Sunday, February 14, 2010

Meet the Mainstream

Sometimes it's hard to be an oddball, particularly when you got to think you no longer were one. The ugly duckling is comfortable with the swans, the ugly swan is happy among the duckling. But sometimes they both have to visit the old neighborhood. Yesterday was such a day for Itka and I. It was Shavit's birthday.

The lovely Shvait is Keren's beyfriend, and Keren is Itka's friend from highschool. Both still live in the suburban town of Rehovoth, south of Tel-Aviv. This is the town in which Itka grew up, and which is incidently the cradle of my own family: both my parents were born there.

In order to stay in Rehovoth and enjoy its reasonable real-estate, one must embrace the values of the Israeli mainstream. People with such political opinions and liberal lifestyle as Itka and myself would find life there rather difficult. Even attending a lazy weekend party with Rehovotites turned out to be a challange, at least for myself.

To begin with, we don't own a television set. Consequnetly I found myself confused in most conversations. somebody would say some random word in a funny accent and everyone would laugh. I had to assume that it was some comical TV reference that all recognized, all but for me.

The other difficulty had to do with politics. The party took place in Tel-Aviv's Park Darom (literally South Park), a place where many religious and working class families, typically associated with the right, go to spend a fair Saturday. Our own section of the park was lined with blue and white baloons. Blue and white - because the theme of the birthday party, as organized by Keren, was "Israel". Only Israeli music was to be played and a karaoke machine equipped with Mizrahi songs allowed us to add noise to the park's commotion. Keren kept referring to me endearingly as "the shameless leftist".

Perhaps the most obvious cultural gap between us and the others was the most subtle one. It has to do with the Army service. Neither Osnat nor myself have served in the I.D.F., each for a different reason. The Army provides Israelis with a unique essence in their communication. It's a rustic essence that often makes me feel like an over-delicate Eton boy in conversations.

In the Army, you can't talk "high" or you'll be embarrassing yourself and others. It's very important to stay down to earth and never challange the other conversants with exclusive knowledge or opinions. This trait remains in the Israeli psyche. Even when I caught a some guy talking to his friends about his impending flight to Madrid with a layover in Prague, I couldn't get the conversation to be about either Madrid or Prague. Any mention of anything besides how much layovers suck, was ignored.

Keeping lowbrow is perfectly fine in a picnic situation, but these guys were keeping way lowbrow. I didn't buy it. These are intelligent people. They are Jewish, and Jewish society originally revered education. Israeli Jewish society, however, regards education as secondary and instead reveres the Military.

Are these wasted minds? I am a stuck-up misfit, no different from other trecherous deserters who are currently being demonized by Israeli politicians? Let's not get the quarrel started. It's a birthday party, for heaven's sake.

All in all, it was a good party thrown by lovely hosts. Once I got my go at the Mizrachi karaoke, I was feeling more at home. and once the guitar was out, South Park began to look pretty good indeed.

One day propaganda may make Itka and I into real personas non gratas. That day isn't here yet. As long as both "good Israelis" from Rehovot and Tel-Avivian post-Zionists can still raise a toast together, I'm glad. Currently, It doesn't really matter whether you're a duckling or a swan, so long as the pond is filled with beer.


Jeff said...

Thanks for this post, Yuval. It both sheds light on your own reality in Israel, and mine in the US, as well.

Living in Brooklyn I continually feel more and more "normal," more mainstream, until I meet people who think that everything I regard as interesting or hip seems simply "weird" to them.

It's easy to get wrapped up in our worlds, though venturing out to the mainstream can only be for the better. It can help us appreciate the networks we create for ourselves and the principles we value.

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