Israeli inn owners set on keeping business running as usual

By Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy Newspapers

SHEAR YESHUV, Israel - There are no air raid sirens here. There is no warning before you hear the rapid thud-thud-thud of incoming Hezbollah rockets. Anyone foolhardy enough to be in this part of northern Israel now must be in a bomb shelter.

Avigdor and Einat Rothem, however, are trying to maintain a semblance of normalcy amid the rumble of explosions that roll across the farms and vineyards that surround their bed and breakfast, with its sweeping views of southern Lebanon.

No matter that Katyusha rockets have shattered their windows. They're preparing gourmet meals of two-year-old cured boar prosciutto and homemade gazpacho for the small number of guests who are still willing to spend an evening in their corner of the battle zone.

Friends and relatives are calling, urging the couple at least to send their two young daughters to safety. But the family is staying put.

"The biggest threat of the war is that by bombing the electricity, we won't have espresso," Avigdor Rothem quipped after one volley of Katyushas landed in surrounding fields.

The Rothems had expected to spend this month hosting 150 guests and celebrating their two-year anniversary running Pausa, one of dozens of boutique bed and breakfasts along the Lebanese border.

That was before Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers July 12 and began launching hundreds of rockets into northern Israel. Now, not only have the summer travelers canceled their reservations, but the nearby communities also are nearly deserted.

Even as neighbors were packing up, the couple gave no thought to taking their 8- and 10-year-old daughters out of the line of fire.

"For us, the best place to be is at home," Einat Rothem said. "We feel safer."

For the Rothems, Pausa is more than a vacation retreat. It's a mission. The couple support the Slow Food movement, which was created to combat the world's increasing fast-food culture by promoting the use of local products and encouraging long meals to savor the food.

So, even with Katyushas exploding some distance away and Israeli artillery shells flying overhead, dinner is served at the outdoor dining room to the strains of Norah Jones and John Coltrane.

One recent evening, Avigdor Rothem struck his Chinese gong and poured homemade lemon liqueur for a handful of guests as nearby Israeli artillery batteries fired at a darkened Lebanon hillside in the distance.

On an adjacent Israeli hill, a jagged fire sparked by that morning's Hezbollah rocket strike crept down toward the valley.

None of it seemed to faze the Rothems.

Avigdor Rothem is a 45-year-old Renaissance man with a close-cropped white beard who has dabbled in marketing, Internet startups, manufacturing and now tourism. He has his own local radio show and dreams up innovative treats to serve his guests.

The Rothems have learned to distinguish between incoming and outgoing rounds. The Israeli artillery sounds more like rolling thunder in the distance, while Hezbollah rockets arrive with a concussive jolt of air pressure and, if they're close enough, rattle or shatter windows.

It's nothing new for Einat Rothem, a professional mediator who has lived through 37 years of cross-border clashes.

"I grew up with this situation on a kibbutz, and the community helped us to feel that life will be OK, that we will stay strong and get through it together," she said.

Even if the family makes it through the latest conflict, the couple aren't sure what will happen to their retreat. Tourism fell off during five years of relentless suicide bombings and had just begun to recover when Hezbollah sparked the new clash.

"It will take many years for tourists to have faith again," Avigdor Rothem said. "Financially, it's a disaster."

פאוזה - פונדק צפוני לאניני הטעם - מושב שאר ישוב 63 ד.נ.ג.ע. 12240 טלפון: 6904434 054 פקס: 6904435 04