On yer bike: The myth of the caring Israeli society?

I have not made the most auspicious of starts to the New Year.

Perhaps I am in some way to blame, having taken my bike out on the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah . . . though I don’t really believe that He would have sent those brothers – one aged 14, the other around 10 – to crash their large korkinet (electric scooter) into me, head-on, on the bicycle path near the Mandarin Hotel on the Tel Aviv/Herzliya border.

The boys were riding the korkinet (resembling the one pictured, though with larger, fatter tires) together – little brother standing in front of big one, both without helmets – on the wrong half of the path (their left), heading north; while I was on the right (in both senses) side, cycling in the opposite direction. My front wheel (photographed below) totally buckled under the impact with theirs.

Following a knee-jerk “Atem meshuga’im?!” (Are you crazy?!), I surprised even myself with the speed of my composure-recovery time: “You are just kids,” I comforted the boys, who, while unhurt, were in visible shock from the instantaneous haematoma protruding like a golf ball from my right shin.

A long walk back to Jaffa – or, indeed, to anywhere – was clearly not an option. “Just call your father, and ask him to drop me home . . . oh yes, and tell him to bring some ice!” I was thoroughly enjoying my new found civility.

“I’ll take you part of the way,” said the boys’ father, Amir, on arrival on the scene – my bike still sprawled across the path – some seven or eight minutes later, “we’ve got guests coming in an hour.”

As it was, the 40-something couldn’t fit my bike into the boot of his snazzy BMW – just when I could have done with a 4×4! – and refused to risk scratching the cream leather seats in its rear; and he eventually drove us, boot open, the few hundred metres to his plush apartment complex (the boys returning on their unscathed korkinet), where he instructed the concierge to phone for a cab.

The aftermath

As we sat and awaited the taxi’s arrival, and still revelling in my bonhomie, I reassured Amir – who seemed like a decent enough chap – that I wouldn’t make a big deal of the incident, or of my injury, but “If [he] could just replace the wheel” (I own an expensive-ish bike, and feared that a new rim could set me back 500 shekels plus).

“We’ll settle it next week,” Amir reassured me. And, after debating the chag (holiday) fare with the cabby, he handed over the reduced one – of 100 shekels – for me to be driven home. Saving my number – he preferred this to giving me his – on his phone as I got in, Amir’s parting words were: “I assure you, I will make sure this never happens again.” I repeated to him that I had done far worse as a boy, and that he shouldn’t be too harsh on either of his.

Googling his full name – which he had provided, when asked, in the course of our conversation – I discovered Amir, who had said he was “in property,” to be a senior executive and shareholder at a leading Israeli investment house.

All that was on the Thursday afternoon. I didn’t go straight to A&E because, with my mother expecting me for Yom Tov dinner, I feared that it would be seriously understaffed. I had also once suffered a similar-looking injury playing football. So, I satisfied myself with a phone call to a doctor-colleague, who informed me that there was nothing that could be done anyway, and that I should just keep the haematoma well iced (the shin is still bruised and sore, some three weeks later, and I have been sent for an X-ray and ultrasound).

I was still somewhat surprised, disappointed even, that it took Amir until the Sunday morning – three days after the incident – to call and check on the injury caused by his children, though also by his lack of adequate supervision of them (I knew that, if the boot had been on the other foot, I would have called that very evening). I was in a meeting with my boss at the time, and whispered to Amir that I would call him back, which I did every day until the Wednesday, when the clearly overworked executive finally found the time to call again. He enquired about the state of my leg, but was extremely careful to offer no apology, just assuring me that he would no longer allow the boys to ride on the korkinet together.

Seeing as the phone call was clearly going nowhere, I decided to bring up the subject of the wheel. “I walked up and down Hashmonaim [Tel Aviv’s bicycle shop street] for an hour on Monday [not wishing to cause Amir too much expense, I had] and found the cheapest possible replacement, the odd wheel from a set. It cost 250 shekels [just under £45]. Where should I send the receipt?”

There followed a long, awkwardish silence . . . and then, “We should each pay half.”

Even amongst the rich tapestry of Israeli chutzpah, with which I have become all too familiar, I thought I was hearing things.

“Atah loh mitbayesh?!” (Aren’t you ashamed?!)

“You have to take your share of responsibility, too, for what happened.”

Naturally, if I had known that two boys were riding a motorized vehicle towards me in the wrong lane, and with little control, I would have got off the bicycle path altogether. But to equate our relative culpability was outrageous. Either Amir’s sons had fed him a load of porkies, or – more likely, to my mind – knowing that there were no witnesses, he just knew that he could get away with it. And I could only imagine the shtook Amir would have seen to it that I would have been in had the roles been reversed, with me being the one on the korkinet.

I told Amir to keep his 250 shekels, but that I would now be going to the police. And following a thinly-veiled threat – that “I shouldn’t misinterpret [his] [wait for it . . . ] softness”!  – I terminated the call.

Always one to feel guilty, however (even when I am far from), I still wished to resolve the matter civilly, and I sent Amir a text message, that evening, suggesting that he, instead, sponsor my upcoming charity bike ride (for which I had informed him that I was in training). Numerous folk, on hearing the sorry tale, have opined that Israelis, however wrong they might be in any given situation, never want to be – or, perhaps more to the point, to be seen to be – the freier. So I had given Amir a way out. Needless to say, he hasn’t taken it.

Perhaps I am too sensitive (and naive?) a soul, but the whole incident, to my surprise, has filled me with real sadness, saying so much, for me, about the current state of Israeli society and all too many of its citizens.

Of course it is “not everybody,” but what I can say with some degree of confidence is that the bollocks that we are often fed – that Israelis may be rude and arrogant, but that, when push comes to shove (how appropriate the idiom!), they will be there for you – is now at least, in the main, exactly that (i.e., bollocks): Whether in business, professional relationships, ‘queues,’ on the roads, in restaurants, shops or hotels, or with their children or dogs, my sad experience and conclusion – and that of most people (natives included) to whom I have related the unfortunate tale (some even expressed their surprise that I had expected anything more) – is that too many Israelis these days just couldn’t give a flying felafel about anybody or anything but themselves and theirs. It was once, I am told, very different.

Several days following the incident, I happened to be walking up my former happy hunting ground, Rothschild, as the individuals dressed up here as police officers were evicting the last tent dwellers from the Boulevard. And, after months of not taking the protest too seriously (see here), I now kind of recognized the attitude that has driven so many other Israelis – perhaps the ‘weaker,’ less ambitious and/or aggressive of the species – to despair.

My guess (and it is just a guess) is that Amir was an above-average soldier, who served in an IDF combat unit, perhaps even reaching the rank of officer. And as with a former friend – who, on the basis of such a CV (and all the while considering himself a noble human being), believes that it is just fine for him to screw other men’s wives – this (like the big-paying job he landed on military record, rather than intellectual/academic ability) gives Amir the arrogance to believe that he can do whatever he wishes in civil life, shitting on any poor bugger unfortunate enough to cross his path. (And, if this was how Amir saw fit to act in this situation, one can only imagine what he must be doing with client money!)

Naming and shaming  Amir – surname, position, company – has, of course, been hugely tempting. But this post is not the tool of my revenge. Perhaps, however, Amir will read it – I will forward him the link – and at least attempt to comprehend why I felt compelled to write it.

Perhaps, too, he will try to bring up those nice – and they were – boys into adults that this country can be proud of . . . rather than individuals, like their father, seemingly without moral compass.

Chag sameyach!

[http://www.justgiving.com/mike-isaacson/ . . . only 88 quid to go!]


32 responses to “On yer bike: The myth of the caring Israeli society?

  1. No cyclist is ever in the right.

  2. Daniel Amini’s the man! http://www.justgiving.com/Mike-Isaacson . . . and it’s his second go (scroll down to first donation). Something positive finally comes out of this sorry tale!

    Thanks so much, Daniel . . . and to Henry Klausner (who also gave twice) . . . and to the very generous Dan Gins . . . and to all those of you who sponsored me – the rest of you can now save up for next year’s ride! – including the individual, with whom I had fallen out, who did so after I had (quite shamelessly) made it a condition of our being friends again!

    And – last, but most definitely not least – a huge thanks to “Tricky” Trevor Leigh, without whose ridiculously generous donations I wouldn’t even be able to contemplate taking part in Norwood bike rides from Israel.

    Stars one n’all!

  3. Hi Mike,
    What a story!!
    Sounds like you’re going to be spending time in the bus with James this trip – enjoy!!!
    Hope the leg gets better soon and have a great trip. You must be off soon?
    Don’t forget to text me and let me know how you’re doing.

  4. philip lehrer

    Hi Mike,
    I always enjoy reading your incisive commentaries on Israeli society. I am now a fully fledged Israeli (8 months now) and have come across similar incidents, although, not as serious. I especially find the driving habits of the “natives” absolutely intolerable. 2 words of advice, if I may. Threaten in a whisper to sue and most of the “natives”, being natural born bullies (“Biryonim”), ACT as if you`re capable of using physical force, only capable, mind you. If they think you might be a graduate of “Yamam”, “Shayetet 13” or one of the “Sayarot”, they will probably back down. As this is such an Americanised society though, probably the best bet is still to threaten to “sue your ass”.

  5. I know what you mean when you speak of the guilt thing, but you’ve talked yourself out of that by now, right? I have learned, unfortunately, that one must act pragmatically and never — NEVER — assume anything in life, particularly in life here.
    Going forward — not that you should have any further accidents, tfu, tfu, tfu etc — it is my fervent suggestion (which you have probably already realised yourself) that you should always get everything in writing, with images too, if you can (in this case, your bike, the scooter, your leg, the location). *Especially* if the other party wishes to avoid police involvement (always a red flag to me). Documentation is the only way to ensure that you have any kind of guarantee that the other guy isn’t taking you for a freier. And in my non-generalizing-despite-appearances-to-the-contrary experience, the majority of Israelis are as likely to hate to be taken for a freier, as they are to make somebody else into one. I hope you sue this obnoxious man, with his overly inflated sense of entitlement for every penny owed you. And maybe, just maybe, his kids might see what you do to their father, and gain some understanding about what it is to assume personal responsibility for your own actions.
    I really appreciate the fact that despite the fact that you were clearly wronged here, you have not lowered yourself to the level that some might have (naming and shaming). I also think you were uber-nice to those kids, and I’m impressed. My urge to metaphorically clip them round the ear was deep, urgent and all-consuming.
    T x

  6. Such a great story. Thanks for sharing it, Mike.
    As an exiled Israeli I concur with your impression about the Israeli society.. Stories like this and the many others you’ve been kind enough to share with us are the reason I consider Israel more than a country where Jews live, a nation of heroes. It truly takes a hero to live and survive in that country.. it takes more than Zionism and love for the land to live there. It takes a lot of heart and courage. You are a hero Mike. Keep being one.

  7. Daniel Greenspan

    “a senior executive at a leading Israeli investment house”
    Ah yes, those smiling people who take X% per annum for running our poorly-performing state-endorsed pension funds, lending our dosh to their mates for dodgy bonds backed by dodgy East-European commercial property? What dud you expect?
    Refuah Shelima… and as Osher would say, “it wouldn’t have happened if you’d been in shul” – although I have a good friend who shattered his ankle by dint of simply having gone to shul!

  8. Boychik, out the sonnov-abitch! If there is one thing the IP’s hate more than saying “sorry”, it’s being publicly humiliated. Chag Sameach.

  9. Steve Jellyfish

    Hope you are better soon Mike, I certainly sympathise with you here.

    On a serene cycle ride through Park HaYarkon one balmy Shabbas afternoon a gentleman decided that he would race me down the bike path on his shitty old bike (as opposed to my hybrid masterpiece – now sadly stolen).

    I think I had challenged his alpha-male status by overtaking him earlier and he did everything to no avail to get back to his ‘pole-position’. He sadly did not notice another gentleman who was standing in the middle of the cycle path and swerved to avoid the obstacle sending his proverbial ass-over-tit and he landed on his head (not wearing a helmet).

    As a certified first-aider I offered help but he instead chose to limp to the side with blood streaming from his brow and a mangled bike. His only retort was “lama?” I could only muster a very unsympathetic “kacha”.

  10. Some of the Israelis are the worst of the worst. Dishonest in their personal lives and totally unscrupulous in business. I totally understand your anger. They are awful. They’re greedy, pushy and unpleasant. In my professional life they are freeloaders always wanting something for nothing and appalling fee payers. And they are getting worse. There’s an all pervading nastiness in some of the Israelis I have met. The old sabra myth of an Israeli who is hard outside with a soft centre disappeared one generation ago. Now they are hard all the way to the bone.

    This summer’s protests will come to naught if the few families that control Israel’s commercial life are not divested of their numerous holdings and cross holdings. Israeli needs aggressive US Style anti-monopoly laws that work to this end. Israel’s new higher tax rates are not the only answer – the rich need to end their stifling hold that breeds corruption and the endlessly combative Israeli ‘us and them’ attitudes. As to the separate strangleholds imposed by the mafia this link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israeli_mafia repays reading. Israeli society now includes a whole echelon of shits whose appalling behaviour and attitudes are a barely treatable Stage 4 cancer on the population. Heaven help Israel if, as you say in the blog “when push comes to shove they will be there for you”. I think not.

    As to your nasty accident, I recommend fighting fire with fire, and you’d be well within your rights to do so (as a marvellous BBC radio program “Down the Line” with Paul Whitehouse once spoofed).

    If the police can’t help (and do they ever really sort these problems in Israel when faced with an “Anglo v Sabra” issue?) I may have some Protektzia favours to call in so let me know the guy’s full name and number and it could all be sorted before he has a chance to yell “Asi Abutbul”.

    Am I any better than those I decry in suggesting this way of resolving matters? But it seems it’s now become the only way to get things done.

  11. Moved by the story. My tip, albeit in hindsight . . .

    Run caressing forefinger gently across shiny BMW paintwork , make eye contact and exclaim, as if surprised by yourself, “nice car you have here…”. Believe it or not a similar tactic once worked for me.

    Take 20 quid from me towards some new spokes for your charity joy ride. Bli neder i’ll give it to you in cash (shekels) when you next buy me a drink at that watering hole near your gaffe in Jaffa.

  12. “it wouldn’t have happened if you’d been in shul”

    The thought went through my mind, too, Daniel. Until, that is, I arrived at my mother’s in Netanya that early evening and was first to discover water from the burst communal “dud shemesh” tank cascading towards the 11-storey building’s elevator shaft. If I hadn’t driven there . . . 😉

    Jonathan, please don’t sit on the fence; and, Jay, very sly making your gift conditional on me “buy[ing you] a drink”!

  13. Sly not at all – I used “when” not the conditional “if”, so no condition intended. If anything the “Bli neder” should have troubled you….

  14. Have you any idea how depressing this is? Just moved back to Israel after 16 years and as much as we’re Zionists to the death this shitty behaviour will be the decay of this society. Please don’t hate me for saying this but this is why we choose to live in JM. I know you Tel Avivim mock and hate JM and that it is far too “religious” for your secular sensitivities but I find that this type of disgusting behaviour is less likely to happen in JM and frankly on the whole I get on far better with Jerusalemites. BTW Mike, look at this situation not as you taking revenge but as an opportunity to educate this bonehead that trying to screw people over (because you can) really doesn’t pay. I would even say you have a responsibility to educate him and it would be a sin to let it go. Refua shlema!

  15. It is incredibly “depressing,” Rutty, so much so that I didn’t even want to have to go through the pain of attempting to document it (though I eventually concluded that I ‘had’ to). As a longtime (I think) reader, you will know how much I love this country. But, while I wish I could say, hand on heart, that Jonathan’s diatribe (above) is OTT nonsense, I can’t.

    In fact, I don’t know who “depress[es]” me more right now: Arabs, Israelis, or Israel’s charedim. It has got so bad that I have even started to look back at British Jews – especially the “traditional,” United Synagogue and Modern Orthodox types I grew up with – as some kind of Übermenschen!

    And I totally agree with your comments re Jerusalem/ites . . . the reason that I hope to be joining you there – for at least part of each week – in the not too distant future.

  16. Mike

    I thought of your little incident on the morning of Hoshana Rabba.

    I had just come out of the local bread shop when I heard the most excrutiating screech of brakes and was just in time to observe a circa 14 year old cyclist, lulav waiving at his back, make it safely across to the other side of the road having missed serious injury and a broken lulav by about 6 inches. The driver, very understandably, lowered his window and berated the child who quickly morphed from idiotic moron to unbearably idiotic moronic brat by throwing insults back at the shaken motorist.

    Just then, literally out of nowhere, appeared a besuited, middle-aged, rotund acquaintance who proceeded to summarily duff up the wretch, swinging his arms at him like a drowning octopus and screaming at him for having the gall to be chutzpadik to the driver.

    He then calmly sauntered over to me. I told him “You shouldn’t have done that ober Ich hob gornischt gezeen” which gives a clue as to his religious orientation (and just how bad my Yiddish is).

    After exchanging pleasantries with me (while the more humiliated than hurt youth hurled abuse at him over the road) he went straight back to the boy and bellowed at him for good measure before sauntering off.

    Truth be told, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, one really cannot do that sort of thing (Honest, Your Honour). On the other hand, it was a bit of swift justice which will probably prevent this budding Evil Knievel from risking death in the future AND might teach him some humility.

    On balance “My right to swing my arms ends where your nose begins” is good liberal philosophy and I go with it. But, nevertheless…………….

  17. hi mike. i am back from a 3 week visit to israel. my thoughts on cyclists in tel aviv was well summed up on a tv chat show i saw out there. a member of the panel suggested that there are no pedestrians in tel aviv anymore, only paratroopers! the number of cyclists riding on the pavement in tel aviv on either bikes, mopeds, or the type of vehicle that struck you is astonishing. i spent most of my time jumping out of the way of passing bikes. i almost got run over by a pizza delivery moped! i as a proud pedestrian want to claim back our pavements!

  18. Steve Jellyfish

    I was cycling down Ben Zion today (just off Rothschild-HaBima) and there was a solid wall of pedestrians (both on cycle-path side and pedestrian side), coming my way, playing chicken with the people on the cycle side, a guy screamed at me “מה אתך?!” (what’s with you?) I pointed to the large white symbol of a cycle and he retorted “אז מה?” – we’re doomed!

  19. hi steve. yes the cycle lines are for you cyclists but the pavements have got to be for pedestrians. i can understand why cyclists dont feel safe mixing it with cars, buses etc, but that doesnt mean they should bring death to the pavements!!!

  20. Steve Jellyfish

    I do my utmost not to cycle on the pavement (Americans read ‘sidewalk’) however, if I do I always yield to pedestrians.

  21. steve you sound like a decent responsible guy. alas other cyclists in tel aviv treat pedestrians as cones to weave in and out of at great pace, with scant regard for the odd 1 that gets knocked along the way

  22. Good to hear that things do sometimes happen in Ra’anana, Mr. Fisher!

    “steve you sound like a decent responsible guy.”

    He is from Sheffield, Clive. 😉

    Though a cyclist myself, my sympathies are with pedestrians. It was criminally negligent of the Tel Aviv Municipality to allot half of each of its Boulevards to cyclists because the natives just abuse it. There is one particular lunatic (who happens to bear a striking resemblance to Kevin Kline, if anyone knows who I mean) who rides up and down Rothschild yelling at anyone – old man, woman or child – who has absentmindedly strayed onto the wrong side.

    Anyway, I am off to Thailand in the early hours – mudguards safely packed! – for this year’s Norwood ride (again, thanks to all of you who made it possible). Tales (here are last year’s) on my return . . .

  23. “Good to hear that things do sometimes happen in Ra’anana, Mr. Fisher!”

    What bald-faced cheek!

    Everybody who is anybody knows that Rechov Achuza is a 24/7 two-mile carnival of flashing red, amber and green.

    You haven’ t got that in Shuk Hapishpeshim.

  24. As you know very well though, Mr. F, my preference is always for anybody who is nobody!

    Talking of red lights, I must (even at the risk of widespread ridicule) admit that walking through the Chiang Mai bar area, yesterday evening, I engaged a stunning Thai totty in conversation – for purely socio-cultural reasons, you understand – only to be to be informed: “You know I radyboy . . .”

    In my defence, my companion at the time had also thought she was gorgeous. And the experience has caused me to ponder exactly what type of person – i.e., of what sexual orientation – would be interested in such a “thing” ( . . . and no, smartarses, the answer is not “You”!)

  25. Steve Jellyfish

    You need to learn the word, “katoi”.

  26. I knew you would have some insight, Stevie Boy! Pray tell . . .

  27. Pingback: It’s Friday morning, the sun is shining… « justanothergirlinisrael

  28. Too funny . . .

    I have just returned from an afternoon date in Ramat Aviv Gimmel (no less).

    “What are your two boys called?” I eventually ask the lovely woman sitting opposite me.

    The two distinctive names she gives me, especially together, ring a very clear bell.

    “Hold on a minute,” I say, “what is your ex-husband called?”

    Yes, you guessed it . . . “Amir ******”, the delightful subject of my post above.

    Talk about small world! And one date on which there was very definitely no shortage of conversation! 😉

    Shabbat shalom.

  29. I saw.

    I laughed myself into a small furry ball.

    Did she have any pertinent suggestions for some delicious, icy-sweet, after-the-fact revenge?

    Not that I’m an advocate of revenge generally. But a little Brad-Pitt-in-Thelma-and-Louise-inspired “I like your wife”, in your face sort of something, is as poetic as much as it’s hilarious. No?


  30. Oh that IS a good one!

    Karma and all that stuff.

    No doubt the ex will take full advantage of the opportunity to badmouth the tight-fisted Amir and she may even guilt him into paying you back for the tire.

    I wouldn’t hold your breath though…didn’t sound like a guy with the most active conscience.

    So does Ms Ramat Aviv Gimmel have potential?

    Or are her hooligan boys a turn-off?

    I still maintain you need a nice English speaker preferably without children.

    I actually had a friend of mine – who read your blog after I forwarded it to you and may well read this comment too – ask if I could introduce you to her.

    I told her though that her three children under the age of 8 would most likely not appeal.

    So there ARE certainly women out there who’d like to meet you.

    How many of them will still be interested after you named your recent poll a ‘Pussy Poll’ is another story.

    Yes, yes, I know that by ‘pussy’ you meant ‘woos’.

    (At least ‘woos’ is the South African term though I’m not sure if they use it in England.)

    The question is whether the potential Mrs I will find this find this acceptable.

    Just a thought.


    The Urban Dictionary offers this thesaurus for woos:

    wimp loser pussy weed woose coward craption guys gone wild lame puss weasel whimp more…

    So maybe the Pussy Poll WILL fly.

  31. Bizarre coincidence, one might even say fateful. Shared hatred is always an interesting way to start a relationship.

    Did you like/fancy her? if so, then it could be very interesting to see what develops. You didn’t actually say whether you liked her in the blog, which I’m assuming was cos you did….

    Update needed please.

  32. Your assumption, Emma, is correct: I did “like/fancy her” (even both). And, yes, I did find it “an interesting way to start a relationship” . . . though, sadly, she didn’t take too kindly to my constant references to her sons as “hooligans”.

    Israeli women are not strong on sense of humour, especially the English one. And the joke which broke the MILF’s – or, more accurately, MIWHLF’s – back was, just before the weekend, on the younger boy’s birthday, when I suggested that she should deduct the 250 shekels (for my wheel) from his cash gifts.

    You know me, Emma . . . nothing if not incorrigible! 😉

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