Israel Stories

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Slurper

I have very few pet hates and none of them are really earth shattering or out of the realm of what might be considered normal. If my socks are not sorted into shades, my shirts hung in alphabetical order according to make and my shoes sorted by season, I just lose it. But seriously, my biggest hate is noisy eaters. Having to listen to someone eating like a cement mixer is frankly the worst mental torture I can think of. Gum is the worst, but soup definitely comes a close second.

The restaurant was packed. The noise was deafening. American yeshiva kids yelling from table to table, four Israeli taxi drivers all apparently called Achi discussing their best fair of the day and the hub of families and friends laughing, arguing and chatting.

Above all this rose the noise of a slurper’. He sat there oblivious to world slurping his soup. Every slurp sounded like tearing paper magnified a hundred times. And it got worse. The slurper was sitting right behind me, with his head barely inches from mine, in this most crowded of restaurants.

I couldn’t carry on my meal. I felt sick angry and frustrated. I practiced my best sarcastic lines like ‘my, your soup sounds nice, can I wallow in it with you’ or ‘I didn’t know they raised pigs in Jerusalem’. The sensitivities of the others dining with me, plus a certain amount of English decorum prevented me from venting. But that didn’t stop me planning an attack with an outcome nobody could have predicted not even me.

Anybody who has read my blog will know that I have a near pathological hatred of cats especially the ones that use my garden as a toilet and playground. I cured my cat problem with a hose, some very cold water and lightening reactions (actually it was mainly the hose and the water.).

Now my plan was coming together. I asked the waiter for a jug of water. Then as he brought it to me I stood up quickly, startling him, he lost balance and as I went to catch him I bent his hand back so the water poured over Mr Slurpy.

Well that did the trick, sort of. I spent the rest of night begging the manager not to fire the waiter, explaining the whole story to him.

I went to get my coat still on the back of my chair. As I did I slipped on the water and very ungracefully sailed into Mr Slurpy. My shoulder hit the table sending his food in all directions.

Purple faced, I retuned to begging mode. His wife came up to me and with an expression of ‘thanks mate you’ve done me a favor’ whispered “thank you, he is such a noisy eater, its so embarrassing and I was looking for an excuse to go home, you’ve saved me”.

Always like to do my bit for shalom bayit.

See me in the Jerusalem Post online edition and in the Jerusalem Post, In Jerusalem print edition

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Post Office

There are certain places in Israel you avoid like the plague if you are in a hurry. Prime candidates for the label of ‘in a rush, avoid’ or IRA establishments are a certain chain of pharmacies, any bank, any shop, government office, Friday mornings and any road between six and ten in the morning and three and eight at night. In fact for a nation with the patience and demeanor of any woman who can’t get into last years dresses, and I think the boys know what I mean; this country seems to be made of millions of people rushing around very slowly.

Of course chief among its peers is the post office. Now as far as I can gather (my market research was made up of an international cross section of Israeli society working in my office) Post Offices across the globe are notoriously slow. Apparently post workers even get nose bleeds from their high octane sport of watching paint dry.

“That’s not funny at all,” the teller barked, “this is a very complicated and involved job”.

I turned to the stranger I had been sympathizing with. Half an hour queuing (that’s English for standing in line) and he still hadn’t been served. I was behind him wishing that I didn’t have to be here.

I was caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. It was my wife’s birthday and she had received a card informing her that a package had arrived in the post office. So you see I had no choice, to return to my wife on her birthday without this package would have meant banishment to the basement but waiting in line at the post office was as painful as forgetting to buy an anniversary card, which incidentally I pay for on a daily basis.

Finally, my turn. I slid the card under the glass window.

“Whats this?” the teller asked. Confused I told him it was a notification that a parcel had arrived. “I know that, I’m not stupid, just wait.” Thinking he was going to take the card and look for the package I turned my back to talk to a friend who had just walked in.

When I turned back again my teller was still seated and looking intensely at a sheet of stamps.

“Er, excuse me, but aren’t you going to look for the package? I have been waiting a long time.”

“Shhhh,” he sprayed, “I am counting stamps. Its post office regulations, I have to count these stamps.” I noticed he had five or six identical sheets of stamps.

“Can you not do this later?”

“You think I have nothing to all all day. I have barely time for my coffee breaks and lunch. We open at the crack of dawn (8:30pm) and close late (4:30pm). I am doing it now and you’ll have to be patient”.

“I have a suggestion that may make it quicker for you to count your stamps. Each sheet is identical. Why don’t you count one and multiply it by six. You also don’t need to count every stamp just multiply the rows by the columns.”

I thought he was going to leap through the glass and throttle me. The look in is eyes I haven’t seen since the day I forgot to buy and anniversary card.

“Post office regulations state that I have to count every stamp!”

“Is that every stamp or every stamp? Surely you don’t need to count every individual stamp,” I asked, in desperation.

“Now I’ve lost count and will have to start again.”

I watched him, slowly counting his stamps, the line behind me reaching out of the building onto the street. I calculated that the last guy in line wouldn’t get served until Pesach.

Finally, finally he finished and slowly got up with my card. He slowly and meticulously looked through each and every package until he found mine. Then he slowly, and I swear he was grinning, returned to the window. It wasn’t a very big package in fact it was a registered letter. I recognized the logo on the envelope, thanked him for his help and grinding my teeth, left.

At home I presented all my wife’s birthday cards and presents to her and slipped the letter amongst them.

When she saw it she went red and opened it very quietly. Then she beamed a radiant beam, the sort of beam that all men should avoid.

“Its actually for you dear,” she growled (that’s the growl that always follows a radiant beam)

I looked at the letter, and looked up at her.

“It’s a mistake;” I cried “I promise you I wasn’t there and never drive that fast!”

See me in the Jerusalem Post online edition and in the Jerusalem Post, In Jerusalem print edition

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Office

Corruption, jobs for the boys, nepotism and proteksia. I really wished this wasn’t the recipe by which local government was run. But, you know, when I made aliya I had hoped to leave all that behind. Didn’t think it was like that in the UK? It is, but they are just better at hiding it and aren’t so arrogant. Oh, and the chances of being related to anyone is much slimmer.

I wanted to live my life in Israel avoiding all of this corruption, but you kind of get sucked in. Don’t be a frier, they said. Don’t be naïve, that’s the way things are, just go with the flow.

The office was dark, overcrowded, windowless and reeked of cigarette smoke. It was housed in a portable cabin, set in an idyllic setting overlooking the hills around Bet Shemesh.

“Shame you can’t move your desk outside,” I said, straining to make conversation and trying not to be ignored by the woman ignoring me from the opposite side of the desk.

In fact, as I sat at this particular civil servant's desk, not only did she blank me, but proceeded to make calls to her family, make a coffee and generally do everything in her power to deal with the most mundane things, avoiding any chance of helping me.

As I sat watching her line up paperclips on her desk in size order I felt enough was enough. First I moved two paperclips that were clearly out of order and when I finally had her attention we began to communicate.

“What do you want?” she snapped; I had obviously spoiled her otherwise very interesting day.

“It's about school registration.”

“What’s about it?” she snapped again. Well that question took me by surprise. I noticed she wasn’t making any attempt to look at her computer, gather any forms and tell me I needed to make eight trips to eight different offices and spend half my day paying money into the post office.

“I want to register her for………..” It wasn’t worth continuing. We both knew that as soon as the clock struck eleven, one of us would turn into a pumpkin and come back the next day.

I fingered my list of the who’s who in Bet Shemesh, sort of ammunition in case she tried to cause trouble. I had the names of the deputy mayor, the guy in charge of this and the guy in charge of that. His mother and sister and long lost uncle’s names. But of course I didn’t want to stoop to that level.

“Look, can we get things moving I need to get to work.” Another glare, she looked at me, staring deep into my eyes. A puff of smoke nearly blinded me. She got up and filled her cup with water. After a minute she returned to her desk.

“Name,” she demanded. “Cardash, Jeremy,” I answered as the clock struck eleven.

She carried on talking. Great, she hadn’t noticed the time.

“Cardash,” she paused and thought. "You have a relation who is a dentist."

“Yes, that’s right.”

“You know we are distantly related. My uncle is your cousin's brother-in-law.”

I sat there very confused. Was that good? What was she getting at? Then she noticed the time.

“Look,” she said, “Its after eleven, you’ll have to come back tomorrow.”

I looked at her with my best puppy dog eyes readying my list of who’s who.

“You know what,” she said looking around, “Since you’re a cousin,” she whispered, “I am going to do you a favor.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Holy Underwear

Tsfat, city of mysticism, home to some of the most famous minds in Jewish history. A city surrounded by the graves of the greatest halachic authorities from the time of the mishna to the present. And of course, the city with the most alternative English spellings in all the land of Israel.

Our hotel, just outside Sfat (yes I know I spelled it differently) which shall remain nameless is one of the areas better hotels. It is known for its almost utopian atmosphere; no kids, good food and a spa.

So with great excitement we started unpacking. I pulled open a drawer ready to pile in my clothes and jumped back, for there staring at me was a large pair of red knickers. The sort of knickers that make men lie when their wives ask ‘does my bum look big in these’ only to be answered by ‘no dear’ while thinking ‘even a hippo would lose herself in those, or ‘maybe we could rent a marquee for our upcoming simcha’ or ‘stand at the end of the garden so I can see all of you’. I could go on all night and alienate myself from all female-kind, but whoever owned those knickers was married to a good liar.

A call was made to housekeeping. “We have a large pair of red knickers in our room”.

“That’s very nice sir, how can we help?”

“They don’t belong to us can you get someone to remove them.”

“Just leave them outside the door and the maid will take them”.

“No, you send the maid to get them; there is no way I am leaving these outside our room!”

“Someone will be along soon.”

Thought – wasn’t there a book called the Red Tent?

Ten minutes went passed and nothing. I decided to march to reception.

“Excuse me; there is a large pair of red knickers living in one of our drawers”.

“That’s very nice sir, how can we help?”

“Can someone come now and remove them.”

Muffled voices came from behind the desk, then arguments.

“Look I very rarely get to stay in Safed (yeh, yeh) and I would like this dealt with before the end of the Shabbat.”

Suddenly, and as if from nowhere a maid appeared.

“You know, Zfat is very holy place”, said the maid as we walked back to my room, “red wards off evil eye”.

Well what can you say to that?

The following week I was at the Kotel, where I was approached by a bearded man offering red strings in return for charity.

“Wear this and it will bring you luck and ward off the evil eye”.

My wife looked at me with that ‘don’t say anything’ look in her eye.

But who could resist?

“Sorry”, I said “I prefer boxers.”

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Monday, January 01, 2007

The Cobbler

I am not easily scared, although to my children’s great amusement I’m not too good with heights. The recent thunderstorms saw the tables being turned as my kids sat quivering on the end of my bed jumping out their skins as the celestial furniture was being moved.

Yesterday I was probably more frightened than I had ever been, for no reason of course. The mind has a cruel way of blowing events out of proportion and this event was no exception. I needed shoelaces and was on Agrippas Street in Jerusalem. There are several small kiosks there and I thought it would just be a formality to pick up a pair of black laces. Oh no, nothing is ever simple.

The guy told me I needed extra long laces for my boots and should try his brother-in-law in Mea Shearim. He gave me the address, asked me if I wanted to buy a lighter or a beret and waved me on my way.

I found myself walking down the very narrow street of Mea Shearim and eventually arrived at the address. It was in an underground cavern, the sort of cavern that makes you feel a real sense of history.

Anyway, that’s when it got spooky. The owner, a very old Chassidic gentlemen, asked me what length lace I needed. I told him my boots had 9 holes. He smiled, looked at his watch and disappeared up the stairs and out of the cavern. I stayed and waited for him. Five minutes passed and he didn’t return. Then I heard a voice call down “hello?”

I shouted up that the owner had gone out. “Ok,” said the voice and then I heard the door creak closed. I ran up the stairs and pushed the door. It didn’t open. I banged on the door, calling out. No answer. I suddenly realized that it was very dark, in fact the lights had all been turned off and there wasn’t any light at all.

Then I heard a faint brushing noise. I swung round and realized just in time I was still on the stairs, caught my balance and slowly felt my way down the stairs into the cavern. I sensed that it was getting colder and the brushing sound was getting louder. As my eyes adjusted to the dark I was aware of another door at the back of the cavern. The brushing was coming from behind this door.

I tried the door. It seemed unlocked so I pulled it as hard as I could. The door swung open and I jumped out of my skin as I was faced with a tall bearded man dressed in all black. He stood there silently, not moving, just looking at me. Panic struck me and I started apologizing and explaining the situation. He stood there not moving just looking at me.

Then he stepped backwards and smiled. “Sorry,” he said, “just davening, couldn’t speak, so what’s the problem?” I explained the whole story to him, about the shoelaces, the owner of the store and the locked door, lights going out. As I finished talking the door at the top of stairs opened and the owner bounced down the stairs, smiling and holding my laces.

“Behind my store there is a schteible, a small synagogue. There is only one power source so I share it with them. When I am not in the shop or at prayer times, they turn my lights off so they can have light. I always lock my door when I go out, so when it was time for afternoon prayers, as I was out my friend locked the door figuring you’d know there was a back door.”

“And what about the brushing noise?”

“Ah that was probably me,” the other guy said, “probably my hat brushing against door as I was praying.”

“Just one last question,” I said, “where did you go to get my laces?”

“Ah, yes, I had a quite a walk,” he gave a sheepish grin, “my brother-in-law has a small kiosk in Agrippas, he gave them to me.”