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Not Jewish?! What are you doing here? (Part Eight)

Jill Cartwright

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven

It’s All About Money

Aaah, money. Nobody seems to earn much of it in Israel – certainly not in 2003, at the height of the unemployment crisis, and least of all our heroine. Her relationship with Boaz over, she starts to wonder if there’s any point in staying on. Perhaps she should go travel, clear her mind? Excellent idea! There’s just one small problem… How will she afford the trip?

by Jill Cartwright

Since the talk on the beach with Boaz, it took only a few weeks for the relationship to completely unravel. There had been talk of him moving full-time up to Tel Aviv as his studies in Be’er Sheva only required him to be there a couple of days each week and of us finding an apartment together, but the whole marriage conversation had really nipped it all in the bud and it seemed pointless to be picking out paint for the living room walls when we knew things weren’t really going anywhere.

And so once again we parted ways and I wondered what I would do with myself. Things felt different this time – more final, like the book had been closed and sealed on this chapter of my life. I was feeling it was time to move on. Noa had moved out to a moshav with her boyfriend, Shahar was newlywed, Grizzly was ensconced with his new girlfriend and I felt I needed to be far away from Boaz, fearing that if I stayed we would constantly sway into each other’s lives, but always a little unsure and always a little reluctant. Maybe it’s time I left Israel, I thought.

I felt at a bit of a loss, tired and not a little stuck. Much like the entire country really as we drew into the final months of 2003, when the dark, black cloud of “the situation” pressed heavy on everyone’s lives and the fear, desperation, tit for tat stubbornness and stagnating hatred trudged on, exhausting, frustrating, and at the risk of sounding flippant, really annoying.

And so I decided to do what I usually decide to do when relationships end and life isn’t opening any obvious doors for me – I decided to go traveling. Yes, I thought, I’ll jump on a plane to India or Southeast Asia somewhere, backpack my way round for a few months and surely the answer would come to me. I started to get all drummed up about the idea, planning routes and treks, the best beaches and places to study ashtanga – yes I’ll get away from it all I thought.

Until, of course, it came to the most crucial part of my planning – money. I didn’t actually have any. Two years of working and I had amassed absolutely nothing.

In fact as I sat deep in reverie planning my solo trek around Rajasthan, I got a phone call from my bank manager, who just “wanted to make sure that I knew I was so overdrawn, because as a non-citizen, I’m paying really high interest so I should really cover it.”

And that was a nice call. The woman from my bank once called me and left a message on my answer phone that if I didn’t pay off my overdraft they would cancel my card. On my answer phone! By that time, however, I had learned the ways of the country enough to call her up and shout at her down the phone about some basic guidelines of customer service and manage not at all to address the very real problem of the state of my account.

You see, even though I am probably the last person on the planet that anyone should ever look to for money management or financial nous – to which my decision to take an arts degree, move into print journalism and then move to Israel at the height of an economic crisis attests – you can take it from anyone: it’s really hard to make any money here.

My friend Shahar puts it like this: “Take what you would earn in a Western country; halve it, then divide by three, trim off another 5 percent before halving it again and you get the ballpark figure of what you would earn in Israel.” Yeah, it’s hard to make money here.

Unless of course you belong to one of the four families here who seem to own the whole country and its entire wealth and whose stories of buying and selling, court battles and family fallouts fill the business pages like a particularly spicy script of The Bold and the Beautiful.

While the rest of us not so bold and not so beautiful are left juggling day jobs and night jobs, fending off the bank manager, drowning in overdraft and buying everything in installments.

Israelis love buying things in installments. You can buy your weekly shopping in Israel in installments.

I had no idea what the checkout girl wanted from me the first time she asked me if I wanted to buy my rather sorry collection of staple supplies in two or three payments – but soon tashlumim (installments) became a loyal and trusted friend among the words that populated my Hebrew vocabulary. Tashlumim the gas bill, tashlumim at the hairdresser’s tashlumim anything from the weekly necessities to a flight home.

My friends in England, peers with whom I had graduated high school and university, were already a few rungs up on the ladders of their individual careers and earning healthy salaries that allowed for the acquisition of the “nice” things in life – cars, clothes, holidays, houses. The very concept of buying a house in Israel didn’t even register on the radar of my comprehension. How the hell does anybody ever buy a house here?

My English friends were settling down, cozying into their nests, and I had less cash to my name than the day 10 years beforehand that I had skipped out of my parents’ house and rushed off excitedly to university. I kept having to turn down the steady stream of wedding invitations, explaining to them with heart-felt regret that I just couldn’t afford the flight, not mentioning that even the ticket for the Heathrow Express from the airport to central London was a strain on my budget.

Everyone I knew was struggling and every business was struggling. The newspaper twice cut our salaries, sending us all brief apologetic letters asking us for patience and thanking us for our hard work during such “difficult years.” And the Passover and Rosh Hashanah gifts that it is customary for Israeli firms to give out to employees, went from a NIS 200 voucher the first holiday to a bottle of wine the next to a small card, thanking us for our patience and hard work during such difficult years.

I was earning more money as a waitress in a bar – the only businesses that did seem to be flourishing.

One of my good friends from university was a VP at Merrill Lynch, with a flat overlooking Big Ben and a deposit down on a second home in the country. I was a part-time waitress, working for a broke newspaper who bought pasta on tashlumim. Something was very wrong.

So my relationship was at a definite end, not to mention my visa (which deserves a full chapter all to itself), my career was stalled and travel was off the cards. It seemed like I was going to have to do what all people approaching their 30s do when they find themselves back at square one: I called my Mum and told her I was coming home.

16 Comments

  1. Wonderful story-telling.

  2. You are definitely both Bold and Beautiful, Jill!

    What you want to avoid being is the Young and the Breastless…

  3. Ever read The Art of Abundance? “Abundance is… Not how much I own, but how much I can appreciate.” I know this can be an extremely annoying statement when you’re worried about where the rent is going to come from (been there done that) But it is so, so true! Can’t wait to hear Mum’s reply!

  4. I think you made the right choice. After reading through 8 chapters of complaints about everything there is to Israeli life, I think you would be better off leaving.
    You want your kids to expereince the feeling you had at Christmas? Go to one of the 100’s of Christian countries that are on the planet. There is a reason that you wont find that feeling here; this is the world’s only Jewish country, and we try to maintain that status.

  5. Dov, Israel is the state for the Jews, but it also has a significant minority of non-Jewish citizens. Like, 20% – in case you weren’t aware. That situation will never change, so you should probably get used to it.

  6. 8 chapters of complaining? Oh Dov, you didn’t read it at all…

  7. I am aware. I was born and raised here.

    and those 20% are arabs and foreign workers from asia. Maybe 2 % of them are Goyot that disgraced their huspands parents, and made their huspands look like fools to the rest of us. Im not saying there are no non-jews, im saying this is the only country with a Jewish majority in the world, and we are trying to maintain that fact through the rabbinical side of our court.

    And I read it all. Actually enjoyed her put down our driving, our men, our traditions, our mothers, well a lot of things. I realize this is not the humble England she comes from, but most countries are 10 times worse than this. Like I said before, if she cannot face the reality that the world does not revolve around the culture of jesus and the west, she should go back.

    Yes, she does look at the bright side of things (the sexual and pornographic city of Tel Aviv), and does beg to for once go out on Shabat with her boyfriend (again, if you can not accept the religious value a Jewish man possesses, this is not the place for you)

    Meanwhile I will raise a family on this land with non corrupted Jewish values.

  8. Dov, Do you honestly think that you are reflecting non corrupted Jewish values here?

  9. this is what we’ve come to…a shiktza quoting the haggada!! oy gevolt!

  10. Very enjoyable reading. I’m behind on my work now, thanks to you!!!

    V. Hayes, Toronto (ex-Dublin)

  11. rivka, you should be proud. BTW, Love the Heblish!
    “Come om people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try’n Love one another right now.” That was a good tune 🙂

  12. ‘Shiktza’ is Yiddish (not Hebrew) and means a female ‘creeping thing’, like a bug. Used sometimes as derogatory slang to describe non-Jewish females.

  13. Virginia, just to clarify, Am Yisroel ( the Jewish people) have indeed become degraded!
    this is not altogether bad as it means that our redemption (and the worlds) is around the corner.

    Love is a beautiful sentiment but unless you can distinguish a boundary between you and the object of you affection your love is nothing but a self love….the rest is rhetoric!

  14. Jill, what a fantastic series of posts that has been funny, touching, and spot on! Can’t wait for the next one 🙂

  15. Your writing is filled with wit and satire; ‘it’ is a beautiful thing to behold.
    I’m ashamed at my ‘brethren’ for there narrow-minded ignorance as well as there inability to truly comprehend the nuances of a language other than their own. I’m certain, however, having lived in Israel for the length of time that you have, that you’re fully aware that there is an element within my people that evoke absolute outrage.

  16. I’d prefer reading in my native language, because my knowledge of your languange is no so well. But it was interesting! Look for some my links:

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