“Too many dossim.”
This is the almost universal response I have received from Tel Avivim these past weeks, when I have informed them that I am considering a move to the country’s capital (though many of them probably do not even consider Jerusalem as such).
Dossim (singular doss) is Hebrew slang for the ultra-Orthodox or charedim (though it can also be used, usually less pejoratively, in relation to modern Orthodox dati’im le’umi’im).
Its dearth of dossim aside, Tel Aviv has more to offer than Jerusalem in nearly every department: arts and entertainment, food and drink, nightlife, shopping, sport. It also has the sea. Jerusalem has the Old City (though so does Jaffa), Israel Museum and Yad Vashem.
But the other thing that Tel Aviv has a lot more of than Jerusalem is poza (pose) and bullshit. Big bullshit. And I need a break from this city. And fast.
The faces on the shdera (Rothschild Boulevard) that I not so long ago greeted with warmth now elicit little more than a perfunctory smile. And, as for the regulars at the kiosk who insist on sharing their views on nearly everything – but invariably worth nothing – with anyone sufficiently unoccupied (and kind) to listen, I can hardly bring myself to look at them. Like the Israeli football pundit, each one “talks a great game” in his or her respective field or area of knowledge – real or, more often, imagined – but you can list their collective achievements on the back of a Tel Avivit’s thong.
And I find the Tel Avivi‘s “Too many dossim” verdict more than mildly offensive, sounding, as it does, rather too much like “Too many Jews”. Anyway, it is as ridiculous a generalisation as claiming that Tel Aviv is full of godless chilonim (seculars) who fornicate with strangers in nightclub toilets (most of the Tel Avivim I know would never dream of such a thing, having sufficient respect for their womenfolk to use the back alley).
Whilst I could never be referred to as a doss, my fairly typical Anglo-Jewish upbringing means that neither will I ever be labelled chiloni. And I am very pleased about that. Your average proud chiloni usually possesses a code of values not far above that of the politician or, still worse, real estate agent. And I certainly don’t see anything so wonderful in the chiloni Tel Aviv lifestyle that gives its practitioners the right to look down their noses at their compatriots forty-five minutes down Road Number 1.
Israel’s charedim, too, are far from perfect. One would like to say that they don’t tell others how to lead their lives, and that they don’t “throw stones”. But, of course, they do both (the latter literally). On the whole, they set a pitiable example, providing ample ammunition to detractors who didn’t require much to start with. (See my earlier post, The Good, the Sad and the Ugly.)
It is quite clear that the overwhelming majority of Israel’s Jews fit into the category of either doss (in the widest sense) or chiloni. Those occupying the sparsely-populated centre ground are, primarily, from traditional (though not Orthodox) Sephardic (North African) families, but extremely few Ashkenazim (Jews of European origin).
Jewish practice in the Diaspora, on the other hand, being far less polarised, works a great deal better. I don’t believe I ever heard an English Jew describe Golders Green, or even Stamford Hill, as containing “Too many frummers” (the Yiddish equivalent of dossim). Anglo Jews display a solidarity – even if out of necessity – that is sadly lacking in Israel, where chiloni and charedi are in a continuous, and perhaps inevitable, scrap over the size of their respective slice of Israel’s political, social and economic cake.
Growing up in London’s United Synagogue, we would often joke about the co-religionist who would come to shul on a Shabbes morning, and then go and watch Arsenal or Spurs (his football team) on the very same Saturday afternoon. And favourite players would often even be guests of honour at bar mitzvah parties!
Such a halfway house would be virtually incomprehensible to doss and chiloni Israelis (though for opposing reasons), for whom its enabling factors and conditions – mutual religious tolerance and respect – is, tragically, as much of a pipe dream as peace with our Arab neighbours.