Israel Stories

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Malawian Zionist

“Hello”, said a deep voice, “my name is Oscar and I am from Malawi, what is your destination.”

Ah Paris, what a city, maybe a strange comment from an Englishman, but as I’m Israeli now I suppose I can allow myself to soften my upper lip. Anyway I am talking about the city not the people. Ever since and probably a long time before William the Conqueror waltzed into England shooting people in the eyes and declaring himself the monarch there has been at best and uncomfortable tolerance and at worst all out war with the French. One of the strangest questions on this topic came from an American who wanted to know if the English hated the French more than the Americans. All I could tell him to do was to refer to his history (not the American version which started a few weeks ago but the British which predates the Romans). As Disraeli put “when the ancestors of the right honorable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown land, mine were priests in the temple of Solomon.”

So Oscar was waiting for me to decide where I wanted to go. As an innocent abroad and keen to see as much of the city as I could (even though this must have been my tenth trip to Paris) and on the companies generous account, I asked him if we could take in some of the sites on the drive to my hotel.

The Eiffel tower loomed up ahead. I’ve always seen the Eiffel tower as some Freudian attempt at compensating for their inadequacies. (Of course those words were actually uttered from French lips regarding Big Ben, so I reckon we’re quits.) I jumped out the cab to buy the kids some souvenirs.

“How much money you pay?” Oscar asked. “Oh , about 5 Euro.” Oscar shook his head. “No,no, no, no”, he repeated in almost a trans-like rhythm. He grabbed my souvenirs and ran over to the vendor. I saw his arms flying around in a very animated display. He certainly wasn’t gesticulatery? challenged. He ran back to the taxi and deposited 2 Euro in my hand. He smiled at me and pointed to the vendor, “He’s my brother,” Oscar beamed.

Next we turned to the Arc de Triumph. Now I could make some very sarcastic comments about famous French triumphs, Waterloo for example, bit I’ll leave it because I may be accused of racism, and being Jewish, I am only allowed to be on the receiving end, besides do I want to sink as low as them.

So we drove passed the Arc de Triumph, that celebratory arch, celebrating French triumphs, when suddenly another taxi cut in front of us very dangerously. I have to admit for a second I had visions of Oscar and the front of the cab disappearing under the other taxi. We chased the other Taxi and at the next set of lights Oscar jumped out. More arm waving and shouting. Oscar got back in the taxi and smiled, “he’s my brother”. Now call me stupid and you wont be the first, but a sensed a pattern forming.

Now I have never met a Malawian before but if they are all as nice as Oscar I think Malawi could be my next holiday venue. Osacr was a great advocate for his country, something that shamefully most of us fall short of. But then came the final test.

“So,” Oscar piped up, “where are you from?” Now I could say London and get a shrug and no reaction, I could say Israel and risk the conversation going two ways; a torrent of abuse or compliments. But how to gauge Oscar. He was obviously a good man, who was giving me excellent service. But what was he all about. I quickly looked around the cab, there was no Arabic, no fancy tissue box, no pendants, chains or even crucifixes, just a nice clean taxi.

So I decided to ignore the question until I got more info. “So Oscar, where did you learn English?”

Oscar smiled, “I learned English in St Georges School, in my home country”.

“I’m from Israel”, I blurted out.

“Ah Israel”, Oscar smiled, “he’s my brother!”

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Crisis of Two Halves

Edging towards that time of life when men traditionally decide on having a mid-life crisis, it heartened me to meet Yitz an electrical engineer, who having experienced his own mid-life crisis, gave me some hope for the future.

Yitz turned up at my house to discuss a complicated rewiring strategy in order to incorporate the gardens lighting and swimming pool onto one circuit and maybe have the Shabbat clock turn on the Jacuzzi.

“Erm, you do realize I don’t know who you are or have a swimming pool and a Jacuzzi, but just out of interest how much will it cost?” After picking, myself up off the floor, and getting some semblance of reality into my head, I pointed him to the right address, shook his hand and said goodbye.

“Who was that?” my wife asked. “Yitz an electrical engineer, came to give a quote about rewiring the swimming pool, garden lights and putting the Jacuzzi on a Shabbat clock”. “How much was his quote?” “25,000 shekels”, I answered.

“We cant afford that! Get another quote, here I’ll find the numbers and you can call from work. I wont have time, what with my own work and the kids”.

I prayed that reality would return once more. “Darling”, I called as sensitively and as non-condescendingly as I could, “what are you talking about.” “Don’t condescend me, she shouted”, “we can never afford that much!” “But darling we didn’t call him, he came here by mistake and we don’t have a swimming pool or Jacuzzi and our garden lights are wired perfectly alright.”

The third reality check of the day and it dawned on my wife that with all the work we had been doing in our new house the price quotations had blurred into one.

“Shouldn’t have answered the door to him, should you!” And with that I left it.

Well not really because I wanted to find out who had the garden with the pool and Jacuzzi. I called Yitz and explained that we may be sinking a pool in our garden and wanted to see how this guys garden was laid out. We made an appointment and I met Yitz outside the house.

“Now listen,” Yitz ordered, “whatever you see, you tell the husband its great and tell the wife that you could never afford this type of luxury, that way everybody will be happy.”

We went up the drive careful not to scratch the jaguar sports car through the house past the 1000 inch LCD (ok but it was big), tripping over the video games, and numerous DVDs, peeking into to his computer room with twin monitors, and the biggest speakers you have ever seen, on past his football hall of fame room lined with shirts, signed footballs and pictures and finally into his Chinese landscaped garden.

“Oh my G…….this is amazing,” I said. He Glowed. “But I could never afford this luxury.” She glowed.

After we left I commented that at 25,000 a time Yitz must be doing very well. So he told me his own story.

“This area is predominantly populated by the 30-40 something age group, in any event all headed for that mid-life crisis. The men want to freak out but also justify it to their wives, and that’s where I fit in. I am what you might call a mid-life crisis contractor. The men come and tell me they want a pool or Jacuzzi or turn their house into something Bill Gates would b jealous of and I work out a scheme and then tell the wives that it’s the height of luxury, something their neighbors would be jealous of”. “Something that makes their bums look small in,” I interjected. “Yep, that sort of thing. See its that Israeli rosh that makes this country so great and breeds entrepreneurs like me. The men get what they want and settle down, the wives get what they want and suddenly have more dinner guests and everyone’s happy, genius!”

“So how many have you done?” I asked “Er, this is the first but its going to be a great business.”

After seeing the results of two men’s crisis’s I wondered if I would bother having after all.

I came home and sat in front of my very inadequately looking TV and just mentioned to my wife, in passing, that it would be the height of luxury and we would be the envy of our neighbors if we bought a bigger TV.

The look I got said it all.

The House of the Setting Sun

There is a house in Ramat Bet Shemesh, they call the rising sun, actually the House of the Sun. This particular house has new owners. Wow I hear you cry that information will take me far in life. Actually it is pretty bloody great news because it was my house and I sold it, and after months of complete and absolute stress that nearly made my wife’s head explode and put me in an institution with stress levels that would have killed a lesser mortal, I am now a resident of Modiin, another one.

The removal truck arrived and then the second, a giant forty footer packed solid with denim skirts, shoes, skirts and T shirts. I calculated that if she was to wear a different item of clothing in her cupboard everyday by the time she got to the end the first items of clothing would be retro or simply come back into fashion.

How little old Ahmed and his team of geriatric schleppers managed to carry nearly three hundred boxes on their backs and then all the furniture still makes me shudder and felt a little inadequate as I stood puffing after running up stairs with nothing but a book in my hand.

My extra efficient half had everything labeled and color coded so that each box could be ticked off as received, arrive in the correct room and everything but unpack itself. Alls fine in a world where everyone has had some exposure the three Rs but Ahmed was illiterate and the van driver, also called Ahmed, colorblind. So I ran behind Ahmed and followed my hired packhorse pointing him in the direction of the correct room.

“You know you should help him”, my socially conscious doctor wife whispered. “The amount I am paying him, he should do this all twice,” I snapped, rather unnecessarily.

Then the painter turned up. “Shalom,” he smiled beaming from ear to ear, as he side stepped Ahmed. “You’re a day early,” I told him scowling from ear to ear. “Its OK, he continued, “I start downstairs because all the boxes are going upstairs.”

“What!” I shouted, as I saw Ahmed heaving our leather sofas up the stairs.

After a few brief words with my wife, we agreed it was all my fault and I walked back to the painter.

“You’ll need to start upstairs, can you help just move a few boxes,”. “Sure no problem he beamed, how many boxes?”

Now it was my turn to beam from ear to ear, “a hundred and seventy five”! After three boxes we were both exhausted so I set him to work in the salon.

As I turned my attention back to Ahmed who had been joined by a few more pensioners the plumber arrived, then the electrician and finally the internet technician.

I looked at my wife then rushed into street announcing open house for all skilled workers. “Got it out your system,” she asked sympathetically. “I really didn’t know Ahmed was illiterate and Mahmoud was colorblind”.

There were people everywhere, in every room, every cupboard, painting, drilling and hammering. Boxes, nails, wire, paint, wood, metal screws littered our floors. Our house looked like someone had taken a shopping mall, turned it upside down and emptied it into every room.

The kids were bored and fractious; we were all on the edge. Other deliveries hadn’t turned up. Has our new TV arrived, my kids kept asking. Blood, sweat, tears and a huge amount of dust made us look like we had been living in the trenches of Northern France for a week.

And then the money. This is 2000, that’s 3000, that’s 500. “Look”, I shouted, “Here is all my money on the kitchen counter, everybody take what you want.”

Another look from the wife. I smiled, sort of. “Just joking”, I croaked.

And then just as soon as it had started it finished.

All the boxes were in, the painter and all the laborers had gone home and there was quiet. We swept up the smashed glass left by an anonymous worker, we vacuumed up the wood shavings, picked up the loose nails, bits of wire, masking tape and Stanley knives and put and end to day one of our move.

The Bet Shemesh was just a dream now. Our new home, for all the hassle was a reality and we knew we had time on our side to straighten everything. The Modiin evening breeze brought a little comfort, settling our nerves, as we sat on our new front doorstep watching the sunset, joking that at least now my wife wont have to wear a Niqab every time she goes shopping. And then Ahmed turned up with truck number three.