Short Ribs / Dafna Feldman
Shark tail soup, short ribs in Szechuan sauce, and shellfish in mushrooms and bamboo shoots. These were just some of the items listed on the menu of the restaurant that we were not allowed to enter.
In my childhood there were two Chinese restaurants. The one where we were allowed to eat, and the one that was forbidden. The one that was allowed was located at the gas station on Herzl Boulevard, opposite Ziv Public High School. The one that was forbidden was located at the gas station on Herzl Boulevard, Kiryat HaYovel Junction, on the way to my school, Neve Etzion Religious Public Girls’ School in the nearby Bayit Vagan neighborhood.
On Tuesdays, my family held a ritual “family outing” to the restaurant in front of Ziv School. It was a traditional restaurant, with red tablecloths, red lanterns and paintings of dragons on the walls. But all the mounds of chicken fried in a sweet and sour sauce, Szechuan beef, and the traditional dessert of fried banana burning in a blue flame, failed to satisfy my lust for the tastes from the forbidden restaurant.
My forbidden ritual took place every morning on my way to school and on my way back home at noon. In the morning I would deeply inhale the smell of fuel, and in the afternoon, I would stop to breathe in the strange and tempting smell of the smoke from the restaurant chimney. Once, I couldn’t resist and approached the restaurant, whose walls were transparent, with a menu posted on the door. On it were the names of dishes such as sesame short ribs, shark tail soup, shellfish soup and other foods that were not on the menu of the allowed restaurant. And although I did not understand how ribs could be short and what fish had shells, I decided that the tempting smells came from the shark’s tail or perhaps from the short ribs.
When I started going to the religious high school for girls, the ritual stopped. But the temptation to taste from the forbidden world remained and slowly became two parallel worlds that I shared my accomplice, my childhood friend Dalia. On Fridays, following the grace after meals, I would leave the house on the pretext that there was a youth group meeting on Pisgah St. In the building’s bomb shelter, in complete darkness, I would change into the pants I had hidden at the bottom of the stairs ahead of time. Then I would go up Herzl Boulevard and hitchhike to the Center City Square. This was the time of the local riff-raff’s disco club, the Underground, the hippies’ tea house, the Fountain, and the Blue Hole Pub, for those who did not fit into any category. Dalia and I visited all of them, along with other lost souls, in search of a new identity, an identity far from the one that walks back and forth on one street that is blocked by barricades every Sabbath. I crossed the boundaries between allowed and forbidden for a daughter of Israel, and I still did not dare to taste what the Maccabees had refused, preferring to die in the Sanctification of the Name, just not to eat from it.
A week after the yeshiva at the Kiryat HaYovel junction was inaugurated, demonstrations of yeshiva students began in front of the restaurant. At first they stood and blocked the entrance for an hour or two, harassing the customers. Next, they stood guard and allowed entry to no one. It was a matter of time before the restaurant would be shut down, or the yeshiva students would burn it down. I realized I was on borrowed time, and decided to go for it.
I raised the idea to my friend Dalia, and the planning got underway. Two obstacles stood before us. The walls of the restaurant were made of glass and many people from my neighborhood passed by on their way from the Kiryat HaYovel neighborhood to Bayit Vagan. In addition, the yeshiva students blocked the entrance, noon and evening shifts. For the first obstacle we found a solution in the form of what we were already experienced in, the art of disguise. The second obstacle was solved thanks to a surveillance we performed. We found that the students left the shift for the afternoon prayer service and the rabbi’s daily lesson. A window of opportunity opened for us between 12:00 and 14:00, which is also a time when there were not too many passers by.
A week later, on Monday at 12:09, two girls in dresses, wide-brimmed straw hats and dark sunglasses walked into the restaurant. We sat down at the far end at the table closest to the kitchen entrance, and far away from the glass windows. The forbidden menu was given to us. I knew exactly what I was going to order. I had smelled it for nine years.
Shark tail soup, short ribs in Szechuan sauce, and shellfish in mushrooms and bamboo shoots, were served with fried rice and two egg rolls. We ate quickly, before the rabbi’s daily lesson ended. As we left the restaurant I suddenly began shivering, a cold sweat crept up my back and a terrible nausea climbed up my throat, threatening to burst out. With my remaining strength I ran quickly to the filthy toilet of the gas station and vomited a mixture of pork, shellfish, fried rice and egg roll into the toilet and onto the floor. There was no toilet paper. I washed my face and wiped it with the hem of my dress. I came out of the bathroom and smiled at Dalia. I raised my head and deeply inhaled the smell of fuel in the air.