Friday, May 1, 2009

Random thoughts on Friday morning....

 It’s fun when a stack of old New Yorker magazines becomes available. Sometimes a short stack will appear in the local library, sometimes someone has them, and passes them on, other times I’ve happily paid for them – there’s a guy in Jerusalem who routinely sells old American magazines for about a dollar a copy. One time I went all the way to Jerusalem just to pick up twenty old New Yorkers – I regarded it as a total bonanza. Good deal!

So this week I’m leafing through one from about a year ago, and not finding much of interest. There’s nothing less interesting than old campaign analysis when the election is done and over. It’s especially not interesting when the magazine in question is open and notorious in its support for the candidate I knew would be a total disaster.

In this particular issue, the New Yorker tried to embarrass Republicans by printing a long story on Roger Stone, more or less the bad boy of the Republican Party. Stone was a Nixionite, he has a colorful slightly dissolute lifestyle, and he’s been on the wrong side of the law a few times, dating back from the days when as a teenager he played a minor role in Watergate.

What’s funny is that the New Yorker is trying to make us all see how outrageous and ridiculous Stone is by quoting many of the things he’s said over the years. It makes me laugh – I agree with Stone every time. I think he’s exactly right.

My, my. How out of touch can you get? I mean the New Yorker, of course. Not me.

 Speaking of embarrassment, watching this Cheshire cat of a US President traipse around the world, humiliating America wherever he goes, I find myself wondering how America likes it. That’s what we’ve put up with here in Israel with the last few Prime Ministers – not with Bibi. Or not yet, anyway. It’s not fun.

When the Community Organizer bows to a Saudi King, starts reading the Irish President’s speech from the teleprompter instead of his own, presents a tacky toy to the Russians and a CD of his own speeches as a State Gift to Queen Elizabeth, I find myself cringing. How can he be so crass? This guy is so way beyond awful it’s almost fun to read it, at least in the ‘I told you so’ sense.

So how does it feel, America? You’ve got this loose cannon running around representing you, and for another 3.8 years, there isn’t a darn thing you can do about it. You’re stuck.

That’s the way it always is, here. We the People of Israel don’t pick the Prime Minister. We can’t remove him. So our top official can do pretty much whatever he feels like, because the truth is, he has more to fear from international scorn than he does from the people of his own country.

It’s not fun to feel powerless, is it?

 And speaking of powerlessness, here’s something else. One of the character-enhancing elements in moving to Israel -- a benefit I never anticipated – is how much you learn by living as a member of a minority population.

Seriously, painful as it occasionally is, it’s good for the character. Everyone ought to try it at least once in their lives.

Anglos, native English speakers, in Israel are a tiny percent of the population, even tinier in Beersheba, where I live – like 2500 native English speakers in a city population of 200,000. It might surprise you to hear this, but former Americans – or English, Australian, or whatever – aren’t highly respected by the native population. I wouldn’t say we’re discriminated against, exactly, but we are pre-judged. Natives assume we are all wealthy, for one thing. “Rich American” is the usual description, which means that a lot of less-scrupulous people will find ways to take financial advantage of us on the theory that we can afford it. So we pay more for a lot of things – and yes, there are other reasons for that, too, including our inability to master the fine points of bargaining. Even so, some of it results from an assumption that we’re all rolling in money, so relieving us of some of it is almost an honorable duty.

Parallel to that is the belief that we all moved to Israel on a lark – for fun. Certainly there’s an element of truth in that, too – as least compared to those who arrived because they were being persecuted in their Old Countries. We weren’t – we came for other less life-threatening reasons. Yet, there’s a trace of disrespect when our motives for wanting to live here are judged.

There’s also an underlying disrespect for the US because of its sheer power. No one likes to be told what to do, and in fact, too many times, under several presidents, the US has tried – and way too often succeeded – to dictate policy to Israel. So we, here, are sometimes in the uncomfortable position of being seen as supporters of US policy, even when we hate it as much as anyone else.

All that said, for my first few months here, in ulpan – mandatory Hebrew school, where new immigrants from all over the world come together to learn basic Hebrew – the one question people asked me, over and over, is, “Do you have the telephone number for the US Embassy?”

I didn’t. It never occurred to me I’d need it. So why were Russians – former FSU citizens – wanting it? Because many of them came to Israel, intending to start here and then move somewhere else. What they wanted wasn’t so much to move to Israel, but to get out of the former Soviet Union. Israel was a good option – if they could find (or manufacture) some evidence that a grandparent had been Jewish, they could get an all-expenses-paid move to Israel, and State support, here, while they regrouped and found a way to move somewhere else. So they came, but they regarded Israel as a stepping stone, hoping to find a way to get to the US.

One of the most laughed-at “jokes” in my ulpan class came from a young guy named Igor, an off-the-cuff remark that won him high points among the Russians. “My grandfather had Jewish blood,” he said, dramatically pausing before adding, “on his hands.” Pretty funny, huh? The Russians thought so.

(Disclaimer: this attitude is certainly not true of all former FSU immigrants. Many – most, even – are highly loyal to the State of Israel. But there’s enough of the ‘others’ to be noteworthy.)

All that said, learning to live, survive, prevail and -- on a good day, even succeed a little -- in this highly charged, intense and extremely diverse population is an opportunity I highly recommend to everyone. It’s one of those “WHAP! Thanks! I needed that!” experiences.

It’s always a good thing to have a realistic view of your place in the world. And there’s no better way to do that than by living as a member of a minority population.

 That’s it for today! It’s only 9:30 on Friday morning, but already someone in the neighborhood is grilling something delicious. The aroma is out of this world. Time to get busy, myself.


  1. Wow Karen, you were feisty this morning, huh? Good post!

  2. Shaloooom Yochevid Miriam!
    I hope it doesn't surprise you to know that I didn't vote for President Obam [Osam?], but I didn't vote for Junior either. Am I embarrassed? I consider myself very lucky that our president has to devote much of his energy to the current financial crisis and has little time to worry about Israel and Jews here in the US.

  3. Everything I've read says the President gave Queen Elizabeth an iPod with footage of her 2007 trip to the US on it and a bunch of Broadway hits. He also gave her a rare music book signed by Richard Rogers. Still an odd gift for a state visit, perhaps, but not as odd as a CD of his speeches.