Skip to comments.Haifa's Maxim restaurant reopens
Posted on 12/09/2003 11:16:11 AM PST by yonif
A huge Israeli flag was unfurled along part of the renovated and refurbished building, while the edge of the car park opposite remained lined with dried wreaths, flowers and hundreds of burned-out memorial candles.
Inside, the place was packed with diners of all ages and the kitchen was a hive of activity as cooks and waiters struggled to cope with the incessant flow of orders.
Maxim's restaurant, alongside the Delek gas station at the southern access to Haifa, was back in business.
It reopened on Monday exactly two months and two days after the attack by a Palestinian woman suicide bomber in which 21 people were killed and scores wounded.
Immediately after the atrocity, the Jewish and Arab owners of the restaurant erected placards over the shattered remains of the building that read, "We will not allow coexistence to be destroyed."
The mass influx of diners and visitors on the first day of the reopening was as much a testament to that sentiment as it was to the restaurant's reputation for friendly, efficient service and good food garnered over the years since its establishment in 1965.
"We always knew that our restaurant symbolized [Jewish-Arab] coexistence. In my hear-of-hearts I believed that this would continue once we reopened but not in such a way and with such a quantity of people who came here," said Sharbel Mattar, one of the owners.
"This also signifies that all the years we invested in customers, the way we treated them with friendship and respect, is now being repaid to us more than double."
Mattar found himself having to assist in the kitchen, as well as in the restaurant, to ease pressure on the staff and every few minutes he was interrupted by someone else giving him a hug, kissing his cheeks, or shaking his hand and slapping him on the shoulder.
"I'm surprised at the number of people who have come and I thank them from the bottom of my heart. We will also never forget that our clients and the nation of Israel stood by us in our most difficult period," Mattar told The Jerusalem Post.
"This is what helped support us and gave us the strength to continue - in memory of all of those who were killed in this horrific terror attack. They will always be with us in our hearts and minds."
Three members of his family were killed in the attack, his uncle George Mattar, of Haifa, as well as his namesake Sharbel Mattar, 23, and another relative Hana Francis, 39, both of Fassouta in the Galilee.
Two other Israeli Arabs who worked at the restaurant, cook Osama Najar, 28, and security guard Mutanus Karkabi, 31, both of Haifa, were also killed. Other victims included former Israel Navy Commander Maj.-Gen. (res.) Ze'ev Almog his wife, of Haifa, and three other members of their family, as well as five members of the Zer-Aviv family of Kibbutz Yagur and Haifa journalist Mark Biano, 29 and his 25 year-old wife Naomi.
Among the wounded were Sharbel Mattar's father, George Mattar, 90, who was the joint founder of Maxim along with members of the Tayar family. He is now at home, not yet overcome the physical and emotional trauma of the deadly bombing attack.
Sharbel Mattar said the reopening of the restaurant had been filled with mixed emotions - the joy of being back in business and receiving the support of so many people and the sorrow at the absence of relatives, as well as employees and customers who had become friends.
"It hurts not to see them at the reopening and the fact that they are no longer with us. If anything is missing today it is them. It is difficult to describe my feelings but I hope that where they are they are looking at us from above, that they will help protect us and they will send us their blessings," he said.
Mattar had left the restaurant about an hour before the attack in order to deal with business matters. He received a phone call about the explosion and immediately returned.
Instead of the thriving business he had left moment earlier, he found a bomb-blasted wreck, strewn with bodies and the blood and remains of those killed and wounded.
"It was a terrible, terrible feeling full of heartache and pain. Within seconds your lifelong work had been destroyed and there were scenes that can only be described as something you would not wish to see in your worst nightmare," said Mattar.
"I can only hope that neither myself or anyone else in the country will have to go through, see and feel what we went through," he said.
Nevertheless, Mattar stressed that something good had emerged from the ashes of the deadly bombing - a strengthening of the coexistence between Jews and Arabs.
"Maybe this word [coexistence] did not have much significance beforehand, although for us it was an integral part of our lives and we were always together. Now it is even more pertinent.
"It proves to everyone that such things will never harm coexistence but will do the opposite by strengthening us and bringing us closer together. We are not two nations here, we are one nation. The suffering and the pain are for all of us as is the joy.
"This restaurant was for years a symbol of coexistence and it will continue to be so and nobody will change that ... Blood of Jews and Arabs was spilled and intermingled in this place and so this joint fate will be, for better or for worse."
Mattar noted that he lived in America for several years and had US citizenship, but returned to Israel to build his life here with his wife and children and also return to the family business.
Referring to the Israeli flag that had been unfurled outside the restaurant, Mattar said, "This is the flag of our State. I am an Israeli citizen and I oppose those who say that they live in Israel but they are Palestinians," said Mattar.
"I am an Israel Arab in every respect. This is what is written in my identity card and in my passport. I don't think or feel differently. I also can't ignore all the good things that have happened to me here and there have been many of them.
"Maybe in the past two months everything was turned upside down. That came from God and I can't change it, but I'm Arab and an Israeli citizen and I'm proud of being here.
"I have American citizenship but preferred to return here. I live here and I raise my children here and whoever is unhappy here can get up and leave. That's all I have to say," he said.
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