Shabbat Goy: An eternal headache

The attentive reader might recall that I’ve jumped through a few hoops lately in the course of processing my application for Israeli citizenship. Luckily, I didn’t have to take a test – except in my nightmares.

Shabbat Goy 521 (photo credit: Friedman)
Shabbat Goy 521
(photo credit: Friedman)
So the other night, I tried to take the British citizenship test. Not a very good idea. Allow me to to explain: Apropos of nothing, I was wondering whether I’d be able to successfully apply for British citizenship had my circumstances in the United Kingdom been the same as they are here in Israel.
Well, I say apropos of nothing. This isn’t the entire truth. The attentive reader might recall that I’ve jumped through a few hoops lately in the course of processing my application for Israeli citizenship.
Nothing too arduous – selecting the best passport picture to use on my new identity card, stuff like that.
Anyway, civil service mandarins in the United Kingdom are a little keener than Israelis are to filter out undesirables like myself. So, a few years ago, the British government introduced a mandatory preparatory course and test for all those applying for citizenship.
The course is full of exciting stuff like the bicameral system of government, the correct etiquette to follow if you spill another bloke’s pint in the pub and the ages at which children take their statutory assessment tests. (Only one of these three is of any interest to me, by the way – guess which.) Still, I was curious.
I had time on my hands. And I had access to the Internet. So I dug around for a bit, found a sample test, poured myself a glass of wine and got started.
I DID pass the test, but only just. In my defense, I imagine it would be just as difficult for any native Brit who presumes to understand how his country functions.
Not that it mattered. This was, after all, just a dry run.
“Thank goodness I don’t need to do this here,” I thought to myself as I tottered off unsteadily to bed. (The test took a while; a glass of wine had turned into three.) And then the real fun and games began.
I fell into a deep sleep. I dreamed that I was seated at a desk in a dark, dank room. A man in an ill-fitting suit was looming over me.
“Are you ready for your test?” he barked.
I’ve never been ready for a test in my life, regardless of content. But I must have signalled assent, because he lifted the single sheet of paper from the desk between us and began to read.
“The capital of Israel is...?” he stared at me meaningfully.
Ah, he starts off with a trick question, I smirked.
“Jerusalem, of course.”
“Wrong.” He slashed at the sheet. “The capital is Jerusalem, Eternal Home of the Jewish People.”
“But...” He cut me off before I could continue.
“Don’t you pay attention to what goes on around you? Did you not listen to our prime minister in the Knesset last week?” He cleared his throat and read from the sheet.
“We must remind the world over and over again that Jerusalem was never the capital of any other nation... We have the right to build in our eternal capital.”
He smirked.
“Well...” I began uncertainly. “It does depend on your definition of ‘eternal.’” “What?” “Jerusalem – as the Eternal City – doesn’t really exist beyond the walls of the Old City.” I’d done my homework.
“In fact, the first settlement outside the walls of the old city is only about 150 years old. Given this, it might not always be helpful to use the word ‘eternal.’ People may get the wrong idea.” He was glaring at me murderously.
After a pregnant pause, my interrogator continued as if I had never spoken.
“As you well know, Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.” I nodded. I’d never really thought of Lebanon as part of the Middle East, anyway. In any case, they have problems of their own, with their unique experiment in mass representation. But he had continued.
“As a Briton, you have just come to terms with the concept of a coalition government.” I nodded again.
“From your observations in Israel, what advice would you give your country’s leaders?” I perked up. This was a piece of cake.
“To run screaming and never look back. Coalition governments paralyze decision-making, allow everyone to avoid responsibility for anything and ensure that the government in office bears no semblance to any party that contested the elections. Combined with proportional representation rather than a constituency- based representational system, I would argue that the failure of genuine democracy is all but guaranteed.”
My friend in the suit leaned forward until his nose was touching mine. “Any more of your nonsense, and I’ll...” He pulled himself back. “I’m sorry. Got carried away. Thought I was in my old job.”
He went to the window and threw back the curtains.
Sunlight streamed in. He smiled.
“Let’s try and stay on track, shall we?” “Of course,” I agreed.
“Democracy. Let’s talk about democracy in Jerusalem. Go!” He stabbed a finger in my face, I jumped, startled, but recovered quickly. Even I couldn’t mess this one up.
“Jerusalem has a directly elected mayor who serves with a cabinet of councillors,” I recited. “The cabinet roughly represents the electoral makeup of the city, divided between secular and observant Jews. There is no Arab representation on the city council since the Arab population chooses not to participate in municipal elections.”
My interlocutor smiled warmly. And if I’d had any sense, I would have shut my mouth there and then.
“But,” I continued, “there is a lingering fear that should this sector of the population – a third of the city – ever decide to participate in the electoral process, it may place significant strains on the operation of democracy.” He had turned away from me, but I could tell that he was displeased. The steam pouring out of his ears was a giveaway. “The Eternal City, maybe?” I amended, hopefully.
He spun around, his eyes shooting fire. “You want to become an Israeli citizen, but... but... but...” He lunged for my neck.
AND THEN I woke up, drenched in sweat and with my pajama shirt wrapped around my neck. I really need to stop drinking before bedtime.
By the time you read this, I’ll have taken the oath of citizenship and will officially be one of you lot.
Fortunately, I don’t have to be tested about anything.
Otherwise, there might just be trouble. Not that it’ll be my fault. For once.