Diary From Tel Aviv
Day One: Pouncing tigers, falling rockets, and grim expressions
I’m standing on the corner of Shenkin Street, the place where my Romanian neighbor warned me that she heard—from someone who was an important person in the Romanian Mossad and knows everything—that a tiger was hiding in the first tree and would attack me because in the Holocaust, she heard from him that most people who aren’t tall enough get killed by tigers or Nazis from the Hezbollah. She uses the female form of address when she talks to me because she has two daughters and she only uses the masculine form when she talks to her dog, but in Romanian.
Two people are standing with me waiting for that traffic light to change, the one that changes only once a week—at least that’s what they say here in all the languages the people who live here in the old center of the city brought with them. One of them is furious at the light. He says, “Change already, you bastard. What kind of country is this? Couldn’t they learn from Sudan how a traffic light changes? I’m leaving the country. What a government!!” Then the light changes, the tiger is asleep, and I limp across Rothschild Boulevard.
Five girls with their navels hanging out—two look like hooks for rings—are laughing and talking loudly. One says, “What? Are you sure? You’re kidding me! What? His father was killed by a rocket in Haifa? I just saw him a week ago. What a crazy country, that he could die that way, like, how weird is that?”
These days, Tel Aviv is 62 miles from the front, which is Haifa, Tzfat, Nahariya, and the other places, and it’s the only city in the world people lay dead before they lived in it. The old cemetery is located in the middle of the city. At the beginning of the 20th century, an epidemic broke out in Jaffa and they found a piece of land far from there, bought it and started burying. Meanwhile, the city grew up around the nicest cemetery in the world, and almost all the city’s streets are buried there. In her old age, my mother used to take me to say hello to her friends and her parents, who are buried there. She used to get a permanent in honor of her friends.
Now, most of Tel Aviv is populated by people from the North. You can tell they’re foreigners, even though the cities aren’t very far away. Whenever we hear the sound of a plane, they’re the ones who immediately look up. On the boulevard this morning, I saw a woman who was pretty fat, though not terribly fat, throw herself down on the grass when she heard a plane, then get up, laugh and say that this was the most just war we ever had. She thought that since I write for the newspapers, I must talk to the Prime Minister every morning, and she asked me to tell him not to send the infantry into Lebanon. That’s mud we’ll get stuck in forever. Let them attack with F-15s, not F-16s. They’re more accurate in the north because of the winds. She heard from someone who’s someone that we don’t need tanks there, and I should tell Olmert not to talk a lot, but to bomb the hell out of Southern Lebanon, that we’re sick and tired of rockets landing on our heads, that we should hang signs on all the lampposts—”WE ARE RIGHT”—because that will have an effect on the terrorists, who don’t care about anything.
That evening, I sat down in front of the TV. It was all war. Shooting. Interviews. And a woman called me, a woman I know—I’m old, so I know a lot of people and women. She complained that at the soldiers’ funerals they show on television, you can see the tragic, patriotic, grim expressions on the pompous faces of the people who come to show sympathy. She told me to ask on TV, but really ask, where did he die? In a pogrom? No, he died defending his homeland. Listen, yesterday, I went to pay a condolence call, she said, and someone was playing the guitar and they sang funny songs. The deceased would’ve loved it.
That’s how it is.