A Tel Aviv fiddle

I felt like I was one of Teyve's five daughters... was I Tzeitel - matched, to her chagrin, to the rich butcher?

By TALIA RAPHAEL
January 4, 2009 14:50
3 minute read.
A Tel Aviv fiddle

heart love 88. (photo credit: )

 
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Maor and I were smooshed into a tight corner of La Champa on Nahalat Binyamin, glasses of cheap champagne in our hands, small plates of very un-kosher chorizo and jamon serrano before us. "Come with me to Turkey," he said. I wasn't sure I'd heard him correctly over the hubbub of Hebrew and English that is typical of Tel Aviv bars. "To Turkey?" I repeated. "As in, the country Turkey?" I laughed with surprise - after all, Maor knows I have a boyfriend, my yeled tov yerushalayim (good boy from Jerusalem). "Yes. We will go to a spa somewhere. No sightseeing. We will just relax." He leaned in close - close enough that if I lifted my head, I could kiss him. I stopped for a moment and thought about it. On paper, Maor looks great - Israeli, educated at a European university, a banker, and single, in his early 30s, living and working in Amsterdam. In person, he looks great, too - tall, thin, with blue eyes and chiseled features. We first met about a year ago. "Have I got a guy for you," my friend Kate had said, just before she'd introduced me to Maor, who is her husband's brother's girlfriend's brother. Even though we were gripping tall glasses of cold gin and tonic and dancing to electronic music, Kate might as well have draped a scarf over her head, like a village dweller in the Pale of Settlement. Tel Aviv nightlife feels like one big shtetl to me - our bars and clubs are full of yentas and matchmakers, gossips and busybodies. You can't go out without running into someone you know, and if you do manage to meet someone new, it is likely that you're already connected via Jewish geography. It's like Fiddler on the Roof... only with lots of alcohol, lots of cleavage, and a slightly better soundtrack. But he was heading back to Amsterdam and I was already seeing Boaz. Despite the sparks, nothing but friendship came from meeting Maor. Until Friday night. Boaz and I usually have Shabbat dinner together - we relish this small tradition - but he'd gone to Jerusalem, while work and social obligations had kept me in Tel Aviv. Our Friday night dinner became my Friday night out drinking with friends and, accidentally, Maor. I knew he was in Israel. He'd already called. So I wasn't entirely surprised to see him when I walked into La Champa. After all, Nahalat Binyamin is smack in the middle of the Tel Aviv nightlife shtetl. Maor had a green scarf wrapped around his neck. He greeted me with a hug, a kiss on the cheek. My friend Meital sized him up. "So what do you do?" she asked. "I'm in equities," Maor said. "Here?" "No, I live in Amsterdam." "Amsterdam, huh? That's nice. Why don't you live here?" "I don't like it here so much," he answered. "I don't like the people, I don't like the language. It sounds so harsh. I think only Arabic is uglier." "How can you say that?" Meital said, leaning forward, ready for an argument. Maor sounded the ayn, the chet, the resh. "These are ugly sounds," he said. "I don't like it. I don't speak it. I don't even write it." I didn't believe him. "What about when you make a list?" I challenged him. Surely we all scrawl lists in chicken-scratch that approximates our mother tongues. "I make all my lists in English," he insisted, continuing to ramble on about his desire to have nothing to do with the Hebrew language. When I looked at Meital, I cringed. Maor was talking to the wrong Israeli girl - Meital is a Zionist and, as such, a proud Hebrew speaker. Her face registered anger, her blue eyes narrowed. I felt like I was one of Teyve's five daughters... was I Tzeitel - matched, to her chagrin, to the rich butcher? In the end, my decision was easy. Would I go to Turkey with Maor? No. Some women might have chosen differently. Some women might have chosen to ingratiate themselves with this rich, handsome banker... some would consider him a "real catch" no matter how uncomfortable he is with both his Israeli identity and his Jewish identity. But I chose to cast myself in the role of Tzeitel... not the Tzeitel who is matched to a rich butcher, but the one who forgoes a life of comfort with a man she doesn't love in favor of her humble and gentle tailor. My yeled tov yerushalayim is younger than me and he's a student. He can't support me now and he probably will never be able to. But he's an Israeli and he's a Jew and he's comfortable with both. No, we don't light candles or make Kiddush on Shabbat, but we spend it together, sitting on a balcony in the heart of Tel Aviv.

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