Tag Archives: Rothschild Boulevard

You see what happens, Hamas . . .

“Don’t be silly,” I reassure Itzik, as we sip on our sachlabs on Rothschild, early last Thursday evening. “Nothing will happen in Tel Aviv.”

It might as well be the cue for the siren.

There are a surreal couple of seconds, during which the occupants of adjacent tables exchange puzzled, yet pregnant, glances: “Is it . . . ? What now . . . ?”

I jump up, as if stabbed with a shot of adrenaline. The dogs bark. We dart inside the café, my spanking new Galaxy S II abandoned alongside the sachlab. Clive Dunn has only been gone a week, and I have already forgotten his famous advice (though discovering that it is true, no one “like[s] it up ’em”). It is the first time I have experienced a siren not marking the commencement of Shabbat or a Holocaust/Remembrance Day.

We all huddle together at the rear of the café. A 60-something female hears my accent and, as if encouraging a boy to consummate his transition to manhood, asks me if it is my “first time”. I nod sheepishly. She imparts advice that I am in no state to listen to.

A distant boom. Perhaps two. And, within half an hour, I am home, packed, and on Highway 1 . . . on my way to the capital. I am ‘caught’ by my neighbours in the act of attempting to wheel my bag quietly out of the building. “I am not escaping,” I protest. “I have a fortieth birthday party in Jerusalem!” And it is true. But I don’t expect them to believe me. And I don’t think they do.

I tease Itzik – a Tel Aviv real estate agent who has continually belittled my second home in Jerusalem – from the car, telling him that he won’t be getting a key (‘forcing’ the coward into having to stay, instead, with his father in Petach Tikva).

And Itzik is the first to call me, gloating, the following early evening, within seconds of the siren sounding in the capital. I have darted into the stairwell, where the neighbours are quickly gathering, before shooting back in for my flatmates. My Orthodox neighbour overcomes her fear of Stuey and Dexxy, whom, until now, she has refused to even pass on the stairs. “Shit,” I exclaim, in an attempt to lighten the tension, “I left the back window open.” But the attempt at humour is lost.

I meet an American woman on Saturday who is considering taking refuge in London. Who am I to judge? I still do. And I delete an old law school friend from Facebook after he publishes this photo (right) with the caption: “Address this, Mark Regev . . .”

In fact, the next time I hear a Palestinian talk about ‘his’ olive tree, I will make it my job to find said plant, uproot it, and stick it up his . . . well, in a place that it will get no light. These people attach no value to human life, never mind olive trees.

Make no mistake, when Hamas talks about an “end to the Occupation” (which, in principle, I am also in favour of ending), it is talking about an end to Israel. And, if it was up to me, I would bring those fuckers [complaints, please, to John Fisher – he doesn’t approve of the asterisk] to their knees before even agreeing to listen to talk about a ceasefire.

There is a wonderful feeling of togetherness here at present. I had been putting the finishing touches to a blog critical of Israelis. But I can’t publish it now. These are special people. And they are giving their all for our People . . . and – if the world would only open its eyes – for the values that civilised people everywhere hold dear.

To the residents of the south, we should have empathised more fully with your sacrifice and suffering, and with the intolerable circumstances under which you have had to live this past decade. To former Defence Minister Amir Peretz, respect for promoting – when few believed in it (or you) – Iron Dome. And to the soldiers awaiting your orders on the edge of Gaza, though it looks unlikely now that you will receive them, chazak ve’ematz.

Once again, however, I leave the last words to the great – though oft misunderstood – Walter Sobchak . . .

CLICK HERE

Hamas would have done well to heed the lesson of Mr. Sobchak – as, from now on, would Iran and even Egypt (which, respectively, have supplied and allowed unhindered passage of the missiles used to attack us) – though I sincerely hope that the IDF has been picking its targets rather more calmly and prudently!

[See also Airstrike on Gaza: Israel’s Right of Self-DefenceF*ck you, too and Days of Awe, Heroes and Whores . . . sadly, all still as relevant today as they were nearly four years ago.]

Stop, hey, look what’s going down on Rothschild

“There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear . . .”

The closest I have come to tasting revolution since 1967 – the year in which Stephen Stills sang those words, and the one, too, in which I was born – was witnessing Johny Finn stand up in a crowded Holders Hill Road examination hall and (following, it must be said, no little provocation) cut Rabbi Abrahams, aka “Abie,”  (even further) down to size with the now legendary “You chutzpadik little man.”

That uprising, however, ended there. And, following the exchanged glances of horror (and of respect for our classmate), our heads immediately returned to the University of London exam papers from whence they had risen. Moreover, Armitage Road’s answer to Che Guevara is now a successful (and, what is more unusual in that line of work, well-liked) Jerusalem property developer.

Following some encouraging early signs of rebelliousness, the only type of revolting ever associated with me had nothing whatever to do with changing society for the better (or, indeed, at all). And, at our Shderot Rothschild architect’s office, yesterday afternoon, my partners and I – entirely oblivious to the tent-ridden Boulevard outside – were, somewhat obscenely in the circumstances, arguing the toss about whether we should invest an extra 15% for Schüco (German) windows with a spec befitting a gas chamber (as you can perhaps tell, I was against).

Observing the day-by-day growth of the Rothschild tent protest, however, has left me in no doubt that we are witnessing something truly historic and society-changing here. Something is clearly rotten in the state of Israel: twenty-odd families, effectively, control its economy (Bloomberg article), while insane property prices and high food costs – ludicrously, much Israeli produce costs far more here than abroad – cause significant hardship for most Israelis, whose low salaries are completely out of sync with the cost of living. But it is not in the interests of the vested interests – said families, the Israel Lands Administration, property developers, and corrupt politicians and bureaucrats – to make life more affordable for the ordinary Israeli.

Rothschild Boulevard, yesterday evening

It would, of course, be entirely hypocritical of me to overdo the empathy bit with the tent-dwellers. And, of course, no one likes a protesting student: what exactly have they got to “protest” about? Doing f*ck all for four years?! The movement has also been hijacked, to some extent, by agitators, crusties and downright lazies, many of whom appear to believe that the world owes them a living. I observed one such yesterday – who looked like he regretted ever leaving Goa – appropriate water from a fire hydrant to fill (and to the brim) a large plastic swimming pool. For all of these reasons (and because I am just like that), I have turned a blind eye to Stuey raising his hind leg – walk after walk, and day after day – against tent after tent (see July’s Mensch of the Month). It is, after all, his Boulevard, too.

Nonetheless, it has been quite something witnessing this public awakening and mobilization – and the intensity of debate being conducted – on Rothschild, until only recently the bastion of Tel Aviv superficiality, vacuity and bullshit. And, if you haven’t seen it for yourself, it is well worth a visit.

Tomorrow morning, I will once again walk Stuey and Dexxy down Rothschild . . . and will once again confront the harrowing sight of early-20-something Israeli females emerging in their skimpy pyjamas – in this humidity, merely shorts and a vest – into the virgin sunlight from the night’s makeshift erections (their tents, I mean!) And it is not an easy sight to behold, I can tell you.

Though there is nothing to be gained, either, from looking the other way or burying one’s head in the sand . . . so, may the struggle continue!

Photos from Rothschild, the following morning: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150745740155160.720923.611810159

http://www.justgiving.com/mike-isaacson/

Bitch, her 4×4, and other irritants

There is this woman in the neighbourhood – for argument’s (and accuracy’s) sake, let’s call her “Bitch” – who, every morning, parks her 4×4 on the pedestrian crossing next to the kiosk (‘our’ café on Rothschild).

Bitch is in her mid-thirties, has a body to die for (and knows it), and couldn’t care less how many old folk, mothers and babies, schoolchildren, or people like me, walking their dogs, can’t safely negotiate the road while she sips on her hafuch (latte).

And ever since, a couple of months ago, Bitch hooted me from behind – essentially, for having the temerity to be on the same road as her – I have fantasized about rubbing something long and hard against that body while she sleeps. A key.

Hallelujah!

Size and status are everything to these terrorists of the road. And, whilst I am loath to agree with anything that emanates from the poisonous gob of Ken Livingstone, the very fact of owning a “Chelsea Tractor” tells us everything that we need to know about that person, making him or her fully deserving of our unbridled contempt.

Strolling home with Stuey and Dexxy, the other morning, after suffering Bitch at the kiosk, I thought about all those folk who I allow to aggravate me these days (and shouldn’t). Even excluding matters religious or political, against the law (for example, littering), or out of people’s control (most unfortunately, being French), I still managed – on the short walk back to Melchett – to come up with the following list . . .

1.  Tel Aviv cyclists: Both the menaces who harass you with their poxy bells – I swear that, some day soon, a surgeon at Ichilov is going to have his oddest retrieval yet from an Israeli rectum – and those on their ridiculously expensive bikes, in equally ridiculous designer cycling gear, for the 10 km round trip to Holon.

2.  Anyone – not using the site for commercial or publicity purposes – with more than 400 (ballpark) “friends” on facebook. To be deeply distrusted.

3.  Males, essentially new immigrants with tiny todgers, who post photos of themselves in IDF uniform – and holding their only weapon of any potency – to facebook. Tossers.

4.  Females who market themselves on Internet dating sites in their bikinis . . . and who then moan that all men ever seem to want is to get their “kit” off.

5.  Israeli women – again, often provocatively clad – who talk inconsiderately loudly in cafés as a result of feeling deprived of attention to anything that might be going on above their shoulders. Shut the f*ck up.

6.  Wannabe actors and, especially, actresses who are in complete denial of what everyone knows: that they are talentless f*ckwits. Tel Aviv is crawling with them. They shamelessly post videos of themselves on facebook in performances that they could only persuade their grandmothers to attend (and, then, only until the interval). There are also those attention-seekers who film nothing very much on Tel Aviv’s streets and boulevards in the hope that passers-by will think that they are actually doing something with their lives. We won’t. Get a job.

7.  Overuse of vacuous expressions such as “sound” (as in cool), or – in Hebrew, and I won’t bother translating . . . there is no point – “ke’eeloo,” “walla” and, most infuriating of all, “sababa.” F*ck off. You are not a student anymore.

8.  Anyone who smokes a cigar with a diameter of more than half an inch outside of a cigar lounge. A middle-aged guy walked past the kiosk with one, last Saturday morning. It was so thick, we thought it would split the webbing of the fingers it was wedged between. He was wearing a look of “See, I’ve made it.” We were saying “Look, what a prick.”

9.  Wearing cowboy boots without actually being a cowboy. Dexxy chewed the trouser leg of one such pillock at the kiosk, last year. It is amazing what dogs know.

10.  Non-Arabs who wear the keffiyeh (okay, that one is a little political . . . then again, they are twats).

11.  Anyone who listens to Coldplay outside of an elevator or a supermarket.

"Anyone know the way to Old Trafford?"

12.  “Glory boy” supporters of Manchester United, Chelsea and, now, Manchester City, who have never visited their team’s home ground . . . or, at least, never did when they were shit (City still are) and poor. These ‘fans’ deny their former lack of interest in football – pre-1993, 2005 and 2008, respectively – with a dishonesty that would make David Irving blush.

And the message of all of this? Don’t be an intolerant, grumpy old sod? Get a life? God knows. Perhaps there isn’t one, and I just wrote it to vent my spleen . . . though it would be interesting to hear (via comments below) what – otherwise legal – behaviours cause readers of melchett mike to spit out their dummies.

[I am off to Kenya for a charity bike ride – it is not too late to sponsor me (many thanks, once again, to all of you who already have) – and, should you experience (understandable) withdrawal symptoms in my absence, I can heartily recommend the following websites to occupy yourselves until my return: boys/girls. To whet your appetites, there is a new sub-series of Hasmo Legends in the melchett mike “oven”, which I guarantee will offer a unique insight into the madhouse.]



Giving too much of a f*ck: kiosk counselling

I took Tali to the kiosk on Rothschild for the first time on Sunday morning.    

Bringing a new girlie to the kiosk is no less of an ordeal or a statement than introducing her to your mother (not least because wake-up coffee is the clearest indication that you are no longer sleeping only with your dogs).    

Avi “Borsa” (so-called because of his preoccupation with the stock market), who rarely descends from his stool once parked on it, made an immediate point of coming over to take a good look. Indeed, I was half expecting him, like an inquisitive child in Madame Tussauds, to reach out and touch Tali’s nose.    

Anyway, by the following morning, when I was at the kiosk on my own, the news was clearly out – it was official: (to those not already cognisant of my formidable record with the ladies) I was definitely not now gay, celibate, or just incapable of pulling.    

Dalia, a fifty-something mother of two, was disappointed, even frustrated, to have missed Tali the previous day (having departed her perch slightly earlier than usual). Avi, however, had already updated her.    

“So, who is she?” Dalia enquired, before my bottom had even hit the stool.    

“Just a girl,” I replied nonchalantly.    

“She’s nice,” Avi interjected, and then repeated, providing the affirmation he believed I must have been waiting for.    

“Thank you, Avi,” I replied, playing along as genuinely grateful to have received the green light to continue the relationship.    

“Take her to a nice restaurant,” Dalia instructed. “To Pronto,” she immediately followed up, as if I was not capable, on my own, of identifying a nice restaurant.    

Omitting to mention that Tali’s mother had invited us – and with an unjustified, therefore, air of self-satisfaction – I informed Dalia that we had already been to Idi, a classy fish restaurant in Ashdod. Dalia gave Avi a look as if to say: “You see. I told you. He is not such a clueless twerp after all.”    

Having passed (even if by cheating) that test, Dalia moved onto her next piece of advice. “Take her away somewhere nice for the weekend.” Avi, 49 and single – though, on this showing, clearly not because he knows not the ways to woo a lady – nodded enthusiastically. I ignored them both.    

“How long are you going to wait?” Dalia – on a now inexorable roll, and only just moving into fifth gear – continued, “Ilan and I got married after two and a half months.”    

“We are just getting to know each other, Dalia!”    

She rolled her eyes. My mother would love Dalia for all of this.    

“Anyway,” I said, “I am too young to rush into anything.” Dalia doesn’t get my humour (or attempts thereat).    

But how does an Englishman deal with such unbridled directness and complete lack of boundaries? Dalia and Avi are, after all, kiosk friends and no more. 

The kiosk, however, is not unlike the kibbutz chadar ochel (dining room) – it is as if, by merely sitting there, one waives one’s right to a private life. 

Perhaps, however, I waived that simply by making aliyah. Indeed, the Diaspora Jew’s guiding principle – “Don’t get involved” – could not be more alien to the Israeli. In fact, he likes nothing more: from advice on dating, to my current weight, my taste in clothes, to how I might better train the dogs (see Who the f*ck asked you?!

The flip side, of course, of all of this is echpatiyut, Hebrew for caring. In England, no one gives a f*ck, often even about those close to them (never mind virtual strangers).    

Anyway, perhaps it is it just that Dalia believes that a guy like me is not going to take the plunge without a little (or, in her case, not so little) push . . . and that it is her duty to inform me that, at 42, I must take whatever I can get.    

I saw Dalia again yesterday morning, when even the seemingly imperative question of where I pick up my gas mask could not distract her.    

“You have to take Tali to meet your mother,” she reopened the issue.

After all this, my mum is going to be a walk in the park.    

The kiosk, Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv

Getting ready to rock ‘n’ roll with Iran

“If you will it, Dude, it is no dream.”   

".אם תרצו, אין זו אגדה"

I open my one hundredth posting to melchett mike with a quote from my all-time favourite movie character, The Big Lebowski‘s Walter Sobchak.           

This Polish-Catholic American convert to Judaism – the brilliant creation of the Coen brothers and John Goodman – was, however, quoting some other dude with a long black beard.  

And whiling away the hours at ‘our’ kiosk on Rothschild yesterday morning – I’m working part-time these days (I am 42, y’know!) –  in 27°C heat (nine times the 3°C in my native London) was enough to make me feel that I am living the “dream” . . . if not precisely the one that Theodor Herzl (above right) had in mind.                       

But, whilst we were indulgently licking the ketzef (foam) off our hafuchs (lattes), in Tehran –  on the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution – Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was letting the crowds, but more importantly Iran’s enemies, know that his terror state is already producing weapons-grade uranium. And Iran’s claim to be a nuclear state, together with yet another call from its President for Israel to “be finished off”, makes Tel Aviv’s hedonism-as-usual somewhat surreal and me considerably more concerned than I was a few months ago.                      

Amongst the sun worshippers at our table yesterday morning was Martin Goldberg, a fellow ex-Hasmo (1975-1982).          

“I don’t worry about things over which I have no control,” Martin declared when I brought up the subject of Iran.                      

But isn’t that precisely what we should be worried about?!        

The truth is that I don’t really worry about such things either. But I certainly do think about them . . .
  • My gas mask – allocated during the Second Intifada, in 2000 – was collected a couple of years ago, but never replaced. 
  • Where is my “local” (bomb shelter)?
  • Even if I find it, would there really be any point in going in?
  • Would Stuey and Dexxy be allowed in?
  • And, should the unthinkable become the inevitable, would there be a mass exodus from Ben Gurion?

I, for one, certainly won’t be going anywhere . . . other than, perhaps, to my mother’s in Netanya (surely the poisonous Persian dwarf isn’t interested in ex-pat octogenarians playing bridge by the sea?)     

Whilst it is always depressing to hear about incidents like those at the University of California and Oxford Union, earlier in the week – the sooner these knuckle-draggers find their caves in Afghanistan the better – there are no shortage of idiots here. And, though (unlike The Jerusalem Post) a proper newspaper, the daily, intellectual masturbation (left hand) in Ha’aretz never ceases to vex.    

In Wednesday’s edition, for instance, the Israeli novelist and playwright, A.B. Yehoshua – who, displaying such childlike naïvety, should probably be renamed A.B.C. Yehoshua – opined that peace with the Palestinians would neutralise the Iranian threat (full article).    

By Jove, A.B., so simple! So brilliant! Why didn’t we think of that?! A quick, lasting peace with the Palestinians . . .   

What planet do these tossers live on? Ahmadinejad is motivated by an Islamofascist hatred of Jews, not love for the Palestinians. And, until the last one of us has turned out the lights – or until he has, Allah forbid – he won’t rest.     

Iran under Ahmadinejad: entering a world of pain

Now is not the time for intellectualising or infighting – though we Jews excel at both – but for solidarity. After all, which of us would really want to be in Bibi’s or Barak’s shoes at this critical juncture in Jewish history?     

The very best that we can hope for now is that the little brown Hitler will soon, somehow, be deposed. Otherwise, quoting our antihero Walter (right) once again, Iran may well be “entering a world of pain”.    

In order to protect “three thousand years of beautiful tradition, from Moses to Sandy Koufax,” Israel will need to be prepared for all eventualities – even to “roll on Shabbos” – and will have to summon a different type of “will” than that referred to by Herzl. 

It had better be an iron strong one.

Doss vs. Chiloni: Two Sides of the Same Shekel

“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.

Tel Aviv nightclub

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.

Charedi riots, Jerusalem (June 2009)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.

Story of Isaac[son]: Lenny and the Prince of Davka

I admit it. My behaviour can, at times, be strange. And in ways I can barely explain. Even to myself.

And my not even attempting to obtain tickets for the Morrissey (last year) and Leonard Cohen (last week) concerts in Israel was amongst the strangest. I am a hard-core fan of both singer-songwriters (add poet for Cohen), owning virtually their entire back catalogues, and both performed just a few miles from Melchett.

But I will at least try to explain (if only for myself) . . .

I guess I am a cultural snob. And, when Israelis suddenly feign interest in visiting musicians whose work I have spent much of my adult life exploring, it can just be too much. I mean it might be okay with your Depeche Modes and Madonnas (both of whom played Israel this summer), but more inscrutable artists like “Mozza” and “Lenny” should not be so easily accessible! It is not just a question of buying tickets, showing up . . . and catching up.

This distaste is similar to the one I have for football ‘supporters’ who only show an interest in their team when it starts to win (on that note, has anyone come across a Manchester City fan who goes by the name of “Seitler”?) . . . as opposed to loyal fools like me, who even go to watch them in shit holes like Scunthorpe (yes, I visited Glanford Park on my last trip to the UK).

No, the opportunist concert goer is no better than the “glory hunter”, or “part-time”, football fan. You don’t want to share your adoration of your idol(s) with either of them. Unlike you, they lack credibility (and snobbery).

And so it was, for the first performance by Leonard Cohen in Israel since 1975 – all 47,000 tickets were sold in less than 24 hours – I didn’t even pick up the phone. No, I voted with my feet . . . and cut off my nose, because a large part of me obviously wanted to be there.

In Israel, such behaviour is referred to as davka – loosely translated, in this sense, as “just to be contrary” – and I am the Prince of Davka!

Leonard CohenBut, last Thursday afternoon, staring blankly at yet another contract in my office, I started to become increasingly distracted by the thought that, a few hours later – while I would be walking Stuey and Dexxy along Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard – Leonard Cohen would be playing to a packed National Stadium just down the road, in Ramat Gan. And who were they to be there . . . and me not?!

At some point, the momentousness of the occasion then hit me even harder. It was three days after the Canadian’s seventy-fifth birthday. But, more poignantly, we were in the middle of the Ten Days of Repentance – between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – and Cohen would undoubtedly be performing a Holy Land rendition of Who by Fire, his cover of the High Holy Days’ “hit”, Unesaneh Tokef (as well as of other songs with Biblical themes, like Story of Isaac and Hallelujah).

I got into Leonard (and, indeed, Bob) in the sixth form at school, thanks to the precocious taste – for Hasmonean, at least – of my classmate, Jonathan Levene, to whom I am forever indebted. Who knows . . . if not for Jonny – who even now I believe, as a black-hatted frummer (called “Yoynosson”), occasionally (though perhaps clandestinely) still listens to Cohen and Dylan – I may have succumbed, like so many of my peers, to the relative poverty of Billy Joel, Elton John, Genesis, ELO, Meat Loaf, and even, God forbid, Dire Straits. I have seen Cohen “live” on just one occasion, at the Royal Albert Hall in 1993. (Any Lenny “virgins” would do well to check this out for starters . . . just to understand.)

So, leaving work on time for once, I raced home, threw Stuey and Dexxy into the back of the car without their customary early evening walk (thus risking bladders being emptied on the back seat), and headed down to Ramat Gan. Bringing the beasts meant that I wasn’t even going to be looking for a ticket – I just wanted to feel part of the “occasion”, and, if possible, hear just a little of the great man’s distinctive bass from outside the stadium.

Leonard Cohen (1969)I was not alone. There were a couple of hundred of us ticketless hobos, sitting on kerbs and the grass verges of the adjacent Ha’yarkon Park. I bumped into a journalist acquaintance, Lisa, who had hoped to bum a ticket through media contacts outside the stadium. But to no avail.

I fantasized, briefly, about approaching queuing Israelis (an oxymoron, I know), and posing a simple enough question (for any genuine Cohen fan):

Chelsea Hotel #2 refers to Lenny’s affair with which singer?”

I even planned my response for the (expected) failure to provide the correct answer (Janis Joplin):

“Right, get outta the queue! And gimme your ticket! It’s confiscated. Now go home!”

Back on planet Earth . . . following one round of the stadium perimeter, Lisa and I perched ourselves on the stretch of kerb where Cohen could be most clearly heard. To our chagrin, however, there were a couple of horribly annoying Israeli women also seated in the vicinity who insisted on vocally accompanying his every word. And not only that . . . but with the heaviest of “Hebrish” accents. Nauseating guttural noises accompanied Lover Lover Lover:

“Yes and love-airrgggh, love-airrgggh, love-airrgggh, love-airrgggh, love-airrgggh, love-airrgggh . . . love-airrgggh, come back to me.”

Lisa, eventually, could take no more and left. The opportunity I had been waiting for arrived when Stuey and Dexxy started barking at a passing canine, at which the irritating duet – far less attractive, I might add, than my hairy duo (otherwise I may have let them off) – had the temerity to deliver filthy looks in my direction. That was my cue. I assured them that I would keep the dogs quiet . . . if they would do the same with each other. I am becoming more Israeli by the day. (There was plenty other Israeli chutzpah on show – during the second half of the concert, for instance, as minibuses started rolling up, fellow freeloading kerb-sitters remonstrated with drivers about the noise of their engines!)

I had a hot date planned for later in the evening, and left early to avoid the departing hordes. To quote Suzanne, perhaps Cohen’s most well-known song, “[I] want[ed] to be there”. And, strangely, I felt as if I had been. It was well worth the effort.

In spite of having been ordained as a Buddhist monk (in 1996), Leonard Cohen still considers himself “one of us”:

“I’m not looking for a new religion. I’m quite happy with the old one, with Judaism.”

Legend has it that Cohen – who was performing for Israeli troops – shared cognac with Arik Sharon in the Sinai during the Yom Kippur War, and that he was plagued with guilt when he found himself relieved to learn that a passing convoy of bloodied bodies was ‘only’ one of Egyptians. He would later remark:

Lover Lover Lover was born over there. The whole world has its eyes riveted on this tragic and complex conflict. Then again, I am faithful to certain ideas, inevitably. I hope that those of which I am in favour will gain.”

The recollection of Israeli singer Oshik Levi sheds further light:

Leonard Cohen performing for Israeli troops (Suez Canal, 1973)“Leonard Cohen proceeded with us for three months, day after day, four to five – and sometimes eight – performances a day. And, in every place we arrived at, he wanted to be drafted. At one time he wanted to be a paratrooper, at another time in the marines, and another time he wanted to be a pilot. We would sleep in sleeping bags on the floor because there was no room, and Leonard – who didn’t want to feel like a star – refused when I tried to arrange a place for him in the Culture Room.”

Asked which side he supports in the Arab-Israeli conflict, Cohen has responded:

“I don’t want to speak of wars or sides . . . Personal process is one thing, it’s blood, it’s the identification one feels with their roots and their origins.”

Cohen hit hard times in 2005, alleging that his longtime former manager had misappropriated over five million dollars from his retirement fund (leaving just $150,000). And the Israel leg of his world tour will not have done much to help – Cohen donated all of the profits (estimated at two million dollars) to an Israeli-Palestinian charity (a political gesture, no doubt, in the face of pressure from the anti-Israel lobby).

Even international music legends are not guaranteed to make money here . . . though I am certain that Cohen will have enjoyed coming back to his “roots”.

God bless you, Lenny. And come back again soon (I promise, next time, to leave Stuey and Dexxy at home).

 

[For further photographs from, and discussion relating to, Cohen’s time in Israel during the Yom Kippur War, see the Leonard Cohen Forum. Other quotes and information from Wikipedia.]