a different side of Israel

Not Jewish?! What are you doing here? Part Five

Not Jewish by Jill Cartwright
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…

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

“Jilly, I’ve got the perfect guy for you,” he would shout down the phone at me…

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 “perfect” guy , was a champion kick boxer – he must have informed me about 15 times – and a commander in some elite army unit. Before I’d even managed to shut the car door he had already started to tell me about his heroics in Lebanon, where he’d “seen things that would turn my hair white.”

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 didn’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 “educate” me, to “tell me how it is” and impress upon me his narrow-minded views as if I’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 I’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 Aviv’s north port, but the woman on the door wouldn’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 “there were Arabs living there.”

And then there was Lior, who was, well, just boring.

And so Shahar’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 don’t buy the drinks and certainly won’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 “find” 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 wasn’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 we’ll get to that later

In the meantime, Noa had moved out to live with her boyfriend and I’d moved in with another friend I had met while travelling in South America. His name was Ilan, but he’d been dragging round the nickname Grizzly since the army, even though he was now much more toned – although just as large-framed – and that’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 didn’t want to leave.

I thought I’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 there’s no one in control and in exasperation you swear you are going to leave because it’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 Israel’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 it’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 “Oh they’d never bomb here; it’s too quiet round here. And anyway things are much better now, there hasn’t been a bombing for at least six weeks.”

Six weeks. Six weeks without a suicide bomb and I was talking like there’s peace in the Middle East.

“Do you think you’ll stay in Israel if there’s a war with Iraq?” Noa had asked me once.

“No way!” I’d said, “Absolutely not. Why would I do that? That’s just madness. I wouldn’t put my life at risk like that.”

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 couldn’t get to it that I should crawl under the bed.

I didn’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 they’d had days off school and then they’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.


  1. That’s bringing ’em down a few pegs 🙂 Good looking, yes…All that, that was a bit scary. Chivalry counts! And I can not think of any more deserving than those women who fight right along side their men! Your eyes are wide open, let your heart lead the way.

  2. Oh how the head reels… Is this a note for Lisa or for Jill? Regardless, I will write Jill. So much of your great writing could apply to anyone being an expat hither or thither, yet I know that Israel has a cadence that really is unique. “It’s the people, the people that really make it.” Yeah, but that’s true of everywhere. In Hong Kong, it really is the people, the people, the endless sea of peoplepeoplepeople. Cannetti ain’t seen nuthin. But the fact is that as for your friend, editor and sinspiration Lisa G, your writing has me perving regularly. Here’s to you. May your path be crossed by hoardes of men with small noses and great, thick, pulsing, ribald, sultry hearts.

  3. eeeeeewwwwweeeeeee, Jill, I think ya pounded this one a little to hard :), or was that Lisa? This is a short peg! Must not be the chivalous type 🙂 Ran, my friend, if Lisa’s writing has you “perving”, it’s not about Lisa….it’s about you. Or do you just give people that kind of power over you? Love to all! Keep it coming Jill, many of us can appreciate the story without “perving” 🙂

  4. I would love to know how Jill feels about ‘not being Jewish’ as this hasn’t really been discussed in depth. Did you ever consider conversion? If not, why not? This is a personal question I know, but the blog led me to think it would be answered perhaps, given the title and all.

  5. hi, thanks for all your comments throughout the series! I will get to writing about how I feel about not being Jewish and my thoughts about conversion, which has come up on several occasions …. coming up I promise..

  6. so good. you always hit the nail on the head.

    my husband left me for three weeks to go to his sisters wedding in israel and i am kicking myself every waking moment that i didn’t go with him.


  7. My heart goes out to you Blanche, go ahead – catch a flight, even if it’s only one week. At least, make sure he gets a lot of video.

    As they say in Hebrew…Shalom (I’m learning! :))

  8. P.S. Jill, the questions regarding conversion were not mine. I am real glad they were asked though and I am really looking forward to that part of the story! (#1 was me, sometimes I forget to fill out the top-it’s not intentional; now I just do it first)

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