ben goldfarb 88.
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I'll never forget the summer I spent in Europe before starting college. I was loaded with curiosity, a sense of adventure, and money from home. I didn't have a care in the world, other than the fear of being killed, and then brutally interrogated, by a neo-Nazi.
Actually, he was just an alleged neo-Nazi, but he did have a commanding presence. An alleged pro-Israel man tipped me off to his political alliances.
The story began as I was sitting in a cafe in Paris, about to down a beer with my traveling companion. I said L'chayim and began to sip that special mixture of hops, barley, and if I'm not mistaken, alcohol.
No sooner did my friend respond in kind did a middle aged (read "old") Greek man approach our table and ask to join us. We didn't want to turn him down because of his advanced age (around 40) and social status (he was wearing a suit and tie), so we agreed.
He summoned the waitress and asked her to include our drinks on his tab. This act of generosity warmed us up to him, but we still maintained our distance from this stranger.
He asked me what I said before drinking the beer. I pronounced the phrase L'chaim slowly for him and began to translate. He stopped me midstream and asked me to listen closely.
Anieli (not his real alias) began to recite Hebrew prayers, Israel's national anthem, and the ingredients of one of my favorite Israeli breakfast cereals. Although his speech was heavily accented, his pronunciation was excellent, at least according to my extensive six months of Hebrew study.
After showing off his language skills, he leaned forward and asked us if we could keep a secret. After assuring him he could trust us, he began his non-stop monologue that would continue all night.
He told us he's a dedicated supporter of Israel. After our next round of drinks, he insisted that we change locations before he told us any more about his illustrious political, military, and athletic careers.
I didn't learn many life skills in high school, but luckily my parents raised me with social and emotional intelligence. What I really needed at this moment was "run away right now" intelligence, but at least I took some precautions as the evening progressed.
My traveling companion and I made a commitment to stop drinking after the second round. We needed to stay sober in case the guy went postal. When Anieli excused himself to visit the facilities, we poured our drinks out into potted plants, and switched our full bottles of beer with the empty bottles from other patrons in the restaurant. For some reason, our fellow customers seemed more than happy to cooperate with our tactics.
Anieli wanted to drive us to another drinking establishment, but we insisted on walking. Call it instinct, but we preferred not to put a damper on our European vacation with minor inconveniences such as a deadly car accident, a nasty abduction, or the theft and harvesting of one of our kidneys.
We walked to a nearby German bar. Once inside, Anieli shared more stories about his interactions with Israeli paratroopers, his exploits on the Greek national soccer team, and his brief but noteworthy career in the Greek army and government.
"Our two cultures have a lot in common," he slurred. "The modernization of two ancient tongues, Hebrew and Greek, is nothing less than a miracle. Our respective cultures have been resurrected on their ancient homelands as acts of Divine Providence."
The more the man drank, the more outlandish his stories became. His tales took a quantum leap from the incredulous to the mythical, as he described events that included fire-breathing dragons, benevolent mermaids, and banks that didn't charge a fee for every transaction.
The final secret he revealed was that the owner of the very bar where we weren't drinking was a neo-Nazi.
I looked up at the proprietor. He was tall, Aryan, and scary. I was short, Jewish, and hyperactive. Our eyes met in an icy, mutual disrespectful stare. Being the master of discretion that I am, I repeated Anieli's secret in a booming voice that caused all conversation to screech to a halt.
I only had a high school diploma at the time, but I had enough sense to realize this was a good time to leave. We made our exit as discreetly as possible.
Our next step was to take leave of Anieli. Before we ditched him, however, it was our turn to extract a promise out of him. We made Anieli swear that he wouldn't get behind the wheel of his car until the next day. We offered to walk him back to his hotel, but he declined and assured us he would call a taxi.
Although we didn't run into Anieli again during our time in Paris, I often think about the mysterious Greek man who appeared suddenly in my life.
I wondered if any of his were stories true, or based on real scenarios. After all, he did know Hebrew, and some of his tales had a plausible ring to them. I figured he was a lonely guy who did love Israel and wanted to share this feeling with someone who was willing to listen.
Even though I am still perplexed by my interaction with Anieli, I feel tremendous gratitude for the chance to meet him. I am thankful that I came into contact with what seems to be a dying breed of people who love Israel. I'm grateful that I survived the experience and lived to relate the story. And most importantly, I'm thankful that I still have, at least the last time I counted, two kidneys.
Ben Goldfarb was born and raised in El Paso, Texas, and is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. He moved to Israel in 1988. He is the founder and director of Paradigm Shift Communications. He has given seminars and training sessions at Israel Aircraft Industry and Philips Medical Systems. His book, "Double Feature: A Nostalgic Peek into the Future" will be published in the spring. He lives with his wife and children in Jerusalem. For more information about his coaching practice, visit the Paradigm Shift Communications website, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Â© Copyright 2008 by Ben Goldfarb