a different side of Israel

The Israeli cockroach: not for the fainthearted

by David Levy

Fellow residents of Israel, rejoice! I bring great tidings. This morning on the way to the gym I spotted, right on the corner of Dizengoff and Frishman, a full-grown brownback jook! Summer has arrived.

For those of you not fortunate enough to be living amongst us here in Israel, a brownback jook is basically the silverback gorilla of the cockroach family, although calling it a cockroach doesn’t do it justice. A brownback could eat its Anglo cousins as an appetizer, before moving on to more satisfying small birds or kittens. True story – I once witnessed an accident caused when a car swerved to avoid hitting a brownback and slammed into a fire hydrant. I don’t know if the car swerved because the driver was an animal lover or simply to avoid damaging the vehicle. I can only assume, however, that the damage caused would have been greater had the collision been with the beast rather than the hydrant.

The arrival of the jook also, to my great anguish, announces the coming of the Israeli mosquito. Now, I must decide whether to sleep with the air conditioning on, which really kills my back, or with the window open, and for some reason Israelis are not familiar with window screens. By the end of the summer, unfailingly, my bedroom will look like a grisly murder scene, blood splattered hither and thither, a lasting reminder of scores of mosquitos who, before the end, enjoyed their last sup at Cheateau de Levy. My ex-girlfriend Nirit, also cursed with a sensitive back, would, nightly, wake me after a mosquito bite, and bar my return to bed until I had searched every nook and cranny, killing every last mosquito who had ventured into my room to feast. Aside from sleeping more comfortably afterwards, I think Nirit’s insistence on my thorough insect extermination had more than a little to do with her need for vengeance and justice.

This neatly brings me to my favorite subject – Israeli women. Most foreigners, myself once included, think that the legendary toughness of Israeli women comes from their obligatory army service, or living through some tough periods or just living in the rawer, for lack of a better word, Middle East. Nonsense. It comes from having to live with gargantuan insects. This is not to say that women here don’t reacte to insects much the same way as their gendered-cousins abroad. On the contrary, blood-curdling cries of “Emaleh!” (Mummy!) periodically break into the otherwise tranquil Israeli summer nights, as an unsuspecting female comes across a brownback or some such. Nirit herself nearly fainted when she would see one, and I can’t even begin to count the number of glasses broken because of her annoying but cute habit of dropping whatever she held when stumbling into one of Israel’s critters.

When she visited the states with me for her first time, she was astounded by the unscariness of American insects. “This is a jook?” she said upon first seeing an American roach. “Ooh, it’s so cute!”

Here’s to Israeli women, and the brownbacks that give them their strength.


  1. David, you are an exquisite writer! To take a topic such as insects and portray so much with so few words! It really brought me there, it taught me two new words, it beautifully expressed the love and admiration you have for your women and it refered to me as a “gendered-cousin”, of which I am so very proud to be! Thank you for this!

  2. A very nice story,you master the art of story
    telling,to build a story around a cockroach
    in such finess,congratulayions.

  3. so funny and so true!!!!

  4. You forgot the scariest part – not only are they huge, but the fly too….. :0

  5. You should see some of the cockroadches here in the Washington DC area, especially the Pentagon. They could go head to head with anything you have in Israel! You could really sell tickets to a roach fight between them.

  6. Another thing, it takes half a container of Sano 300 to kill those elephants… I mean, jookim…

  7. I had to leave israel altogether because of jookim or was it the pesticdes that had to be used every month or year or whatever to survive them . Or may be it was the tobacco that people needed to use to deliver a shot of seratonin to calm them down .What a pity MOSES went that way -such a bad neighbourhood . No matter what you did the jookim and other monsters came crawling back to scare you -you killed on one and three came back -the enemies of zion keep muliplying.

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