Pride and perseverance in Tel Aviv

Posted: May 12, 2005 12:00 AM

TEL AVIV?On a glorious Monday afternoon less than 100 feet from the beach, most passersby likely would not have noticed the modest, five-minute ceremony that consisted of three framed photos, a plaque, a short speech, and a prayer.

But to the small group of about 40 who gathered here, next-door to the U.S. Embassy, the service could not have been more meaningful.

Two years ago, a story familiar to far too many Israelis became part of their lives when a terrorist blew himself up in front of the bar Mike?s Place and killed three innocent victims: waitress Dominique Hass, 29, and amateur musicians Ron Baron, 23, and Yanai Weiss, 46.  Hass wasn?t even on the schedule to work that night; she picked up a shift because she needed money.

The damage could have been even worse: security guard Avi Tabib saved many lives by pushing away Asif Muhammad Hanif, a 22-year-old British subject of Pakistani origin, preventing the terrorist from maximizing the death toll by detonating inside the establishment.

In another country?almost anywhere else in the world, for that matter?the bomb that thoroughly gutted the blues bar would have meant the death of the business.  Not in Israel.  Not at Mike?s Place.

Within seven days, Mike?s Place reopened?on Israeli Independence Day, fittingly enough.  It had taken nearly seven weeks for it to be built the first time around.  Like many Israeli victims of terror, the goal is to return to life as usual as quickly as possible.  Not to pretend that a trauma hasn?t occurred, but rather to show that it hasn?t achieved its intended goals of devastation and debilitation.

The intervening week was largely a blur for the Mike?s Place family, with nowhere near the necessary time to process emotions and genuinely grieve.

When told by his brother that he was a ?hero,? Avi?who had just regained consciousness in his hospital bed?slowly raised his middle finger.  The hero believed he was just doing his job. 

After completing a lengthy stint in the hospital and then in outpatient rehab, Avi returned to work at Mike?s Place?standing in the exact same place as he was on April 30, 2003.  His life has evolved as it should; he?s now moved on from his youthful job, and he?s getting married next month.

Like many at the modest memorial, Avi didn?t want to talk about the night of the attack or his subsequent recovery.  He didn?t have to.  His story, and that of the entire Mike Place?s family?before and after the bombing?was caught on film.

Documentary producer Jack Baxter was kicking around Israel in early 2003, and he decided to pass the time by shooting a breezy documentary on Mike?s Place, whose slogan is ?blues by the beach.?  Although literally adjoining the U.S. Embassy?bar patrons can see the embassy guard standing just a stone?s throw away?Mike?s Place had always billed itself as an oasis from the turmoil of the region.  The documentary was going to show the ?other? Israel.

After the memorial service, participants went inside the bar to watch new final edit of Baxter?s film, Blues by the Beach.  The film clearly moved those in attendance.  Some sat silently, others reached for the comforting touch of a friend or loved one, and more than a few wiped tears from their eyes.

By that evening, people were smiling, laughing, and singing gloriously out-of-key.  Mike?s Place family members were busy keeping the fun going through the night?but their passion and love for their creation is palpable.

Mike?s Place has fought back against the terrorists in the best way they know how, by pouring brews and slinging shots.  Within three months, the bar doubled in size with an ambitious expansion that has played off handsomely.

On the eve of the memorial service, Mike?s Place enjoyed its second-best ever weekend?behind only the previous month, when Irish fans descended upon Tel Aviv to support their soccer team.  When bartender and part-owner Downtown Dave was proudly explaining the booming business, a bar patron explained the obvious, ?Mike?s Place hasn?t just survived; it?s thrived.?