A DJ was playing music at the Anchor Pub (Haogen) in the lower city of Haifa on Monday night – a rare occasion for the middle of the week. Additional beer taps had been set up next to him. It had been years since the last U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, bearing thousands of soldiers, docked in Haifa, and the bar had planned accordingly.
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Daniella, the bartender, had just finished her shift but stayed on to sit at the bar. Although she had been working hard since the USS George H. W. Bush arrived Saturday, she was pleased.
“They are very polite,” she said. “They don’t demand anything. They say 'thank you' and 'excuse me'. They are polite and fun.” Asked if they were better than Israeli clients, Daniella laughed. “There’s no comparison,” she said. “It’s an experience seeing them be so polite. I wish every Israeli would be like that.” The only problem she'd had, until that point, was that a few hadn’t paid their tabs. “But I think it’s because they were drunk,” she mused.
Three young seamen were sitting on the side. William Heath from Georgia, 21, sat with his friend Riley Latare of Iowa. “It’s cool here. I love it,” said Heath, adding that the hot weather didn’t bother him because it's more or less the same as summer back home.
Heath, who enlisted in October three years ago and has since been to Bahrain, Dubai and Greece, declared that Israel is the best country he’s visited so far – with the most beautiful women and the best food.
The first thing Latare did when he arrived in Israel was to visit the Western Wall, because he is Jewish. He said he is the first member of his family to visit the country, and added that he had not heard much about it when growing up. He does, however, listen to the Jewish-American alternative rock musician Matisyahu.
Outside the pub, a few seamen were talking about the difference in price between Jack Daniels in a pub and buying it in a supermarket. Jeff Wainwright of California, who is also in Israel for the first time, said he had traveled to Jerusalem. “It was a nice trip, but Haifa is cool,” he said, adding that he planned to spend America's Independence Day at the beach – “like at home.”
Wainwright, who has served in the U.S. military for 22 years and heads a team of 40 onboard the carrier, said the last time he saw his wife and children in the United States was seven months ago, but he said his wife was “used to it.”
Californian Susan Birkitt, a 20-year military veteran who serves in the helicopter squadron, stepped inside to cool down by the air conditioner. “There’s a lot of culture here,” she said. “The people are nice. It’s just the weather.” Despite that, she didn’t waste any time after docking and went straight to the Dead Sea. “It was worse there,” she added.
Gil Pincus, owner of the Anchor, still remembers when visits from U.S. Naval fleets were routine.
“I was 14 years old in 1980. There's a picture here of the Nimitz, which came here,” he said, pointing to a photo of the warship on the wall. “I would walk to school, see a ship docked in the port, and go straight to the pub to work.” He remembered his father, Yoske, telling him that “these are sailors without salt in their blood and with a lot of milk on their lips.”
“It’s a little nostalgic, but it’s really not the same thing,” he said, about the influx of American clients this week. “Back then, they would go around with their Polaroid cameras. They were exceptional. Then, everyone looked like Hercules. Now they look like kids.” He pointed down the bar, where some young sailors were sitting.
“We welcome their arrival,” he added with a smile. “It gives a boost to the business and the city – thousands of people have arrived. It’s more than all the party-goers [we usually have] here.”
While the bars seemed to be doing well this week, other businesses in the lower city were less pleased. Asher Sussan, one of the owners of Falcon, a convenience store on Atzamaut Street, said he saw buses taking the American guests to the Grand Canyon mall in the city's Romema neighborhood. He bemoaned the fact that after waiting so long for a ship like the USS Bush to arrive, not everyone was benefitting.
Said Moshe, an employee in Falcon: “People were whining here this morning. Out of 5,000 people, maybe 50 came by. Some cute girls came in this morning, looking for soldiers. It was a shame.”
The owner of a nearby gift shop, which had hung American flags outside, added: “They don’t buy. What do they need to buy here? They are Americans. They have everything.”