The life of a freelancer affords no community. This much has been well documented and is plainly plain. And membership in The Freelancers’ Union – much advertised – only takes you so far.
Imagine my delight, then, when, on only my third day in Tel Aviv I got to meet the upstairs neighbors during two consecutive air-raid sirens, which we spent on my landing. I learned that one of them understands Russian (no snide remarks behind his back in the Czar’s English for me) and that his family is from St. Petersburg, although he’s never been. “Go,” I said; “Putin had the city renovated 10 years ago for its 300th anniversary, and the paint’s still not spalling too badly. It’s beautiful; go.”
As I went back inside my apartment for the second time, back I went to a project I had to do for a client in besieged Ukraine who needed translations of some speeches made at the mid-May Moscow Conference on International Security. Between taking shelter in Tel Aviv and working into American English on the subject of security in Moscow – all for a client in Kiev – geopolitics was certainly playing a role in my evening. Some of the delegates at the conference: Iran, Syria, Belarus – in short, Psychos Descend On Red Square For Sleazefest as The New York Post doubtless would have put it. With a pro forma dedication, the speech of the Iranian Minister of Defense was off to a high-flying start: “In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate!”
Somewhere towards the beginning, there was this sentence: “In my capacity as the Minister of Defense of a country that itself is the victim of blind, mercenary terrorism, which, unfortunately, enjoys support and protection from those who present themselves as “fighters against terrorism” and “defenders of human rights”, I hereby declare that the government and people of Iran are, as they have always been, against any form of terrorism, especially state terrorism.”
Funny, I thought, how life works. Here I am, sitting under a bit of a hail of rockets that peace-loving Hamas militants received as a token of appreciation from Iran – although the gift must’ve been laced with a smidgen or two of disgusted condescension, since in private these descendants of the once-great Persian empire will tell you of their misgivings about dealing with Arabs, since they are, and I quote, “Semites” – yes, so here I am, stayin’ alive, and translating some not-too-on-the-level words by an Iranian leader. Although all for a good cause, since the Ukrainian client is a think tank.
I thought warmly about my two newly-met neighbors and about the possibility of, say, grabbing an Americano and, say, labneh laced with silan at the café across the street with one of them, and perhaps discussing the crucial differences in cool-kid clichédom between the Tel Aviv and New York hipster scenes in some halting Hebrew for me and a little kindergarten Russian for him. In short, I thought of making friends – building that vaunted community everybody’s so up in arms about, as if it were manna from heaven. Then I thought that if Hamas really wanted to fool people, as if they haven’t already, they could completely re-brand themselves, with a nice picture of families huddling in a concrete staircase, away from windows and facades, doubled over in communal laughter and visceral camaraderie, with the slogan: HAMAS. Connecting People.
My daydream over, I surveyed the speech. The Minister of Defense was out on a minute digit tracing back to a joint extending from a limb, but no less blithely confident for it:
“As my presentation comes to a close, please allow me to declare that the Islamic Republic of Iran, which in the past three decades has made greater efforts than any other country to bring into existence regional and international stability and security, and in connection with this took important steps in order to defuse crises and problems having to do with security in Central Asia, in the Caucuses, in Iraq, in Syria, in Lebanon and Palestine, will continue these efforts uninterruptedly.”
God bless him, I thought. At least someone’s trying. Allah, I mean. Allah bless him.
And then I remembered how, the day before, when I was in Jerusalem, which was inexplicably also being attacked – “Not *my* Eternal Capital!” says a kerchiefed fighter of freedom as he loads up a hissing projectile into a heinous ejectile – I had seen the darndest thing. A Breslaw Chassid, a middle-aged man in an old car, with his white prophet’s beard waving like a flag out of the open window, was chugging up a hill, one hand on the steering wheel, the other holding a plastic gun dispensing soap bubbles. He had a beatific smile on his face, and in the hush of the sunset hour he bellowed: “Don’t you worry, my children. These rockets, they are empty. Empty like these soap bubbles. Don’t you worry. We will overcome.” A heavily tattooed woman stopped and blew him a big wet one from the sidewalk.