The Jewish Way to Crack Seeds
Eliyahu Biazi was born in the city of Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey on Tu B’Shvat 1929. Eliyahu’s father, who was a religious man of good standing, served in the Turkish army. On one of the Sabbaths when he was cracking seeds, some other soldiers told him that he cracked open seeds like a Jew - using his front teeth. The story continues that he interpreted this description as a warning, and became convinced that he should leave his birthplace and make aliyah to the Land of Israel. And so in 1933 the family members left the city of Diyarbakir where they had lived for many generations and went on the road - to immigrate as part of Aliyah Bet (illegal immigration).
Eliyahu was 4 years old when the family began their journey to the Land of Israel. The way was not simple. They left on foot in the direction of Syria, crossed Lebanon by donkey, and when they arrived on the coast, boarded rowboats to Haifa. From Haifa it was clear to the family that they would follow their hearts and continue to Jerusalem. The family settled in Nachlaot - at first they lived in a tent and afterwards in a tin shack. Making a living was difficult and Eliyahu’s father, who had been a relatively affluent merchant, became a porter in the Machane Yehuda market. Eliyahu would help his father at work and bring him lunch to the market.
Ice, Groceries, Goats and Chickens
After some time, Eliyahu’s father bought a small parcel of land - 44 sq.m. in the neighborhood of Shaarei Rahamim. This was a small neighborhood where Jews from different backgrounds lived, mainly from Kurdistan, Diyarbakir, and additional communities in southeastern Turkey. On the land that he bought, he opened a small grocery store (the grocery store door is preserved and you can see it today) and there he sold flour, sugar, rice, beans, lentils and oil. The grocery store was known for its elaborate ice box for storing dairy products. On nearby Bezalel Street there was an ice factory, and a cart drove to bring blocks of ice to Shabazi Street in the neighborhood of Nachalat Achim. Every day, Eliyahu’s mother would bring the blocks to the icebox. Because the ice didn’t last long and storing dairy products was difficult, the family bought several milk goats. They sold the milk, prepared cheese, and smoked goat meat to sell to the local residents. Besides goats, they also raised egg-laying hens and doves - and built their home on the same plot of land.
"Pat-a-Cake Pat-a-Cake, Baker's Man, Bake Me a Cake as Fast as You Can"
While still in high school, Eliyahu learned to be a baker. His first job in a bakery was in Mea Shearim working with bakers from the Fifth Aliyah – those who came from Hungary, Austria and Germany and who brought European baking culture with them. Here began the meeting between east and west for him - he brought home the new cakes and his family was exposed to puff pastry, rolls, Savarin cakes, and the highlight according to his daughter, Mimi - strudel. During the War of Independence, Eliyahu fought with the Palmach and participated in the battle for the road to Jerusalem, Castel and Nabi Daniel. After the war, Eliyahu joined the bakers’ cooperative “Cakes”; and later, bought the cooperative in order to establish a bakery which wouldn’t only sell dry cakes but rather an assortment of goodies. Eliyahu and his wife opened the Maadan bakery at 10 Yisha’ayahu St. in 1963. They bought the necessary equipment: a giant mixer, a machine to knead and shape dough, a machine to slice the dough and more. At the beginning they sold cakes to kiosks and different theaters throughout the city.
There were dry cookies like shortbread sandwich cookies with jam, palmiers (elephant ear cookies), pig ear cookies, Berliner cake (a sort of sponge cake) with a lot of jelly filling, Savarin cakes, profiteroles, Napoleon cakes and, of course, strudel. Eliyahu also made a nice living from his yeast cakes. He prepared three kinds of yeast cakes: cheese, cinnamon roll, and poppyseed cake. Not only did Eliyahu Biazi specialize in cakes, but also in preparing bourekas which were known throughout the city. The bourekas were made from hand-made puff pastry, made with much care and attention and folded 7 times so the dough rustled when one took a bite. Inside the puff pastry he placed different fillings he prepared himself: cheese, potato and spinach. With time his recipes and techniques improved and he prepared the bourekas in different shapes like the shape of a snail for spinach with very thin dough - everyone called the bourekas “focaccia”. On Fridays, people, including judges and doctors from the nearby Bikur Cholim Hospital waited in line for the bourekas. He also made hand-made bagels with fennel seeds.
Besides the cakes and the bourekas, the bakery sold wedding and birthday cakes specially ordered in advance. His daughter, Mimi remembers that in the past, people were married in the rabbi’s office. Although they didn’t always invite dozens or hundreds of people to a hall, part of the event at every wedding during those days was a layered wedding cake. Eliyahu Biazi was an expert at creating these sorts of cakes. Another pastry that Eliayhu made was what he called “Shilulu”. He would take tin cones and wrap them with pastry dough. These cones were arranged in a pan and put in the oven. When they were baked, he would leave them to “rest” and afterward free the cones creating a hollow dough cone. Eliyahu called them “Shilulu” like a snail - and he would put cream inside, and dip them in chocolate, creating the signature “Shilulu” pastry.
Movies, bourekas, cakes, cream and coffee
The location of the bakery next to the Edison Theater, part of the city’s cultural life, influenced its atmosphere and its patrons. In those days, the Edison Theater screened Turkish and Indian movies and hosted performances for children during the holidays. Mimi tells how the wome of Jerusalem would come to see the movies at the Edison theater and afterwards, they would sit together at the bakery drinking and eating the unique cakes offered there. They ate the cream cakes - the Savarin, then watched the movie, buying a half a kilo of bourekas afterwards, on their way home, as dinner for their children. Next door, on Strauss St. another movie theater, the Mitchell Theater, functioned inside the Histadrut building. Those exiting the theater or the local basketball court also came to the Maadan Bakery for its cakes and pastries. Mimi’s mother was responsible for the coffee machine and prepared espresso.
After several years, in the mid-1970’s, the store was expanded and renovated, creating an updated atmosphere for the bakery. In what had been an office space, there was now a large area for preparing cakes. An additional area was for sales and a counter and tables covered in Formica were added for customers. Until the 1980’s, the bakery functioned very nicely, and there was plenty of work. However, the lack of a strategic location, social changes, and changes in the local entertainment venues led to a slow decline. The Biazi’s planned to retire in 1985, after years of hard work, and close the bakery’s doors. But their plans changed in one moment.
In 1986 in the early morning hours, the Biazi’s son was killed during his service as part of the Israeli police force; he was 29 years old. The family’s life turned upside down forever. In order to hold on to life, they returned to their life’s work - the family business which was a source of rehabilitation and strengthened the family during those difficult times until finally closing in 1993.
The story that started with cracking open seeds, a long journey, a small grocery store and a leading bakery continues in the 3rd generation of Jerusalem entrepreneurship with the Biazi Hotel, established by Eliyahu Biazi’s daughter, Mimi, who continues to tell the story of Jerusalem and her family.
(Translated by Leiah Jaffe)