In My Own Write: Music to our ears?

One person’s noise is another’s nuisance.

I have a neighbor here in Jerusalem – I don’t know who he (or she) is; but somehow I picture a he – whose hobby is listening to old IDF entertainment troupe albums.
Nothing wrong with that; the problem is that he starts at around 2 in the morning, when the cheery harmonies and jaunty beats carry through the summer night air and head straight for my open bedroom window, behind which I am trying to catch some sleep.
Last Saturday night, between this nostalgia-lover’s pleasure and a mosquito which I finally pulverized at 5 a.m. – surprisingly, the street hasn’t mobilized and done the same to the two-legged pest – my rest was not the most beneficial.
RISING from an early-morning doze that left me wearier than when I had gone to bed, I had a flashback to some decades ago, when I lived in a densely populated part of Ramat Gan, with a kitchen window that was too close to my neighbor’s in the adjacent building. He had a large radio permanently positioned on his window sill, and every morning it would blast out the 6 a.m. news.
When I finally visited him to point out, delicately, that this was disturbing my sleep, he retorted: “When I was working” – he was a pensioner – “a neighbor did it to me. So now,” (triumphantly) “I’m the one doing it!” I couldn’t think of any counter to this, so I left.
I had already accepted the female rug-beating squad as an irritating but unavoidable fact of early-morning urban Israeli life (thankfully, vacuum cleaners have largely supplanted the once-ubiquitous bamboo or plastic implements). And barring the use of a pellet gun, I still can’t see any way to silence the pigeons that insist on cooing inches from my ear.
But people’s indifference to the noise they make and its effect on others continues to intrigue me.
IN Britain, research revealed that more than a third of respondents with noisy neighbors did nothing to tackle the problem.
“It’s very un-British to complain,” one commented.
Some preferred to move house.
Among those surveyed who had disruptive neighbors, six in 10 had lost sleep, while others said the disturbance had made them angry or stressed. One in 10 said their work or health had been affected.
Those who had seen their jobs, relationships or well-being harmed did tend to take action, whether it was confronting their neighbors directly or contacting their local authority.
SOUNDING one’s car horn in Israel is, as in most countries, actually not permitted except in an emergency – to which one can only respond that Israeli drivers see everything as an emergency, including picking up their girlfriends for a late-night date. At most, the law is regarded as a recommendation.
In a drivers’ refresher course I took some years ago, the instructor commented laconically on the automatic sequence that occurs at traffic lights: ”Red, red-amber, green, honk” – this last to hurry up the driver in front.
Perhaps he was trying to be funny; perhaps not. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve moved off immediately the light turned green – but not fast enough for Speedy Gonzalez behind me, honking furiously as if I’d fallen asleep at the wheel.
ONE needn’t go as far as some countries in noise avoidance. A Swiss acquaintance told me that where she came from, running a bath after 10 p.m. was censured because the water moving through the pipes would disturb others living in the building. Apparently, it also used to be against Swiss law to slam your car door.
In Israel, legislation was recently passed forbidding the use of noisy car alarms; leaf blowers, too. And, according to my cleaning lady, a law now mandates against garbage collectors making the rounds of residential neighborhoods either very early or very late in the day.
All good. But while I’m hoping for enforcement, I’m also wishing for a ban on those dreadful motorcycles – regrettably, status symbols among the young – that spit and roar their way through residential streets, waking babies and scaring old people and pets.
IF the melting pot that constitutes our populace can be said to have a national character, it’s definitely loud.
Visitors who know no Hebrew often think a conversation they’re overhearing is a heated argument because of its high decibel level (true in other Mediterranean cultures as well).
And when you come upon a group of Israelis traveling abroad, chances are you’ll hear them before you see them. This has contributed to the perception of the “ugly Israeli” tourist, which is sad because once a negative label has been slapped on a person or a people, it’s hard to shed; and dismaying to the many who do not fit the stereotype.
The only time I traveled abroad with a group – it was to Italy, with 39 Israelis from all walks of life – everyone behaved very commendably in public; but I noticed that we were regarded warily by staff in some hotels, who had clearly had bad experiences with other Israelis.
And I remember a Jerusalem Post article by a young Jewish Australian traveler who bemoaned the style of Israeli backpackers he had encountered somewhere in Asia, where the hostel at which he stayed had, in the local style, very thin walls and narrow stairways, and a pleasant visit depended on showing consideration for other guests.
He had been shocked, he wrote, to hear the Israelis calling out loudly to each other at all hours of the day and night, from room to room and up and down the stairs, heedless of the people resting close by.
Like almost everything else, it’s a matter of education, of teachers and parents working from kindergarten and on to instill consideration and respect. It takes time, patience and consistency – but when teachers and parents scream at their children for whatever reason, they’re saying: “Do as I do, not as I say.”
The results are painfully obvious.
‘IF you’re quiet” – a quote attributed to actor and director Mel Brooks – “you’re not living. You’ve got to be noisy and colorful and lively.” An unscientific survey of everyday life in Israel suggests that a very large number of its inhabitants heartily agree.
To them, noise is life.
Silence exists to be filled.
Shopping malls that lack the obligatory piped rock music or (generally unintelligible) recorded voice promoting the day’s bargains are like felafel without the spices. Boring.
AND then you have the Israeli wedding. Or, let’s be specific, the Israeli wedding band, an enigma and source of bemusement to many immigrants from quieter milieux.
For why would you spend a small fortune on an event, pulling out all the stops and inviting friends and family from near and far, some of whom wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to meet – and then make it impossible for them to communicate? I still remember the bar mitzva of my second cousin in Tel Aviv, to which family arrived from several different countries. There we were, sitting around a festive table, eager to renew ties, but utterly defeated by the unrelenting, invasive music. We were reduced to smiling amiably at each other and concentrating on the food.
An acquaintance who called to congratulate me on my own marriage two months ago – we had a harp and a flute – told me she asked her husband, who had attended another wedding a few days previously: “Who did you sit next to?” “What does it matter?” he replied. “We couldn’t talk to each other, anyway.”
I’ve heard of wedding principals requesting bands to turn down the amplification and being refused; and of bands that did so only after being threatened with non-payment. Some are impervious even then.
Clearly, like Mel Brooks, they equate lively with noisy, and mitzva with din.
For me, this is the ultimate litmus test. When Israeli weddings become gentler on the ear and more inviting to the tongue – and I’m not referring to the food – I’ll know we’re moving in the direction of a quieter, more considerate culture.