The five-year itch

What do I think about the country? There are some things about Israel that appall me still. But there are other things, lots of other things, that I wouldn’t know if I hadn’t lived here.

five-year itch (photo credit: Courtesy)
five-year itch
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Five years. Five years in Israel this month. Who would have thought it? Not I. Despite bluster and braggadocio about being cool with it, I made sure to extract an important promise from Mrs. Goy before allowing myself to be dragged into these parts: After five years, we’d sit and have a conversation about what we’d want to do next. To stay, to go back to England, or try somewhere else. And if life in the Holy Land turned out to be unbearable, we wouldn’t even wait that long.
Being the canny sort, I deliberately left open my interpretation of the word “unbearable.” Always useful to have an escape hatch handy just in case...
But crap Israeli beer and the inexplicable lack of bacon in these parts aside, I haven’t needed the hatch, much to my surprise. Five years. It’s been hard work at times. There were days when I thought that if we made it through, we’d mark the day with bunting and banners, a tickertape parade and fireworks by the Yarkon at sunset. If I had a penny for each time I’ve asked myself, “So what exactly am I doing here?” I’d be... well, no, I wouldn’t be a rich man. I might just be able to pay off my overdraft. To be a rich man in Israel, you need to be employed by Strauss or Cellcom.
Five years. As it happens, the date crept up on me and slithered past without even so much as a byyour- leave. It was only a couple of weeks later, while working out just how long I’d been deprived of an Internet connection – and I’ll come back to that later – that I realized that the momentous date had passed. Without even a self-congratulatory glass of wine. So I did the next best thing and treated myself to lunch. Felafel, chips and humous in pita, with melafefon hamutz on the side. Yup, I have gone native like that.
TIME TO take stock. Not because I’m into introspection and stuff, but because Mrs. Goy and I do have to have that conversation sometime soon about our future. What’s changed over the last five years?
I’m older. Not necessarily wiser, but older. I have far less hair on my head. I blame the weather, the ceaseless scorching sun that beats down from March to October without pause. I’m now spoiled goods, so far as my preternatural good looks are concerned. Like it or not, Mrs. Goy is stuck with me now. I suppose that’s one good reason to stay.
I speak a second language. Extremely badly, but enough to make myself understood. In case you are wondering, the language is not SPEAKING ENGLISH VERY LOUDLY, but rather SPEAKING BAD HEBREW VERY LOUDLY. It’s an old trick from the UK. If you speak loudly enough, eventually the meaning gets across. Or you’re politely asked to leave the premises. Of course, one is never in danger of that happening in these parts, since everyone talks at close to ear-splitting volume. But I shan’t complain. I’ve always wanted to speak another language, and speaking Hebrew can be a useful party trick occasionally.
But then, there are the negatives. I seem to be losing the delicate art of saying nothing in great detail. I’m a bit sad about this. “So, what do you think about Israel?” I’ve been asked countless times. (If I had a penny for each time I’ve been asked that, I would be able to pay off my overdraft.) ’Tis true that we English have a talent for waffle, for saying everything and anything except what we really mean. But it doesn’t work well in these parts, does it? Everyone has an opinion, everyone says what they think and to hell with the consequences. It’s a bit jarring at times, to be honest, and it’s probably the thing with which I’m least comfortable in Israel.
BUT WHAT do I think about the country, after five years? I do need to have an opinion, in order to decide if we stay or if we go. Before I moved here, I was casually appalled about some of the things I read and heard about Israel. This hasn’t changed. There are some things about Israel that appall me still. But there are other things, lots of other things, that I wouldn’t know if I hadn’t been here the last five years.
For every politician who thinks – for example – that we foreign types should put our non-Jewish behinds on separate buses because we smell and stuff (yes, City Councilman Binyamin Babayoff, I’m looking at you), there have been a hundred small kindnesses, unrequited acts of goodwill that I experience pretty much every day. For every jingoistic declaration that sends shudders down one’s spine, there are people who quietly do what they can to rail against manifest injustices that are sometimes all too obvious.
Essentially: What I’ve learned is that Israel is a complex place, and anyone who claims to have all the answers is a liar or a fool. But complexity isn’t a bad thing. It does mean that Israel can be a noisy, unruly place at times, but that’s cool. It’s when things are quiet, when there’s assent on all sides, that I’ll start to worry.
So I’m going to remind the much-better half that we have an outstanding conversation, and a couple of decisions to make. She wants to stay; I think I will, too – for now, anyway. But on one condition.
She – or someone – is going to have to explain to me why we have to pay two separate companies for a single Internet connection. A connection that is selective about when it works, too. Each time the connection goes down – and this happens a lot – I have to deal with two sets of charlatans each laying the blame at the doorstep of another. Enough to drive one mad. Or out of the country. And I’m sure y’all wouldn’t want to lose me just because of my Internet connection, would you?