The Messianic café that found itself in the midst of a terror attack in Tel Aviv

HaOgen cafe (Photo: FIRM)

Run by Dugit Outreach Ministries, the coffee house HaOgen (the anchor) is a Messianic coffee house on Frishman Street right next to Dizengoff, the large bustling main street in the middle of Tel Aviv.

On Thursday evening, April 7, 2022, they hosted an outreach worship concert, which they do about once every two weeks. The Messianic artist Mark Dali sang, and there was a great atmosphere. A representative of the anti-missionary organization Yad L’Achim was standing outside, warning people to not go in, handing out flyers explaining the dangers of the evil missionaries. A perfectly normal Thursday evening, like any other in central Tel Aviv.

No one knew about the 28-year-old Palestinian terrorist from Jenin, Raad Hazem, who at the very same moment was in the area, armed with a gun, looking for a suitable location for a shooting attack.

At 21:00, he opened fire at the Ilka bar on Dizengoff street, about 200 meters up the street from HaOgen. The concert had recently ended, and people were hanging out, talking, drinking coffee or tea. Angelina Portnov was outside, at the entrance of HaOgen with her sister Anna at that moment. They were playing with the artist Dali’s young children (2 and 4 years old) when they heard the gunshots.

“At first we didn’t understand what it was,” Angelina told KNI. “The Yad L’Achim activist was the first one who realized what was happening. He shouted, ‘Terror attack, bring the kids in!’ We all ran without even thinking. We saw a huge number of people fleeing down the street. My sister grabbed the kids and ran inside the café. I closed the door and told people there was a terror attack and they must stay inside.”

Angelina’s sister Anna recalled the same moment: “The one remarkable thing I remember from the evening is the sharp switch. One moment I’m playing and laughing with the kids, the next moment I look up and see a wave of people coming running down the street in panic, screaming ‘terror attack.’ I grabbed the kids and took them into the café to safety. That one second in which everything changed was surreal.”

Map of central Tel Aviv marking the location of the two shootings and HaOgen cafe

At that moment, they found out later, the terrorist had just shot two people and fatally wounded a third at the Ilka bar, and then ran down the street, shooting but missing another person on Hirshenberg street, and then tried to evade the police. He remained at large throughout the night, prompting an extensive manhunt until they tracked him down at 5:30 AM. Over 1,000 soldiers and police officers participated and scanned the area house by house, asking everyone to remain inside and stay away from windows and door openings. TV news and reporters ran alongside them, and rumors about two or three terrorists on motorcycles circulated and caused confusion. “It was crazier than in a Hollywood movie,” Angelina told KNI. “Soldiers, police, military, special forces, counter terrorist units, ambulances, paramedics, police cars everywhere, it was non-stop.”

Avi Mizrachi, the director of Dugit, spoke to KNI. “People were fleeing from the shooting so they were encouraged to come in. Once in HaOgen, the peace of Yeshua came over everyone. People wondered what this place was, and people had the opportunity to explain that it’s a Messianic café, and tell them that God watches over us no matter what’s happening out there. People calmed down. They felt it was a safe place. It was very special. It was also amazing to see how the activist from Yad L’Achim went from ‘keep out, keep out,’ to ‘come in, come here,’ telling the fleeing people to come to this safe place. The little fishing boat [the meaning of the word ‘dugit’], became a lifeboat.”

Mark Dali, the artist who had been singing and whose children were outside when the gunshots were heard, is from Ohio and has only lived in Israel since 2015. “I guess this gave me an understanding of what it’s like to be an Israeli,” he told KNI. “The kids didn’t understand what had happened. After we took them into the café and closed the large gate, they were watching a show and having a dessert, so they were happy. Some of the believers who were at the café were trained police officers who were not on duty, so we were confident they would know what to do if anything would happen. Plus, someone who shoots cowardly at innocent people is probably on the run, and won’t hide in a café this close to the crime scene.”

At around 23:30, Dali decided that manhunt or not, he had to get home. “We just prayed really hard and drove home with the kids,” he said. When asked whether he wasn’t scared about leaving, he replied that there were so many soldiers and police everywhere that they felt safe even though they knew the terrorist was still at large.

The sisters Angelina and Anna Portnov, however, had left HaOgen just five minutes after the first gunshot. At that point, no one was sure what was going on, and the police and ambulances hadn’t arrived yet. It could be a terror attack, but could also be a drunken fight, or an accident. They went outside, out of curiosity to see what was happening, when they heard the second gunshot (which later turned out to have been on Hirschenberg street) a lot closer to them.

“Now we were really close to the event, hearing a gunshot next to my ear,” Angelina said. “We ran for our lives. People ran, tables fell, plates were shattered. We thought several terrorists were driving around on motorcycles, shooting everywhere. I live close by, and our stairway has a code, so we ran there, and I opened the door to let people in. So many people were frightened, thinking a terrorist could be anywhere. Many were in shock, they were shaking. I invited them to my apartment and gave them water. And then we heard from the police that we have to stay inside and stay away from the windows. Some people were shaking so much they weren’t even able to drink water. I called HaOgen and asked if they needed help, but they told me everyone was okay, and that they had closed their large gates, so they were protected. Since the entrance door to our stairway has a code lock, we also felt protected.”

For over three hours, Angelina and Anna tried to calm down the strangers in the apartment. “Young guys our own age, in their thirties, who were scared and couldn’t calm down, while we were not worried at all,” Angelina said. “Even if I had been killed, I wouldn’t worry. I know where I’m going. Of course there was a lot of adrenaline. Of course, I ran when I heard gunshots. But there is that underlying peace there. There’s even peace in death.”

Anna said the same thing. “The heart rate was up in 200 km/h, and there were crazy levels of adrenaline, but I feel I functioned well and I didn’t let fear consume me.”

Around midnight, even though the manhunt was still on-going, everyone found a way to get home. They later found out the terrorist had fled to a mosque in Jaffa where he was killed in a gunfight with Israeli security forces at 5:30 in the morning.

“It took a few days for the shock to wear off,” Dali told KNI. “At the moment of the event, it wasn’t so bad. It was worse later, thinking through how close my kids were to it and what could have happened. But I’m raising my children in this country, so it’s important as a father to know what they’ll grow up with.”

At the question of whether this event changed them, all the believers that KNI spoke to answered negatively. Events like these shape you, but they all agreed that the peace they have with God is above any earthly fear.

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” – Matthew 10:28