It is no secret. I am not settled here. I need a change. I was originally thinking Cork (I bottled it). Now on the radar is Berlin.
And the brouhaha stirred up last week by an Israeli in the German capital encouraging others to join him is about far more than the price of chocolate pudding with a splurge of whipped cream (Times of Israel).
I can’t put my finger on what exactly has made me so unsettled here. The illness and passing, last year, of my lovely mum – I have now lost all three members of my immediate family (it is not quite as dramatic as it sounds) – won’t have helped, though my feet were already itching about a year or so beforehand. My aunt is convinced it is my still being single. But, while a wife and kids would not have left as much time for indulgent introspection, I don’t share her conviction that being tied to this country would have made me any more contented in it. Perhaps I am just experiencing some kind of mild, mid-life malaise.
Like “Pudding Man”, I still consider myself a Zionist. What I need, however, is some time (to draw on the Hebrew idiom) out of the Land. I look back at some of my more fervent postings here and wonder if it was really me who authored them. I recently deleted, as unrepresentative of it, “this miraculous little country” (though it is undoubtedly that) from the bullets under About This Blog. The locals now irritate me even more than they always have. The charedim appear more preposterous, the Tel Avivis more arrogant, and the working classes (I had better not get any more specific) more primitive. Tel Aviv feels ever more superficial, and while Jerusalem is more like home, it is also suffocatingly parochial. And there is little escape. The north disappoints (especially knowing the Lakes and Highlands as I do), and the south holds no appeal at all.
Soon into my Tour Guides’ course (which I was anyway forced to abandon in order to care for my mother), it became very apparent that my love for this place was on the wane. The sandstone was of as little interest as the lime, and the myths had lost all their meaning. On a Succot outing last week, our (excellent) guide’s enthusiasm just left me cold. And I have long stopped reading the Israeli press.
My reasons for wanting a break are not typical. They are neither economic nor security-related (though I thank the dear lady who, on the steps of Raleigh Close on Rosh Hashana, and with a grave wink hinting at the unspeakable, assured me that there would always be a spare bedroom for me in NW4 . . . should I “need it”). Unlike the Milky protesters – and there is genuine discontent amongst many Israeli twenty and thirty-somethings – I thankfully need neither cheaper housing nor grocery bills. The missiles, too, don’t faze me. It is more the arseholes who never let you into traffic, drive with a finger on the horn, jump red lights, and don’t stop at pedestrian crossings.
On Thursday evening, a delightful Jerusalem police officer chose to curse my mother in Arabic after spotting me raise my eyebrows as he overran the red light and stopped his marked 4×4 on the crossing. And, more upsettingly (who expects anything from Israeli police?), I recently witnessed the owner of the café where I drink my morning juice eject a frail gentleman in his seventies, who could only shake his head in disbelief, because he was deemed to have been sitting with his newspaper for too long following his last sip of hafuch.
I am sometimes assured, by those attempting to assuage the recent black moods, that such experiences are one-offs, exceptions and not rules. If only. I witness similar things here nearly every day. And they are signs of a society lacking class, boundaries and respect.
I am not comfortable about publishing much of the above, and apologise to anyone it offends (or depresses). But I have always endeavoured in these pages to tell it as I feel it (what otherwise is the point?) And if Yair Lapid wishes to label me an anti-Zionist, or even a traitor, I can live with that. But there is a great big world out there, and just because we have been hounded wherever we have gone in it, it doesn’t follow that we shouldn’t wish to experience it for longer than an Israir Special.
All in all, then, fresh surroundings and challenges clearly can’t come too soon.
Berlin is a wonderful city. Resonant with history, stylish, cosmopolitan, tolerant, and, yes, affordable. It is, I imagine, somewhat similar to the city of my birth . . . before it lost its identity and soul (just sit and observe, as I did a few weeks ago, from the top deck of an Ealing to Golders Green 83). And its main downside is not that history, but the very folk I need a break from: “You got rid of the very cream of world Jewry,” I always remind Oliver, my German lawyer, “and have ended up with tens of thousands of Israelis . . . serves you right!”
Resonant with history: Berlin’s Neue Synagoge at dusk
Even though Angela Merkel’s Germany is arguably Israel’s most loyal and trusted ally (at a time when we don’t have many), on hearing “Berlin”, many of the reactions to my proposed move fall between shock and horror, often accompanied with the expression of someone biting on a pickle that has turned.
But why are we so insistent on clinging to our former enemies? Because of the shortage of current ones? Say I have a short memory, but even if the Germans are (as I was recently informed) the descendants of Amalek, Hamas, IS and Iran all cause me rather more sleep loss than the Amalekites (whom, incidentally, I would take over the Palestinians quicker than you can shriek “Allahu Akbar” and detonate your suicide vest).
Some of the double standards I have encountered have been hilarious, from friends and family whose kitchens could moonlight as AEG/Bosch/Miele/Neff/Siemens showrooms to the elderly relative who I discovered, soon after learning that he was Berlin-broyges with me, had been nailing a local fräulein while serving King and country in Allied-occupied Austria!
Perish the thought . . .
Indeed, folks’ greatest dread on hearing that I might move to Berlin is, of course, that I could end up in some kind of unseemly liaison with an athletic, fair-haired female with bone structure out of a human biology textbook. I don’t even want to think about that. Much. But anyway, at 47, should I still be placing national survivalism before personal happiness? (And even if Heidi has midos like the pair nearest the camera?)
Some of the ‘caring’ souls who have provided unsolicited opinions as to why I “can’t” move to Berlin are, curiously, the very same who went entirely AWOL during my mother’s illness and the second that I got up from shiva. My oldest friend, Shuli, though, is certainly an exception to that. And, while I am loath to compliment him, I do know that he genuinely cares. After I had successfully repelled his latest attempt, last week, to persuade me to pursue a future with a couple (though separately) of completely unsuitable women – his former search criteria for me long having been reduced to a criterion (i.e., Jewish) – he threw his hands up in the air and exclaimed “Don’t tell me you are happy when you are sitting alone at home with Stuey and Dexxy!” The hard truth is, though, that most dates leave me longing to get back to them.
As for Deutschland, I have a few rather loose ends to tie up here first, but am already looking forward to the new challenge. I have some exciting business ideas and the feeling that my “fascination for the [former] abomination” (to quote Joseph Conrad) could be the impetus for a renewed vigour for writing (both blogging and even something more tangible). Who knows, it might even recharge my flagging Zionism.
And, to all you young Israelis who feel the need for a change, go for it I say! The experiences, culture and Weltanschauung that many of you will eventually bring home will serve this ‘island’ far better than the arrogance and hypocrisy of those who criticise and condescend from their villas in Caesarea and Ramat Aviv.
To all my readers, a very happy, healthy and gevaldig 5775!
Looking ahead: with Vladimir Ilyich, Prenzlauer Berg