Israel Stories

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Neighbor

‘Come on England, Allah Akbar, come on England, Allah Akbar’ and so the bizarre sound of England football supporters echoed by the call to prayer bizarrely echoed each other, and where else could this have happened but the Kotel plaza.

“So who are you supporting?” My friend teased me. “Gonna’ show your true colors as a Brit or as a loyal, Israeli citizen?”

The nightmare scenario had happened and the ultimate question was being forced on me. Now, however, much as I tried to convince my friend it was nothing to do with loyalties and it wasn’t traitorous to hope that both teams won, he wasn’t convinced.

Truth is I wasn’t convinced either. I felt terrible. Should I really be entertaining the thought of supporting England. Yes I still have a UK passport, but then I have an Israeli passport too and an Israeli ID card.

I looked to the Kotel for inspiration, then my wife phoned.

“Oh, you speak English,” a voice behind me yelled. “Listen mate, where is the Western Wall?” I looked at the man up and down, his freshly laundered England football shirt, blindingly white, was pulled taught barely covered his rather large bear gut. His hair cropped to short you could have filed your nails with it. I thought of my answer carefully. Irony and sarcasm would have bounced off this guy, like a bear glass off his head and if he got the wrong end of the stick, could have endangered my life.

“Erm, its, er, there, right in front of you, that huge wall where all the people are praying.”

“Thanks mate.”

“Listen”, I continued, “if you want England to win tell your mates to give their money to all those guys in the black hats, it might help, this is a very holy area and they have a great deal of influence”.

“Great, thanks mate.” And off he walked towards the Wall, coins tickling in his hand.

Could I really be associated with these guys, maybe Israel is the right team. But supporting a team is nothing to do with national pride, not for me. I tried to convince myself it wasn’t national pride but I wasn’t happy.

Then the Friday night before the match it all became clear to me.

Just as we were relaxing after a very filling meal and superb desert there was a knock at the door. Our friend L stood there composed but obviously troubled. Our daughter just feel off her chair and is missing a tooth, can you help. We immediately sprang into action, my wife, the doctor, went round to there house while I tried to find the nearest dentist. When I arrived at their house H was standing there in a blood soaked shirt, their daughters crying emanated from the house.

We eventually managed to help them sort things out and everyone returned home.

Relaxing, I suddenly asked my wife if she knew the names of her neighbors who lived two doors away from her in England. No idea she replied, me neither I said. Then I proceeded to name all the people that lived in the 15 or so houses around us.

Then it all became clear to me. It’s not supporting a team, or national pride but it’s deeper than that its giving support to your neighbors, your community. Its being apart of everything that happens around you. It knowing the names of your neighbor’s neighbors and being there, all the time for everyone. It’s a unique feeling being told by a stranger how to dress your baby or having a heated political discussion on the bus with a guy you don’t know, and would probably never meet again. And that’s because we live in one huge community.

You love them and care for them They wind you up and you may even hate their guts but ultimately their your family, your community and when things go wrong we all wear the same colors.

From the day we came out Egypt and throughout our history we have been together regardless of boundaries, cultures and languages. That is national pride. Our people in our country, at ground level looking out for each other.

There was no question, Israel it had to be, it always was and it always will be. I just took me time to realize it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Sailor

I hate chatzilim (eggplant), I was probably attacked by one when I was a baby. It does not have a single redeeming feature. If I appeal to the artist in me, maybe an unblemished specimen has some aesthetic value. Despite the fact that Israelis have mastered the art of unlocking this most versatile of vegetable by cooking it, roasting it, mashing it and frying it, in fact turning into a billion types of dish, I cant bear any of them. It could be the look, the texture, the smell or just the fact that it’s purple. However the real reason, which I discovered recently, for my aversion hails from the ports of Odessa.

Igor, the name has changed to protect the innocent, stood by his stall in Machane Yehuda, a row of chatzilim lay immaculately polished before him. So highly polished were these chatzilim that in any other circumstance charedim would have banned them in case they fell at the feet of their daughters. I couldn’t help admiring them, Freud would have had a field day with them, and if it weren’t for the fact I can’t bare the thought of actually eating them, I would have spent every penny I had.

“Are you going to buy them or are you just lonely?” Igor’s gruff voice bellowed. I looked around and realized his comments were aimed at me. “Just, er, looking, I, er, don’t like chatzilim” Ok, so, in retrospect telling an Israeli chatzilim seller in Machane Yehuda, you just want to look at his chatzilim but not buy them, probably wasn’t a good idea.

And as the volcano came to a head ready to boil over into a rush of molten lava, hot ash and acid, Igor, red as a heifer, began his angry rhetoric. I didn’t really understand all of it and I knew certain words I couldn’t repeat so all I can say is he was most displeased with as a time waster, something about my mother, some form of accident and something else about my lineage. Nice man, good customer service. I told him what he could do with his chatzilim and left him

Now the reason why I chose a Russian name for our chatzilim seller, before I get accused of racism, was because tattooed on his arm was a word written in what I assume was Russian and a picture of an anchor. I presume, but will never know, that once, in a previous life, Igor was a Russian sailor. Oh and he had a large purple black stain on his arm as well.

My obsessive hatred with chatzilim was nearly compromised when I recently attended a wedding. I am one of the many that stuffs themselves at the reception forgetting about the meal ahead. Sort of carpe diem (canapés diem), seize the day, eat drink and be merry, (not Shakespeare version but Kohelet) make the most of it, never save that expensive bottle etc, etc.

During my canapés frenzy I got talking to some friends and horror of horrors before I could say ‘no thank you I can’t eat chatzilim’, I had popped a piece into my mouth but instead of spiting it out in disgust I actually enjoyed it. It was chopped liver flavor and everybody loves chopped liver in Israel. Just like everybody loves cheese and onion crisps in the UK even if they never admit to eating them.

“You know what,” I said to my friend, “I actually enjoyed that, I’m going to find another one.” So off I went and when I returned to him I started to tell him the story of Igor.

“So what you’re saying”, my friend continued, after my story, “is that apart from the fact he was a Russian sailor, he sells chatzilim in the market and he has a chatzilim colored defect on his arm.”

“What you mean chatzilim?” I asked.

“You said he had a black and purple stain on his arm, well it sounds like a chatzilim”.

So from that day every time I look at a chatzilim I see a Russian sailor with a chatzilim colored skin defect selling vegetables in Machane Yehuda. Not even chopped liver flavor will console me now.

Did I tell you hate chatzilim.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Wizard

There was a time when going to work without a suit and tie wasn’t an option. You may laugh and looking back it seemed rather pointless to sit there in a tie all day, but the tie represented a formality and sobriety that shaped our work ethic. The point of wearing a tie, I suppose, was if you dress smart your frame of mind becomes more serious (unless you’re at a wedding). So the tie controlled our work ethic, mood and professionalism. I should right a book and I would except I think it’s all a load of rubbish.

I have ties that cost the same as a small flat in Ashkelon. But I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve worn a tie since aliyah, and never for work. If I wear a casual shirt and jeans people think I off to a wedding.

Its different here isn’t it. Wake up smell the coffee and all that.

The last minute Purim panic was upon us and the kids were discussing what to wear, except the youngest that had no say. Can’t string a sentence together, cant have an opinion, life’s tough at 20 months!

We made a list of possible choices and while I checked to see what we had in our craft boxes, my wife took the kids to buy their costumes. There was a time when a kid could hold his head up high and be proud of his homemade fancy dress, a time when cardboard and balloons were acceptable accessories, but oh no, they have to have the Versace costumes.

So my little Jewish princesses (quite literally) wore their off the peg costumes and paraded their sparkling accessories like Tiffany jewelry.

My wife had sorted out her costume and agreed to swap her doctors clothes for her lawyer friend’s robes. So I exchanged one professional for another. But it didn’t seem to help our mortgage.

What about me? I searched and searched for something suitable. And for a man that thinks shopping is a form of physical and psychological torture, I spent a lot of time browsing. Browsing by the way is one of those words that has different connotations between the sexes. To her its shopping to me it’s the net and never the twain shall meet.

I decided on a wizards outfit, quite regal, nice cape, impressive hat and with a bit of makeup (purely for the overall affect) it would be fine. Last years Darth Vader, although in my opinion timeless, lacked the X factor and spared me the ‘not StarWars Abba’ groan. Philistines!

Now the big question, would the kids disown me? It’s the subtlety of the outfit that makes it work. I mean too scary and the kids will be hiding under the table, too corny and they’ll just laugh at me, too cheap and they’ll be embarrassed and too boring and I’ll just get ignored.

Now for accessories. As I scanned (not browsed) the shelves I couldn’t help laughing as I found the perfect dressing up accessory hanging in front of me. I wasn’t that they were colorful, if anything they were quite conservative, but there on the rack was a stack of, you guessed it, ties.

So there you go. The tie is a symbol of the Diaspora and Israel, just different philosophies. I think that ties symbolize aliyah, the greatest example of going from the sublime to the downright ridiculous.