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Historic Acre hotel to reopen after deadly firebombing during May riots

The Efendi and its sister establishment, famed fish restaurant Uri Buri, are back in business, following destruction caused by Jewish-Arab violence

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Uri Jeremias, owner of the famed Acre establishments Uri Buri and the Efendi Hotel, at his pop-up restaurant following the May 2021 firebombing at the original site that is currently being renovated.(courtesy, Uri Buri)
Uri Jeremias, owner of the famed Acre establishments Uri Buri and the Efendi Hotel, at his pop-up restaurant following the May 2021 firebombing at the original site that is currently being renovated.(courtesy, Uri Buri)

Acre restaurateur and hotelier Uri Jeremias is reopening his historic Efendi Hotel on September 1, three months after rioters torched the 12-room boutique establishment.

Jeremias’s famed fish restaurant, Uri Buri, in Acre’s Old City, was also torched during several days of Jewish-Arab violence in May. While Jeremias quickly opened an Uri Buri pop-up next door, renovations on the original space will take another two months, he estimated.

“It’s important to us that people know we’re open, both for Acre and for the business,” said Jeremias. “My first thought was how to protect our staff — they’re the most valuable part of this endeavor. I had to find a way to keep them employed, and pay them, and deal with the damage.”

There were other, greater, losses than the destruction of Jeremias’s beloved businesses.

Israel Prize winner Aby Har-Even, former head of the country’s space program, was a guest at the Efendi at the time, and later died from significant burns and smoke inhalation.

“Everything else was minor compared to his death,” said Jeremias. “What you can fix with money, you fix, and you move on. But you can’t move on from this, and I haven’t recovered from it.”

Aby Har-Even, a former head of the Israel Space Institute, during a lecture at Bar-Ilan University, in February 2013. (Screen capture/YouTube)

Jeremias’s regular clientele went to eat at the pop-up, as well as first-timers who wanted to support him and the restaurant. The Acre restaurant, famed for its seafood and fish menu was named to the top 25 “Best Fine Dining Restaurants in the World,” as part of the 2019 TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice Awards.

“It’s working, even with the Green Passport and the coronavirus,” he said, referring to government regulations banning unvaccinated individuals without a test or proof of recovery from certain establishments. “Our restaurant staff and hotel staff are working there, Jews and Arabs together.”

Acre was a flashpoint of ethnic tensions that boiled over in May amid nationwide rioting and a war with Gaza-based terrorists. More than a dozen Jewish-owned businesses were vandalized, including Uri Buri, which was almost completely destroyed. The Efendi was also torched, and portions of its interiors wrecked and ruined.

At the Efendi Hotel, the historic Acre establishment that was firebombed during the Arab-Jewish violence in May 2021. (Courtesy Efendi)

The restaurant and hotel are both in landmark buildings, representing 1,500 years of history. Uri Buri is housed in a restored 400-year-old, Ottoman-era residence overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, while the Efendi is two original Ottoman buildings with a Byzantine and Crusader-era cellar.

“It’s invaluable,” said Jeremias, whose hotel was voted as the #1 “Best Small Hotel in Middle East” as Part of TripAdvisor’s Readers’ Choice Awards 2021. “I was the first person who opened this kind of establishment in Acre.”

Like many, Jeremias was saddened by the violence, but surmises that the intention was to hit at the very symbols of Acre’s racially charged gentrification process.

“That’s why we felt the need to get right up again,” he said. “We have to be able to offer what we have to our clientele and to those who earn their income through us. There’s no revenge or anger. What’s important is to learn where it came from and how to make changes.”

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