In Israel, a chef rebuilds his restaurant symbol of coexistence

In May 2021, Chief Uri Jeremias participated in an intercommunity meeting in his city of Acre, considered a symbol of living together between Jews and Arabs in Israel. A week later, his restaurant was set on fire during a wave of violence that left its mark.

“They wanted to attack coexistence in Acre, and I, in a way, am a symbol of it,” says Uri Jeremias, a Jewish cook who opened a famous seafood restaurant in Acre 26 years ago. the old city of this locality in northern Israel, a neighborhood with an Arab majority.

“I would have been upset if I hadn’t been the target,” he adds, not without a touch of irony.

His establishment, Uri Buri, was named the 19th best restaurant in the world by the Tripadvisor site in 2021. Beyond the à la carte dishes, the restaurant stands out for its commitment to dialogue between Jews and Arabs.

Uri Jeremias has always been known to recruit unemployed and unskilled young people, both Arabs and Jews, to work in his nearby establishment and hotel.

But in May 2021, as the Palestinian Territories flared up amid clashes in East Jerusalem and war between Palestinian armed groups in Gaza and the Israeli army, violence spilled over into mixed Israeli towns .

If Uri Jeremias and the leaders of his coastal city of 50,000 inhabitants are “very satisfied” with the harmonious relations which reign in his establishment, this living together carried as a standard has made it a direct target, he believes.

“We did not see the invisible people coming, those who were not happy,” said the chef with the thick and long white beard in his establishment, reopened after seven months of renovation following the fire.

– “Menacing silence” –

On May 11, 2021, Uri Jeremias was supposed to be off, but given the tensions that were only increasing, he felt compelled to pop into his restaurant, to drink a bowl of soup and make sure that everything was doing well in his team before returning home.

But an “ominous silence” engulfed the old city of Acre and as he finished his soup, four men armed with crowbars landed and shattered the windows.

“Then they left and I thought it was good, they had expressed their anger and they were done,” he recalled a year later.

However, a few minutes later, a phone call informed him that his hotel Efendi was on fire. The time to run there, his neighbors had already turned it off but customers had inhaled smoke. One of them will eventually succumb.

But Uri Jeremias was not at the end of his troubles that day. While he was in front of his hotel, a man sprang up to warn him that the restaurant was in turn engulfed in flames.

Given the violence everywhere else in the country, sometimes deadly like in Lod (center), it was unthinkable for him to ask for help from the police, firefighters or the army, he said.

“Acre was naked”, devoid of any defence, recalls the chief, who spent two hours trying to control the fire with fire extinguishers and a neighbour’s garden hose, doing his best to put the blaze does not reach the old town, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Seeing everything he had built go up in smoke, Chef Jeremias was already thinking about the aftermath: “The next thing to do, tomorrow morning, is to look for another place, I thought to myself”.

– “To take the pulse” –

Two weeks later, Uri Buri served his famous salmon sashimi on wasabi ice in a temporary restaurant, set up in an industrial area a few kilometers from old Acre, whose concrete atmosphere did not seem to bother the many customers.

But in Acre, the first reaction after the attack was tinged with denial, regrets the restaurateur.

“At first people were saying ‘the rioters are not from Acre’, they were making all sorts of excuses not to face the problem and recognize that we were part of the problem,” he told AFP.

The lesson to be learned from the incident, he said, is that maintaining calm is not just a mission for law enforcement or the municipality, but the responsibility of all citizens.

“We must continue to take the pulse of the local population” to avoid any extremist drift, he concludes.

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