At first blush, no corner of Israel seems further away from the country’s image as Start Up Nation than Abu Ghosh, an Arab town just outside of Jerusalem known for its superb hummus joints. Abu Ghosh is where the young titans who engineer precious software go to unwind with a good masabacha and a skewer of superb marinated lamb, sitting on the many front porches that dot the town’s main street, breathing in the cool mountain air. But technology had invaded this culinary haven, and now some local entrepreneurs are fighting back.
Noting that the tranquility of his celebrated temple of hummus was repeatedly pierced by the trill of cell phones, and that customers who had once conversed with friends and with the restaurant’s staff now have their nose plunged into smart screens, restaurant owner Jawadat Ibrahim came up with a radical idea: any customer who agrees to place his or her phone for safekeeping in a small designated basket near the entrance and enjoy a phone-free meal will receive 50 percent off the check.
It may sound like an uphill battle—even half-off may not be enough to tear Israelis away from their beloved phones—but Ibrahim had beaten some pretty long odds more than once in his life. A former American resident, he opened his famous restaurant after winning $23 million in the Illinois state lottery in the early 1990s. Then, in 2010, he won the Guinness Book of World Record’s distinction for the world’s largest hummus dish, weighing in at four tons. Now that he’s set his sights on the pocket-size menaces we carry, it’s safe to assume that he’ll emerge triumphant. After all, in Abu Ghosh, just like in Vegas, the house always wins.
Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One.