Love is Blind
by Jill Cartwright
In Part Five of “Not Jewish?!” our newly single heroine is set up on a series of blind dates and discovers that Israeli men may not be as exotic as she’d thought. Meanwhile the intifada heats up and she discovers that one can, indeed, get used to anything – even regular terror attacks. But then there’s a new, even scarier threat: Gulf War Two. Faced with the knowledge that Tel Aviv might soon be attacked by biological weapons, Jill must decide whether she’s going to stay or leave…
â€œJilly, Iâ€™ve got the perfect guy for you,â€ he would shout down the phone at meâ€¦
And God only knows why I ever listened to him. Because although Shahar has one of the biggest hearts I have ever known, he also has one of the biggest imaginations in the Middle East.
Ziv , the first such â€œperfectâ€ guy , was a champion kick boxer â€“ he must have informed me about 15 times â€“ and a commander in some elite army unit. Before Iâ€™d even managed to shut the car door he had already started to tell me about his heroics in Lebanon, where heâ€™d â€œseen things that would turn my hair white.â€
He drove me to some awful concoction of a sushi-dance bar where he proceeded to scream in my ear about how many girls there wanted to date him while I tried to concentrate on dipping my salmon maki in the soy sauce rather than the ashtray.
After he had done what he felt was the groundwork on me, which involved telling me I was lucky he liked girls with some flesh on them, he threw his Gold card at the waitress, gave me the wink and the nod and headed back out for the car. He was stunned I didnâ€™t want to go back to his place and with a huff and a tutt dropped me at home, I never saw him again.
Then there was Roi, whose dazzling green eyes and smooth olive skin were betrayed by the fact that his head barely reached my shoulders. Roi saw me as a dumb and innocent tourist, a bare canvas on which he could splatter his right-wing politics. He was determined to â€œeducateâ€ me, to â€œtell me how it isâ€ and impress upon me his narrow-minded views as if Iâ€™d never opened a history book or a newspaper in my entire life and was quite incapable of forming my own opinions about anything because I am neither Israeli nor Jewish and therefore cannot possibly understand anything about anything.
And particularly because Iâ€™d never been in the army – even though from what I could gather he spent most of it slouching around eating biscuits.
Ho took me to a trendy bar at Tel Avivâ€™s north port, but the woman on the door wouldnâ€™t let him in without ID. When I suggested we walk down the promenade to Jaffa, he looked at me gravely and warned me in all seriousness that â€œthere were Arabs living there.â€
And then there was Lior, who was, well, just boring.
And so Shaharâ€™s interpretation of perfect led me down a rocky path of disastrous dates and pointless encounters, at the end of which the myth of the Israeli man lay shattered and broken before my very disappointed eyes.
No more the bronzed god, no more the virile Mediterranean lover, just the same meek mortals you get everywhere, but these ones donâ€™t buy the drinks and certainly wonâ€™t hold any door open for you. Chivalry is long dead in Israel – if indeed it ever breathed.
I knew I should have listened to my first instinct that told me never ever to go on a blind date, but somehow I got swept up in the Israeli frenzy that never lets anyone ever just enjoy being single for a minute. They call setting you up with someone a mitzvah. People are constantly trying to set you up on dates or â€œfindâ€ someone for you or get you the phone number of a friend of a friend who might be good for you. There was even a surreal half hour one afternoon when I had my profile up on JDate and that was really enough for me to start questioning my sanity. I mean what the hell was I looking for? A nice Jewish boy to take home to mother? My mother was a few thousand miles away in England wondering where she went wrong with me and just when I would come to my senses and get on a plane and come home.
It was all becoming quite ridiculous, so when Boaz called me up one afternoon and told me he wanted us to get back together again I thought it was the sign I had been waiting for and that it would be a good idea.
It wasnâ€™t, of course.
We tried again for another few months though and when we finally split up I decided I would leave Israel for good.
But weâ€™ll get to that later
In the meantime, Noa had moved out to live with her boyfriend and Iâ€™d moved in with another friend I had met while travelling in South America. His name was Ilan, but heâ€™d been dragging round the nickname Grizzly since the army, even though he was now much more toned – although just as large-framed – and thatâ€™s the only name I ever called him.
The bombings were less intense by then. And when there was one, it was as if no one wanted to deal with it anymore. Nobody wanted to dwell on bombings, or talk about them; everyone just wanted them to go away. They were pushed to the inner pages of the newspaper because now there was a new favourite in town: Gulf War II.
There was talk of the war everywhere. On the television and in the papers, on the street and at work. At the offices of Haaretz they cleared out the bomb shelters and were moving computers in there so that we could still get a paper out on time even if there was an attack. Other foreigners I knew who had Israeli boyfriends started leaving the country and everyone else was stocking up on goods for their sealed rooms.
And still I didnâ€™t want to leave.
I thought Iâ€™d just hold out for this and then everything would be okay. Once this was over life would be good. Because Israel has a way of tricking you like that.
It terrifies you and maddens you and makes you insistent that you are going to leave right away; the people can drive you crazy, the situation can drive you crazy and more often than not it feels like comic tragedy being improvised all the way.
There are no rules and no standards and every time something happens it is even more ridiculous, outrageous and frightening than the time before. It seems thereâ€™s no one in control and in exasperation you swear you are going to leave because itâ€™s just insupportable.
And then the sun comes out and the people spill onto the streets and everyone forgets the drama of the day before, the headlines move on and vitality and hope surges through the streets, promising a magic so attainable you can almost taste it – just for long enough to keep you addicted.
And like an addict, I live for it, from moment to moment and day to day, never really knowing what is going to happen next but falling into Israelâ€™s seductive trap that somehow everything will be okay. And all the bad stuff is pushed aside, or explained away and the red lines stretch further and further away.
And itâ€™s amazing what you get used to.
My sister came from England to visit me a couple of year ago. We were walking back from the supermarket as the spring day was turning into dusk and a car backfired on the street. She practically jumped out of her skin and dropped the shopping; my heart hardly skipped a beat. I laughed at her jumpiness, and calmed her â€œOh theyâ€™d never bomb here; itâ€™s too quiet round here. And anyway things are much better now, there hasnâ€™t been a bombing for at least six weeks.â€
Six weeks. Six weeks without a suicide bomb and I was talking like thereâ€™s peace in the Middle East.
â€œDo you think youâ€™ll stay in Israel if thereâ€™s a war with Iraq?â€ Noa had asked me once.
â€œNo way!â€ Iâ€™d said, â€œAbsolutely not. Why would I do that? Thatâ€™s just madness. I wouldnâ€™t put my life at risk like that.â€
And there I was a year or so later, walking to work, with my gas mask in its little cardboard box slung over my shoulder and the ridiculous duct tape across the windows of our apartment that was supposed to protect us against some kind of biological attack, and with Grizzly telling me where the nearest shelter was and that if I couldnâ€™t get to it that I should crawl under the bed.
I didnâ€™t have to, though. Nothing happened. Quite disappointing, really. All that did happen was that Israelis started reminiscing about the first Gulf War and about how it had been so much more frightening and exciting back then, and that I should have been here then.
Then there was real danger, then theyâ€™d had days off school and then theyâ€™d sat with their families in the sealed rooms, wide-eyed behind their masks, fingernails digging into the palms of their hands, listening to the wail of the SCUDs as they approached Tel Aviv. This was nothing, they scoffed, and casually shrugged off the government order to carry gas masks at all times. I felt like a bit of a square.