Yeshayahu Lichtenstein, 84, and Yehezkel Birzon, 76, simply refused to evacuate the Montana Ice Cream parlor, which they opened in 1960 at the Tel Aviv Port and made into one of the icons of the area. Up until about a month ago, their shop was a prime target for eviction, together with 70 other businesses, factories and garages, whose owners were mostly protected tenants paying key money.
Lichtenstein and Birzon had to face down Atarim, a government company that develops tourism, entertainment and cultural sites in Tel Aviv, and which had received a mandate from the municipality to "modernize" the entire area, belonging to the old Yarid Hamizrach compound, at a cost of NIS 100 million.
"Montana Ice Cream can't stay," declared Itamar Shimoni, CEO of Atarim. "The new look does not suit such an old building. Everything will be geared for entertainment."
A year and a half later, there's nothing left of that declaration. Atarim signed an agreement with Lichtenstein and Birzon that leaves the two on the property as protected tenants. Their premises will undergo substantial renovation, the ice cream parlor will remain in operation, and other parts of the building will be rented out to other businesses, with 70 percent of the rental money going to Lichtenstein and Birzon and the rest to Atarim.
Lichtenstein and Birzon triumphed because they were able to resist attempts to steamroller them: They did not agree to take money in return for evacuating (Birzon: "Nothing remains of such a bundle." ), they were unperturbed by threats of legal action (Lichtenstein: "The contract proves our perseverance, and eliminates the option of evicting us" ), and most of all, they stubbornly fought - despite their advanced ages - for the right to continue working (Birzon: "What's bad about working here? What will I do? Wait to die at home? Pray in the synagogue?" )
The victory of the Montana Ice Cream parlor is worthy of attention. Given the often aggressive attempts by the authorities to wipe out any symbols of the past, due to an assumption that people of a certain age are meant to stop working and clear out so they can be replaced by new, updated forces - the determination of the two to preserve their life's work, in its original location and form, is welcome and worthy of note.
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