They’re not the easiest people in the world, these Jews.
Good people, for the most part, but not the easiest customers.
They’re opinionated, demanding, critical and not that generous with the compliments.
Jackie Mason, that US comedian who knows from Jews, has a classic riff comparing Jews and gentiles in a restaurant. The gentile goes in and has no problem waiting in line for his table, is thrilled with any seat he can get and is completely satisfied with the size of the portions. The Jew never stops complaining.
“No matter which table you show him,” Mason says, the Jew will kvetch.
“You call this a table for a man like me? I don’t sit so close to a wall, so far from a window,” Mason says, in his heavy Yiddish accent. “My wife don’t like to face this way, I don’t like to face that way. Why are there so many people in this section, they could be moved over there.”
It takes the Jews three hours to pick a table, he says, and then they start a whole new fight: “Why is it so drafty here?” What is true in a restaurant is true in a country. Think of Israel as a crowded diner where 80 percent of the customers are Jews.
As Mason continues, “You ever see a Jew order scrambled eggs and French fries? It’s an emotional experience, it’s a major problem. I don’t want the eggs over light; I don’t want it too light, I don’t want it too heavy. I don’t want it low, I don’t want it high. I don’t want it very scrambled, I want it slightly scrambled...”
And on and on and on.
And that’s how we treat something relatively inconsequential, like scrambled eggs. When it comes to the big stuff, the statehood stuff, forget about it.
IT DOESN’T take too much effort to put an Israeli political twist on Mason’s routine: “I don’t want the border over here, I want the border over there. Not too close, not too far. I don’t want a prime minister who is too strong, but not one too weak. I don’t want someone who is going to kowtow to the US, I don’t want someone who is going to anger the US.
I can tolerate a little scrambled relations with Europe, but not too much scrambled relations with Europe.”
With that as our temperament, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s feat of winning the right to form a government here for the fourth time is nothing short of remarkable.
I ran for elected office one time in my life – in sixth grade, when I sought the McMeen Elementary School presidency.
My slogans were, “Get off the curb and vote for Herb,” “Win the derby, vote for Herbie” and “If you want sherbet, vote for Herbert.” I lost.
Yet here comes Netanyahu and wins yet another election. And his slogan? The not especially original “It is us, or them.” Amazing.
To truly appreciate the feat, imagine what it takes to win an election anywhere else in the world, and then add a 10-point degree of difficulty for winning in exceptionally contentious Israel, among all those disputatious Jews.
AND NETANYAHU’S was not the only impressive achievement of this campaign, though by far it was the most impressive.
I’m also very impressed with Ze’ev Elkin’s achievement, No. 8 on the Likud list. This, by the way, has nothing at all to do with his political positions, which I may or may not agree with. It’s just that as an immigrant myself, well aware of the difficulties of full absorption here, I can only stand open-mouthed at how he has managed to rise so far politically.
Elkin is just a regular guy who came here from the former Soviet Union in 1990, around the same time as I came from the States. His accent immediately identifies him as an immigrant. He wears a crocheted kippa. We’re about the same size.
But whereas Elkin just finished a stint running the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, I get nervous when I have to speak up at my apartment building’s annual va’ad bayit (building committee) meeting, worried that my co-dwellers may dismiss my insights on the discussion about how best to keep pigeons off the roof as the naive and nutty ramblings of “the American.”
While I can’t get Israelis to buy the used car that I am selling – which, by the way, is in pristine condition – Elkin is able to get tens of thousands of people to vote for him and his party.
He has scaled or fought or elbowed his way to near the top of the country’s political pyramid, despite being in the country for only 25 years and not having come here with name recognition, like Natan Sharansky or Yuli Edelstein, or with a network of contacts. And he did it in a mainstream party – the Likud – not a sectorial Russian immigrant party like Avigdor Liberman did with his Yisrael Beytenu faction.
At a recent campaign appearance Elkin was asked why his party neglected the country’s social problems, like the high cost of living and the astronomical housing prices.
His reply: During elections it is natural to focus on what there isn’t, not what there is. Although the answer was evasive, there is some truth there. During a campaign all the focus is on what is lacking, not what exists.
NOT ONLY during the elections, by the way, and not only on the political stage.
The Wife, a couple weeks ago, asked me to take a halla she was baking for Shabbat out of the oven at 5 on a Thursday afternoon.
Five o’clock is not the easiest time of the day for me. I’m generally listening to the radio news, or talking on the phone, or writing an article – or all of the above.
In other words, I’m distracted.
Nevertheless, after sticking a yellow paste-’em note on my computer screen and setting an alarm, I remembered the task, and was just as proud as could be that I succeeded in pulling the loaf of bread out of the oven at the right time.
The Wife? Well, she never mentioned it.
That Shabbat, when we were all sitting around the table merrily eating the aforementioned halla, I recalled my achievement and brought it up, looking for some acknowledgment, some positive reinforcement.
“Good halla,” I say to The Wife. “You know, I’m the guy who took it out of the oven.”
“That’s great, Abba,” says my daughter, looking at me with pity in her eyes.
“Quite a talent,” The Wife chimes in.
“Sure,” I say, responding to the sarcasm.
“But if I had forgotten to take it out of the oven, you would have said something. If it was burnt, you would have kvetched. But since it’s not, you don’t even mention it.”
Like so many others, I’m relieved the 2015 elections are over. Now we can return to seeing what there is, not only pine for what there is not. Now we can return to our regular level of complaining, not the level of complaining on steroids.
Now we won’t only remind ourselves about everything that is bad, but also be able to focus on that which is good.
Now we won’t just notice the collective burnt halla, but also the one that was pulled out of the oven just in the nick of time. A collection of the writer’s ‘Out There’ columns, French Fries in Pita, is available at www.herbkeinon.com and www.amazon.com.