to close up shop. His eldest son, Alon, who studies in Tel Aviv, came back to Nahariya on his motorcycle in order to help.
“The idiot,” Ilan growls fondly, “I told him driving that motorcycle was more dangerous than katyushas.”
Never so quiet
I have been in Nahariya before when it was under siege. In 1982, I would pass through every week on the way to Lebanon. During the “Din V’Chesbon” IDF operation, I came up here with my partner, may she live a long life, as a team: She photographed, I wrote and one katyusha rocket landed a few yards from us and miraculously slammed into the sand and not us.
It was always terrifying but never so quiet. Maybe because it is easier to take risks when you understand what is happening. This time it’s different, strange, a kind of half-war, unclear where it is being waged, what’s its objectives are or for that matter who is winning.
“A katyusha fell in Tiberius,” says Alon, and for an embarrassed moment we were all thinking, what are we doing here?
The restaurant is empty when we arrive. Saturday is usually the resort town’s busiest day but now we wait by the bar for our schnitzel order. I am sitting by the window looking out watching to see if something is going to fall on us as well. The only thing I discover is that the toy store across the street is called ‘Panic Toys’.
The Oppenheimers next door neighbors come in to the restaurant and order coffee. Another three or four brave souls also show up. I go behind the counter and mix up two pitchers of Mohitos: fresh lemons, sugar water, mint leaves, and half a bottle of Havana Club rum.
Tamir picks up a guitar and starts strumming ‘A song for after the war’ by Shalom Chanoch. Then he picks up the rhythm and we sing happier songs. When the wife of one of the neighbor’s comes in, she finds that her husband is dancing in the middle of an empty restaurant. Someone is using spoons to pick up the beat. She laughs and sits down. It’s a good time for surrealistic moments.
Only when the guitar is retired for the sake of the chocolate mousse cake which is being served, does Amir, the Oppenheimers younger son, tell us that according to the radio, a katyusha fell not far away. I guess we did not hear the boom because of the music in the restaurant.
A television crew that had planned to come in and film the idiots who were singing and dancing did an about face running to their van and taking off in the direction of the reported attack.
We don’t move. ‘Mohito’ is a sneaky drink: the lemon hides the taste of the alcohol and before you know it, you are feeling a particularly friendly buzz.
More people gradually enter the restaurant. They are all German born immigrants and veteran Nahariya residents, white haired, wearing the bemused expressions of people who have seen it all. After some three hours, we get up carefully and begin our trip home.
In contrast to what one would imagine during these times, there was quite a bit of traffic on the highway. Two dirt bikes were racing on an unpaved road parallel to the highway, a popular comedy skit was being broadcast on the radio and the famous Hazan shwarma joint on the Haifa road was open for business as always. For a moment, things appeared almost normal.