Summing up the party

Jerusalem Post, In Jerusalem; March 16, 2007

I remember when I first landed in Jerusalem about seven years ago from Los Angeles to make my life in Israel, I felt like something was missing. Maybe it’s because I’m from LA, but I knew it was something glamorous, exciting, beautiful, wild and crazy. The Western Wall could only satisfy me so much.

Then I discovered Haoman 17. My friends told me the nightclub had an international reputation, which was hard for me to believe. How could a Jerusalem nightclub be so famous?

Then, when I first stepped into the club, I understood why. The massive dance floor, the sound system and the music were a step above what I had seen or heard before – and ah, and the people! So beautiful. Clubbing at Haoman was a ritual, an art and a holy endeavor.

Haoman was the only place in Jerusalem where I felt I could let loose on the dance floor, meet guys without too many strings attached, dress to kill and release all the pressures involved in making aliya. It was the secular haven for sassy Jerusalemites. It was a pocket of Tel Aviv in a city considered to be the metropolis’s conservative opposite.

Some called it an escape, some a source of inspiration. For me, it was place of discovery – about Israeli society, Israeli people, music, dance and ultimately, myself.

My girlfriends and I would go almost every other week. This was our outlet, were we could feel beautiful, alive, sexy and even a little crazy. At Haoman I felt that anything was possible. Spirituality was found through physicality. In my freedom to dance, I could dream big about life in Israel.

So when I heard the news that Haoman 17 was closing as a nightclub and turning into a megabar, my reactions were of understanding, sadness, nostalgia and also relief.
Haoman 17 Jerusalem began to lose its edge at the start of the second intifada, when weekly terrorist attacks repelled trendy Tel Avivians from their favorite nightclub. Haoman gradually turned into a neighborhood club, and selection became less strict.

Foreign DJs weren’t always keen on traveling to war-torn Israel – if the diminishing crowd could even justify their arrival. While the sound, the DJs, the innovative house music, the ever-changing design and the themed parties still made Haoman the most popular and pioneering club in Israel, the ‘X factor’ was disappearing.

Then, to add to the hard times created by the intifada, the Tax Authority raided the club on New Year’s 2002. In a widely publicized scandal, the five original owners were accused of tax evasion, and a lengthy trial, which reached the Supreme Court, undoubtedly zapped some of their energy and concentration. They were convicted in 2005, received heavy fines and were sentenced to various prison terms of 10 to 18 months.

Up until their sentencing, however, the industriousness of the remaining owners did not seem to wane – but maybe misguidedly so. They decided to import the Haoman brand to Haifa and invested about $1 million to create a stunning nightclub in the Hadar region themed after a ship. The club set sail in early 2004 and, despite its beauty and impressiveness, it lasted only about a year and then mysteriously died – in part because of a shooting incident at the entrance.

According to Haifa locals versant in the Haifa nightlife scene, the ambitious club also didn’t really attune itself to the mentality and going-out habits of the down-to-earth locals, who demanded less selection snobbery at the door and more affordable drinks and entrance fees.

Snobbery and price, however, didn’t seem to bother the Tel Aviv night owls. Haoman 17 Tel Aviv opened in 2004 and quickly wiped out the competition, among them the TLV megaclub. While the Tel Aviv club continues to pack it in weekly and remains the only standing Haoman 17, it has yet to retain the glamour, uniqueness and magical vibe of Haoman 17 Jerusalem’s early years.

But now that Haoman Jerusalem is turning into a megabar, and the visionary owner-in-chief, Ruben Lublin, will dedicate himself mostly to the Tel Aviv club, Haoman 17 Tel Aviv is poised to perpetuate Haoman 17’s legendary name.

That is, unless the decline in the megaclub trend in Israel – the one that prompted the closing of Haoman Jerusalem – also affects the Tel Aviv branch.

But why mention only the negative? Haoman has its fair share of mighty accomplishments. It put Israel’s name in European DJ and nightlife magazines. The club actually gave Tel Avivians a reason to travel to the Holy City and Jerusalemites to stay put. Haoman raised the standards of nightlife in all of Israel, and also that of accompanying industries – music, sound, lighting and fashion.

Haoman 17’s farewell party last week was a throwback to the ‘good old times.’ Tension-building house music, the African-themed design, sex in the air (and possibly in the famous bathrooms), partyers from Tel Aviv and old-time owners and managers all made the farewell party one to remember. Grass (not the drug – the plant) was laid out in the entrance courtyard, which a bunch of partiers spilled onto at around 5 a.m., and the party continued until the afternoon.

It’ll be strange for me to pass by Haoman now, and know that it no longer functions as a nightclub. I feel like a part (and party) of my early years in Israel has died. A piece of my influential, young and carefree Israeli experience has been buried.

But maybe that’s why I’m relieved too. Haoman will always hold a special place in my heart and in the heart of so many Jerusalemites – for many it’s the place where they tested their inhibitions. But now that I’m older and wiser, having settled more into Israel and also more into myself, Haoman is not my future, but my past – and I will look back at Haoman as a playground for my search to dance wildly, only so that I could eventually stand steadily.