Most things in life never turn out to be quite how we imagine them. A notable exception to this, however, is Russian movers (although not being one to generalise, I use “Russian” to describe any individual from any one of the 15 former Soviet Republics).
Having stood me up on the previous day without so much as a phone call, Vitali’s stony-faced crew turned up at 6:30 the following morning, last Thursday week, without so much as a “boker tov”.
Vitali, the boss – or, more aptly, prime mover – with whom I had conducted all telephone negotiations (he had been recommended by a friend), was not among them, remaining throughout a kind of shadowy, Blofeld-like figure, directing operations from afar.
With a little imagination, one of the three removal men could, just maybe, have been “unzere” (though, perhaps, with a rebellious great-gran who had been a little over-curious as to the contents of Cossack breeches). The other two, however, including team leader Alex – who set the tone for our relationship by immediately stubbing out his cigarette on the wall of the Melchett stairwell – were clearly more Putin or Klitschko than Sharansky or Grushenko. And early requests for them to handle certain items with care were met with stares cold enough for me to immediately relinquish any thoughts I had as to the importance of my furniture.
The ‘90s Russian aliyah has been an enormous success, with Israeli mutterings about their new compatriots – spongers here only for the benefits, once heard all too often – now a thing of the distant past.
Accusations, too, that Russian women are gold diggers and (as if it were a bad thing) easy – a chorus of “Mrs. Knickersonanov!!” would go up from the bar whenever one would enter MASH – are now heard only from Israeli women envious that they do not possess similar skill in treating (and, in many cases, keeping) their man. And, while we hear so much about Israel’s wonderful innovation and exports, can anyone think of a finer import? Indeed, though I could never quite picture her under the same chupah as my mother, the Aliyah Department should have placed Sveta well above the tax-free refrigerator on my list of aliyah benefits.
But the contribution of Russians to almost every facet of Israeli life has been huge, not least their sons now serving in crack IDF combat units.
There is a sizeable minority of Russian olim, however, who – from just one look at them – cause one to wonder what exactly they are doing here, their only link to anything Jewish perhaps being a single great-grandparent, or merely just a spouse with one. And these, predominantly, were the Russians with whom I was placed for my basic IDF training, in 1999.
Our unit consisted of a Cuban (who had escaped Havana in a barrel), an Ethiopian, an Indian (to my great frustration, seemingly the only f*cking one who couldn’t speak a word of English), and 36 new immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Of the latter, the majority were thirty-somethings hardened by having served in the bloody conflict in Afghanistan, but who now – thanks to the astonishing stupidity of the IDF – were being taught how to handle M16s by frechot fresh out of high school.
I had an altercation with one of my new comrades on our very first day of basic training, after which I resolved that – sharing a tent with them every night, and with no shortage of bullets and/or pillows – I had best make every effort to be agreeable (it doesn’t come naturally). That same comrade and his best mate, both Jewish, though from the Kavkaz region – which, by all accounts, makes the nastiest parts of Merseyside seem like the Cotswolds – turned out to be my best buddies during those utterly pointless few months. And they were always most intrigued about Blighty. Not for them, however, the predictable questions about Manchester United and the Royal Family . . .
“Tagid li (tell me), Mike,” they would begin, “kama oleh zona be’Anglia (how much does a prostitute cost in England)?”
“Chamishim pound (fifty pounds),” I would always reply without hesitation, not wanting them to think me a loser.
Chit-chat and idle pleasantries (or, rather, their total absence) aside, however, Vitali’s crew were great. The third member, a four-inch burn (perhaps the Ukrainian equivalent of a lovebite) on his shoulder, single-handedly bore my washing machine down two flights of stairs with a look of “When are you going to give me something serious to lift?”
There were no emotional farewells when the job was done, or even “thank you’s” for the decent tips . . . though, then again, there was also none of the quibbling, that one invariably gets with the natives, about money. Spasiba.
So I am now shimon ha’tzadik mike . . . and whatever Reb Osher Yitzchok – who, according to my Golders Green sources, has fled the rioting shvartzers (not that he would dream of using such a word) for the relative serenity (if not Gentility) of Princes Park Avenue – may say, I have always known, deep down, that the epithet (and I am not talking the shimon bit) would fit.
[Please visit http://www.justgiving.com/mike-isaacson/ . . . it only takes a few minutes/quid!]