Mike’s Place: A True Story of Love, Blues, and Terror in Tel Aviv by Jack Baxter and Joshua Faudem, illustrated by Koren Shadmi
Filmmaker Jack Baxter arrives in Tel Aviv in 2003 to make a film that never happens. But on the night before his departure back to New York, he stumbles upon a crowded beach bar: “[P]eople are sick of politics around here,” the bartender/owner, Gal, tells Jack. “You should do a film about Mike’s Place,” he encourages. “Everybody comes here. Israel is more than conflict and politics. Mike’s Place is the real Israel – the best part of the Middle East.”
Jack looks around and realizes Gal isn’t exaggerating. Religion and politics are checked at the door; people of all backgrounds are not only welcome, but they talk, eat, dance the night away in joyous abandon – together. Within minutes, plans are made, a crew is assembled. “Ever think we’d be doing a happy film about the Middle East?” Jack later calls his wife from his hotel.
Filming begins. Jack is immediately welcomed into the Mike’s Place family. He hires recent film school graduate-cum-bartender – and Gal’s childhood friend – Joshua Faudem as cameraman, quickly giving Joshua the directorial reins. Joshua signs on his girlfriend of only a few weeks (who’s followed him to Israel from Europe!) as camera assistant. Everyone is ready to talk, even the enigmatic Dom who might or might not be Gal’s partner: “Listen, Jack,” she tells him on camera, “to live and survive in Israel today, you need a short-term memory as your ‘immune system’ … when a bomb goes off, your first reaction is fear and then anger and then mourning. And the quicker you get past all of it the better. That’s the Israeli way.”
With so much camaraderie and support, the film is practically making itself … until two British nationals arrive on the sidewalk just outside the bar, and one pushes a button he believes will send him directly to paradise. Some die, others survive; Jack is severely injured, but he refuses to be defeated: “I can tell you there is nothing in the Qur’an telling you to kill people, to commit suicide and take somebody out. Nothing in there!” he insists from his hospital bed to reporters, as he assures them the filmmaking will continue. “Optimism is Mike’s Place reopening. [Owners] Gal and Assaf are going to open the bar again. They’re not going to quit. And that’s part of our film now.”
Recovery is not easy, but somehow, the Mike’s Place family – forever changed – finds a way back together, back to “a society of music, of love.” The resulting film, released in 2004, is Blues by the Beach; it’s the basis for this graphic title, written by the two makers Baxter and Faudem, illustrated by Brooklyn-based illustrator/cartoonist Koren Shadmi. Debuting over a decade after the violent tragedy, the book is a stupendously multi-pronged narrative attempting to find balance and understanding beyond horrific, inexplicable terror.
The creative trio begins each chapter with a solemn verse from the Qur’an, an indisputable reminder that terrorism is not a part of Islam’s holy book. Judgment and condemnation must remain outside; inside Mike’s Place reigns peace – plus loud music, laughter, hope, and love.