My daughter was only 2 weeks old when I first walked the 20 minutes to Tatti’s, a cafe on Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv.
In the following five months of my maternity leave, I’d take that same walk at least twice a week. In the rain, my wrist sore from pushing the stroller one-handed while I clutched an umbrella in the other hand; in the cold, my newborn wrapped in all manner of fluff and fur; in the spring sunshine.
When we arrived, I’d either grab the outside table with enough space around it to accommodate four parked strollers or, if I’d been delayed by a dirty diaper or simply not being able to get my shit together, sat down to join my maternity leave mom friends and their babies (two other girls, and one boy) who were already there.
We’d communicate our night or morning through a non-verbal shorthand we developed through meeting so regularly: a raised eyebrow (useless husband), a rolled eye (don’t ask), a smile (thank God for this group). And then we’d pair off: two of us heading inside the cafe to order, the other two staying to watch the babies, then we’d switch.
Three of us always ordered coffee, all of us always ordered a pastry, ravenous after breastfeeding growing infants. And we all had our favorites: a yeasted pastry stuffed with ricotta and raisins, a frosted cinnamon bun, a slightly less indulgent glazed cinnamon swirl, a brioche crusted with demerara sugar. While we’d chosen Tatti’s for its location — right in the middle of my home in central Tel Aviv and my friend’s in the north — the pastries were the main reason we came back.
With knotted hair and semi-exposed nipples, we stayed there for hours and hours, rising from time to time to sway a baby to sleep or order more coffee. It was the only time in those fragile, all-consuming first months of motherhood that we felt like ourselves; a precious, tiny maternal world of care and gossip and advice and laughter.
And witness to this world was Mor, the barista. He greeted our barely coherent group with a sweet smile, never judged us for ordering more than one pastry and helped us drag two tables together so we had room for our clutter of bottles and pacifiers and wipes. He took photos of us and our babies as they grew, never getting annoyed if we asked for just a few more after we fixed our hair, or if we sat at an empty table for hours after he’d cleared our cups away.
He liked us, I think, our gaggle of young moms who alternated between giggling and sitting in blank-faced, exhausted silence. And we liked him. He was kind and young and beautiful and responded to our faulty Hebrew instead of switching to English.
After maternity leave ended, I returned to the cafe every so often, other members of our group visiting more regularly depending on their location. We still spoke every day on our WhatsApp group chat (sometimes all day), and managed to meet up some evenings to laugh and complain over a drink, but as our babies grew, our worlds expanded, too, with work and other children and trips to the park.
And then, suddenly, on October 7, 2023, our world shrunk again, this time not due to new life but to an incomprehensible amount of death.
It started, for us in Tel Aviv, with sirens and running to bomb shelters. Then came the shock of reports of murder and carnage and kidnappings, the frantic worry of loved ones not responding to text messages, gruesome details emerging, friends and family members being called up for army reserve duty, and the names of the missing and the dead streaming in through the news, the list longer each day.
And one day, there was Mor.
From the death announcement on Tatti’s Instagram page we learned that he was one of the many young people murdered at the Nova party near Kibbutz Re’im by Hamas terrorists. He was 24 years old.
I don’t think any of us, a week on now, understand that he is gone. The rockets keep falling and more reservists are sent away and more people are announced dead and every day is scrambled with disbelief and confusion and grief and fear and trying to hold it together for our children, who, one by one, are turning 2 years old. They can talk now, and dance and sing and imagine; it is beautiful and painful and bewildering to celebrate their growth while trying to grasp Mor’s stunted life.
Like every Israeli, our lives before October 7 feel like a memory that’s far out of reach. There is so much to mourn and process and live through until we can walk through the streets of Tel Aviv with light feet again. Perhaps we’ll never be able to sit for a coffee with nothing to discuss but annoying husbands or teething children.
But I hope that, one day, we can be strong enough to meet again at Tatti’s and remember Mor together. To cry for his innocence and for our children’s and all the others bound up in this hopeless wheel of violence and fear. And once we’ve swallowed our sobs in mouthfuls of buttery pastry, maybe we’ll take a photo and make ourselves smile for it. For him and for ourselves.