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A Secular Shabbat

by michael October 05 2007
FoodThings to do

West Jerusalem shuts down on Shabbat as fast and as hard as a bear trap. Fifteen minutes can mean all the difference between streets packed with last-minute shoppers and a desolate ghost town, streets empty of all but a few windblown shopping bags and the occasional cleaning crew.

But appearances, of course, can be deceiving.

Say you're a Jerusalem visitor who's not Jewish, or Jewish but not religious. There's gotta be something to do in the city center on a Saturday, right?

You're in luck. A few hardy downtown establishments risk the light crowds and potential censure and harassment that staying open on Shabbat entails in the Holy City and offer an inviting haven to the heathen.

For an intimate, warmly-lit cafe experience, head down to Riff-Raff on the Yoel Salomon midrachov. In its former, much larger location, Riff-Raff was the heart of the secular West Jerusalem experience, offering up meat-on-cheese and BLTs in sinful abundance. It's pretty quiet these days, but the menu remains the same, full of trayf-y treats and decent coffee. If you're not interested, though, in the earnest and opinionated political discussions between foreign aid workers which often reverberate through the tiny cafe, you may wish to try a louder place, like...

Bolinat! What the old Riff-Raff once was, Bolinat is now: a teeming oasis of Israeli secular culture right off the Ben Yehuda midrachov on Dorot ha-Rishonim street. If you can find an open table on Shabbat somewhere in the dense crowd of ponytailed, stubbled, black-clad and smoking Israeli men and their non-stubbled female counterparts (good luck), you'll find an expansive menu of decidedly non-kosher goods (Bolinat's motto is "Not So Kosher," and it proudly trumpets its serving of bread over Passover), hot drinks, alcohol and more, all served by a cadre of lovely waitresses.

So check it out!
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