Monday, April 11, 2005

Ayzeh Mehdeenah* (5) - Security

(4) Davka
(3) Hebrew School
(2) August 29-30, 1988
*(1) Definitions and Intro

Nothing put me to sleep faster than doing Hebrew homework. In fact, I had no trouble sleeping from the day I landed in Israel, even before I started Ulpan. This in happy contrast to my growing insomnia the preceding few years. In Israel I could fall asleep anywhere, not just my room or on a bed. On buses, on sofas in other people's homes, on the beach, and even, one time, on the outdoor patio of a community center where a sculptor friend of mine was installing an exhibition. I felt as safe as a baby. We assume a person who sleeps on the street is "homeless," but I really feel that anywhere in Israel is my home. Am I deluded? If I am, at least I'm not alone. And I do have a street address and phone number, for backup. Pehaps adjusting to life in Israel was so exhausting that I was sleepy all the time, but being sleepy and falling asleep are two different things, as any insomniac can tell you.

Another indicator of my newly-acquired feelings of safety came to me as I walked around Tel Aviv after class at Ulpan Meir. I felt no need to use my "Manhattan walk:" my late-for-an-important-meeting walk, purposeful, avoiding eye contact. I could safely meander down Rothschild Boulevard, study the architecture of both new and decrepit buildings. Once on King George Street I was doing this so intently that I collided with a lamppost. To my great relief, no one laughed at my goof, making me wonder whether people-walking-into-lampposts was a common occurance in Tel Aviv. I felt just as safe strolling about Tel Aviv at night, even alone. I still do, although the second intifada has made me little more aware of who's around me.

Once I left a folder of documents on a café chair and went off to a job interview. After the interview, I returned to the café, hoping to find my documents, and there they were! Since then, whenever I've left a jacket, an umbrella, a book, even a credit card (!), at an Israeli business establishment, it's always been saved for me. Always (tfu tfu tfu). I like to think the Talmudic law about returning lost possessions persists even in modern secular Israel. After all, it's part of "what we do," even when we don't know why. Maybe I've just been lucky.

Another nice, related, convention here is when something, like a glove or a baby's pacifier, is dropped on the street and you find it, you're supposed to pick it up and leave it at eye level, to make it easier for the person who lost it to find it. This happened once when my cellphone dropped one Friday morning as I was walking Shuki and reading the Jerusalem Post, and resulted in a Big Incident. It was right after the start of the second intifada, and unattended cellphones were suspected of being bomb detonators. Ten minutes into my walk, I realized I had lost the phone, so I retraced my steps and asked everyone I saw whether they had seen it, including the vendors at the kiosk. No luck. I got home and called my cellphone number and a policeman answered. After he asked me some questions to evaluate whether I sounded like a suicide bomber, he must have concluded that I didn't, because he told me to run right over to where he was, or they would call the sappers in three minutes. When I got there, a few buildings away from the kiosk, a small crowd had already gathered to witness my "crime." Some well-bred Tel Avivian had picked up the fallen cellphone and placed in on the trunk of a parked car, where it could be seen more easily but my eyes had been seeking it on the ground. And, even more suspiciously, the car was legitimately parked in a space reserved for the vehicle of a disabled person.

This doesn't mean there is no street crime: cars and wallets are stolen quite often. One Thursday evening my wallet was picked out of my pocket at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem. I reported it to the police, but it wasn't found. I was sadder about the lost photos than the money. And about two months ago, on a bus, I observed a guy stick his hand into the small pocket of a backpack as we were getting off the bus. I thought he was the boyfriend of the backpack-wearer (amazing how we construct scenarios about human interactions), and it wasn't until they got off the bus and went off in separate directions without any goodbye or eye contact that I realized he had probably stolen her wallet.


PPB said...

I'm particularly impressed by the leaving a dropped item at eye totally considerate!

sirbarrett said...

That is a very handy unwritten rule. I always find myself losing things because there isn't a system. I don't keep track of what's where. The eye-level thing just makes so much sense though. I remember being in New York and feeling that I was going to be mugged at any second. I went to a store and left after buying a small item. As I was walking away someone kept following me and calling after me: "homie, homie wait!" I was convinced that he was going to try to start a fight or hustle me for something "(amazing how we construct scenarios about human interactions)" but then I turned around and you know what he said: "homie, you forgot your change."

Savtadotty said...

PPB: I think I'll have to write a post about the famous Israeli rudeness, and
its opposite, neither of which seems to travel well.

BC: Your example is apt. Visits to places with scary reputations can sometimes provoke self-fulfilling prophecies. Imagine if you had starting running away instead of turning around!

The Lioness said...

The night of my farewell party in Eilat we went to the Promenade and sat outside at the Three Monkeys (or something). It was packed, absolutely packed w people.

(Funny what you remember, I was hit on by this bloke who was so charming that, even though he spoke perfect Hebrew and had an Israeli accent in English, rang the Wait A Second bells - I asked him if he was by any chance NOT Israeli and he said Why, I'm half Italian! Which leads me to think I should write a post abt why Israeli men can't be bothered to flirt or generally sweep you off your feet. Moving on.)

As I was saying a while ago, we were sitting there and when it was time to pay the bill I realised I'd had my wallet stolen from my bag, passport and all. So now I'm the proud owner of a passport w place of Issue: Tel Aviv - which will not let me anywhere near an Arab country. In case I wanted to go there. One never knows.

[Hi D., it's been a while eh?]