a different side of Israel

Not Jewish?! What Are You Doing Here? (Part 18 London)

I got an email about 30 minutes ago. Jill wrote me and asked if she can write her column again. Shit yes, I said 🙂
So after a long break (October 2006) here she is and hopefully for a long time. Welcome Back Jill !!

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine, Part Ten, Part Eleven, Part Twelve, Part Thirteen, Part Fourteen, Part Fifteen, Part Sixteen, Part Seventeen.

For those of you who were reading the ‘Not Jewish? What are you doing here?!’ column that was running in OJ a few months ago, you may remember that the story came to an abrupt halt with a rapidly worded entry that glossed over my last three years in Israel and fast forwarded to packing boxes and flying out to England, to where my boyfriend Saar, a singer/songwriter, had been offered a job recording with a London-based Italian record label.

Now I was no fan of London; I had lived there before, holed up in an overpriced flat in a northern side street, commuting with the miserable masses to the City, where I worked 13-hour days in a banking job that I didn’t even understand. Swaps, it was called, the basic concept of which still eludes me to this day, and the office was such an uninspiring place of stagnant boredom that a chronic fear of formal working environments has stuck with me ever since. The job, for what it was, paid ridiculously well, however (the silly amounts of cash involved in this type of work being the only reason anyone could ever possibly put themselves through it on a daily basis) and allowed me to then travel round South America, which is where I met Boaz, for whom I moved to Israel, to then split up with him, nearly move back to England, then meet Saar and end up staying, and for whom it now looked like I was going to move back to England. After all, when you’re an Israeli musician with a lifelong dream to take your talents abroad and you get offered a job in London, you pack your bags as quick as you can and you go.

Anyway, I thought, I could use a break from Israel for a while.

Packing UpThings had been a little tense to say the least. In fact most days at that time, about one year ago to the day, I was sweating away in my Dizengoff apartment, glued to the 24-hour news reports of Lebanon II, waiting for the rocket warning sirens that were resounding throughout the North to reach Tel Aviv. I was arguing with the va’ad beit (superintendent) of my building, who was refusing to unlock the door to the bomb shelter, for reasons I discovered only after I had thrown a mini hysterical fit in the stairwell, forcing him to reluctantly open it up. The room was dank and dark, full of dust and cobwebs and the abandoned junk of present and former residents of the flats above.

“You’ll have to clean this place out, just in case,” I’d said to him, making out in the squalid darkness the remains of a dead cat that had obviously been trapped down there since the last Gulf War.

“You clean it out,” he’d retorted, locked the door and trounced back upstairs where the sound of the news floated out through the open door of his flat.

Yelling some frustrated and undoubtedly wholly incorrect Hebrew at him about it all being on his head if they bombed and we had nowhere to go, I’d marched back up to my own flat where, of all the ironies, I was working on a travel guide to Israel that had been commissioned by a British website.

While I was trying to lure readers to the ‘magnificent landscapes of the Galilee’, the very people who lived there were sitting in their bomb shelters – watching the news –and the area’s hotels had long been emptied of the visitors who had been the signs of the first real tourism revival since the Intifada.

They were tense and confusing times. And very sad. There was less of the defiant togetherness that had characterized the worst days of the Intifada; the mood was very low and very bitter. Soldiers complained their objectives were unclear, that equipment was short – as was food; northerners shrieked at the government for not doing more, those under constant bombardment spat at Tel Avivians for sitting in cafes and going to the beach, while the world spat at Israel for its bombing of Beirut.

Most people I knew spent each day dreading that their husbands, brothers or sons would get sent to the front, or clinging to their cell phones waiting for the SMS that would tell them they were safe back from an incursion and in Israeli territory. Because soldiers were dying – and that’s the one thing that Israel can’t take.

The country’s tolerance levels when it comes to dying citizens far exceeds what it can take when boys in uniform start getting killed. For when a soldier dies, the whole national psyche goes into deep mourning. It’s a strange concept to understand and one that generated much debate among friends and colleagues at Haaretz, where I worked. Why is a soldier’s death so hard to take? Perhaps it’s because a soldier is never just a soldier in Israel but a brother, son or husband, because they are something everyone can relate to; perhaps because of the place the army is given in the media and within society as a whole, that it represents Israel’s youth and future, it’s ability to defend itself; perhaps because the army is Israel and a death reflects a vulnerability that no one wants to see, or perhaps just because they’re young, good-looking kids who should be studying and traveling and living life and when is this whole bloody cycle of death and hatred going to end? But when I found myself in floods of tears at a Channel 10 report interviewing the family of a dead soldier, in a way that I had not cried for victims of suicide bombings, I knew that I had stepped deeper into the Israeli consciousness – and that a bit of a break wouldn’t do any harm at all.

“OK so let’s move to London,” I said to Saar…


  1. What a brilliant writer you are! I read the whole thing in one gulp, and am waiting for more. So glad you’re back.

  2. hooray! keep it coming! 🙂

  3. Thank you for the nice post. I enjoy reading your posts.

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