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