One morning a week, Assi Haim roams the streets of the old neighborhoods of Tel Aviv with his camera and tripod. He’s racing against time, trying to document a piece of history before it disappears. Haim is searching for “The Rebels,” the elderly owners of small shops who refuse to bow to the crushing winds of global capitalism that have brought chain stores and cheap foreign imports to Israel.
What started out as a project for a photography class back in 2010 has turned into a personal passion for Haim. The 41-year-old journalist, an editor at Israel Hayom, has begun to expand his efforts, making special trips to Haifa, Jerusalem, Netanya, Beersheba and towns in the Galilee to seek out remaining mom-and-pop shops. He posts his photographs, along with short write-ups about the establishments, their histories and their owners, on a blog called “HaMordim,” Hebrew for “The Rebels.”
“These are old people who are rebels against capitalism,” Haim said. “They do no marketing, don’t know from new trends, and don’t worry about decoration and window dressing.”
Indeed, it was the chipped green Formica that drew Haim into the first place he photographed. It was the Yeshurun Restaurant at 4 Mazeh Street in Tel Aviv, a small establishment opened in 1962 by Zusha Rivkin, who was 84 by the time Haim met him. It was once a bustling place, with waiters circulating among the tables out front. But in 2010, when the photographer arrived, it was only Rivkin, with his long white beard and black yarmulke, and one longtime and loyal assistant, making the fish and meat patties, vegetable dishes, schnitzel and salads, and serving it all to lunchtime customers.
Take a tour of Assi Haim’s Tel Aviv photography project in the slideshow below:
“There at the corner of Allenby Street, at one of the busiest intersections of Tel Aviv, hides a time machine that takes anyone who enters it into another era. All you need to do is open the Jewish restaurant’s door to fly backwards 50 years to times when green Formica was the height of fashion and simple Jewish food was all that was needed to satisfy your hunger,” Haim writes on his blog.
A little more than a year after Haim first visited Rivkin at his restaurant, the elderly proprietor passed away. The advanced ages of most of the shop owners gives Haim a sense of urgency. “I need to document them before they’re gone,” he said.
He recalled how he had tried over and over to catch the owner of a lighting store on Ben Yehuda Street during the limited and varying hours the shop was open, but to no avail. The final time the photographer came by, the shop had been closed for good.
Haim has found that it is not unusual for elderly business owners to die shortly after closing their shops. “The stores keep them alive,” he said. With most of these people not making enough from their businesses to live on (they are likely making do on social insurance pensions, and perhaps savings), it’s more a matter of having somewhere to go every day.