State of the Union / When Chaim met Inbar
After an assiduous courtship, a homely Jerusalem bar owner won the woman of his dreams.
He just wasn't her type, shrugs Inbar Ozeri, a stunning 31-year-old with hazel eyes, dark hair, olive skin and a sassy style. She's the kind of girl guys always chat up.
“Hey doll, can I buy you a drink?” a stranger will say. “Hi beautiful, what’s your name?” another original Don Juan might chime in.
She grew up in Bat Yam, with Egyptian soap operas – those tear-jerkers so beloved by her Cairo-born parents – always playing in the background. When, later in life, Inbar fell for someone, it was always intense, just like on TV. There was plenty of passion, plenty of excitement. The main thing her relationships were short of, she admits, was success.
Maybe – she thought to herself more than once – there was more to it all than love at first sight, drama and inevitable tears.
But type is type, and Chaim Dery, the short-ish, low-key, half-Persian, half-Moroccan guy who owned a bar in Jerusalem and kept calling, just didn’t do it for her.
The concept was "Tel Aviv," says Chaim, 35, in describing his business strategy in the holy city where he was born and raised.
“We would take ideas from Tel Aviv and implement them in Jerusalem," he says. "You know: better food, beer, vibe, design, service… those kinds of things.'”
His bar and its sister restaurant were both called, naturally, "Tel Aviv."
At some point, Chaim and his business partner decided to branch out. So they drove 45 minutes down the Ayalon highway to the big city to look at real estate. The plan – a novel one— was to open a Tel Aviv branch of the Jerusalem-based "Tel Aviv" brand. The first space they checked out was in the trendy Jaffa Flea Market area, right next door to a small boutique clothing store.
“She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen,” he says, lingering on the memory.
Inbar has always been a dancer: ballet as a child, jazz and hip hop in high school and, after the army, a member of a hotel chain’s entertainment troupe, twirling lucky members of the crowd around on stages from Eilat to the Dead Sea.
She dated the troupe leader, of course.
“One big telenovela in and of itself,” she says – filled with, nirvana, nightly intrigues, jealousies and finally his secret affair with the new blond actress on the team, of course.
In any case, after three years of dining at all-you-can-eat buffets and sleeping in a twin double, she had enough, took a final curtain call and went off to India to clear her head. After returning, and another disappointing love affair with some drop dead gorgeous man, Inbar went solo: got rid of the boyfriend and, together with her brother, opened a clothing boutique.
And that’s when Chaim walked into the neighborhood.
Chaim and his business partner invited Inbar to join them for a drink that evening.
“They seemed like good guys, and I said to myself, ‘I don’t have any plans. Why not?' I was just being friendly,’” she recalls. “About six more friends showed up, and, well, we got totally drunk.”
Chaim felt an immediate connection.
“The whole evening we were far away from each other, just exchanging glances,” he says. “But at some point, the seating changed around and I was next to her. And then, I don’t know how or why exactly, but I gave her the ring I was wearing to put on.”
At that point, they say, everyone started making jokes about them being married.
“So I threw down my chaser glass, and it smashed, and everyone yelled out ‘Mazal Tov,’” says Chaim.
“He felt there was a lot of chemistry, but I think it was mostly based on being drunk,” says Inbar, “It was fun. And I had a great time, but really, he is not my type.”
Chaim and his business partner ended up renting a different space for their bar, which ended up closing down anyway, because, as he explains, the neighbors were always complaining about the noise. But he kept coming to Jaffa anyway.
“There was nothing between us for a long time,” says Inbar. “He was persistent, though. He would drive up all the way from Jerusalem to see me. He always said it was for another reason. There were a lot of reasons.”
“I did not give up,” agrees Chaim, a man of few words. “I didn’t pressure her. I gave her space. But I was relentless. That’s me. I was in no rush, but I knew what I wanted.”
He texted, he called, he dropped by.
“We always had fun hanging out,” Inbar says.
“She usually brought her brother along,” says Chaim.
One day, Chaim told her they were going on a real date - alone. They sat at the Honey Beach restaurant on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea and told each other their stories: growing up stories, love stories, stories about their dreams.
“I began to see he had a heart of gold,” she says. “And I wanted to give him a chance. I always used to depend on my gut emotions and I cared too much about looks. Now, I wanted to try and listen to my head.”
“Besides being gorgeous, I found her to be a real person. She doesn’t try to pretend she is something she isn’t,” says Chaim. “I really liked being with her.”
Working at the bar in Jerusalem, Chaim had spent years' worth of weekends staying out until 4 a.m. – king of the scene, with no time for real commitment or a relationship. It worked for him. It was fun. But now, suddenly, he wanted something different.
“I felt it in my stomach, he said." This was not like any other emotion I had felt before.”
The next time they went out on date-date, Chaim kissed her. A few months later, for Inbar’s thirtieth birthday, he surprised her by booking a room at Herods Hotel in Tel Aviv for the night.
“I realized this was my big chance to really impress her and win her heart,” he says. “It was like going overseas. We detached from everything.”
“Somehow, I think that’s when I realized, 'This is it,'” says Inbar.
“Passion and excitement and looks all fade. What I found was someone who is my true soul mate,” says Inbar. “True, at first I was not excited - but I learnt how to love him, through loving his character. He takes care of me. He listens to me and makes me a calmer person.”
Two of Inbar’s closest friends were not very supportive.
“One friend was talking about his looks and said, ‘What do you see in him?’” she says. “I was really hurt.”
Today, by the way, Inbar thinks Chaim is perfect looking.
“It's strange how that happens,” she says, smiling.
“What’s it like being with someone so beautiful? Well, I am all for her," says Chaim."Men look at her. Welcome. What can I do? I can't fight it. Jealousy is not bad, but up until a point. And I don’t stress. We have an understanding. I know she is mine.”
In time, Chaim left his Tel Aviv bar behind, and moved to the city itself. The two live together. They talk about getting married, but don't have a date or a real plan yet. Chaim is looking to start a new business, and in the meantime, is helping Inbar in the store and doing a lot of the cooking at home.
“Everything ahead looks very okay,” says Inbar. “Peaceful.”