The summer in Tel Aviv is always accompanied by three things: an influx of French Jews, a sharp spike in revenue from ice-coffee and talk of an impending war. The phenomenon of the summer rumor mill regarding an Arab-Israeli war has the Hebrew nickname of “Seren Shmuati” which translates to Captain Rumor. That’s because everyone has a friend of a friend or a relative of a relative who knows an IDF Captain that told them war was imminent.
But the summer in Tel Aviv is also characterized by a blasé attitude regarding current events, long sunsets and the sound of a sweet, yet all too brief, summer breeze. The small planes crossing the pink sky on their way to the city’s small airport give a sense of living in a jet set European resort town.
One can almost hear Dean Martin singing “Volare oh oh…”
In the past few days, however, the usual wartime rumors have been replaced by an alarming series of events which, according to most, are about to climax with an American led attack on Syria. Once again, tensions have reached fever pitch in the Middle East. Captain Rumor has been relieved of command by General Dempsey.
When commenting on the latest Superman film, a biographer of the Man of Steel stated that Superman does best when America is at its worst. Interestingly, the Israeli press is at its best when Israeli civilians are most distraught. Doomsday scenarios replace factual reports on all websites, large maps of Arab missile silos replace in depths analysis in all newspapers and catch phrases like “not if but when” fill the airways.
Yesterday evening, while watching the West Wing’s President Bartlet address the Democratic National Convention I received an urgent phone call from a friend who asked “Is he going to gas us?” To an Israeli, let alone a Jew, this is always a question with historic significance. This morning I was awoken by an old classmate who explained that her gas mask was stored away in her mom’s garage in Jerusalem and wondered if it was time to head back to the Holy City given the Israeli common believes that Arab dictators would never risk hitting Jerusalem’s holy sites.
Surrounded by all this panic I wondered if Tel Aviv’s Iron Dome of indifference had finally cracked. Was the gayest city in the world turning into a bore? Is the party over?
Naturally I did what any good Jewish boy does in a stressful situation and called my mother. “Do you have your gas mask?” she inquired.
-“Oddly enough I do”.
“Good”, she said, “Now you can go on eBay and sell it to the highest bidder. They say there are lines all over the country of people trying to get one. Don’t forget to call your grandmother”.
Making my way across Tel Aviv today, I found myself asking the two most common questions asked by first time visitors to the city; are there more dogs than people here and doesn’t anyone work in this city? Because the coffee shops are full, the beaches are packed and the French Jewery is still here, in its thousands.
Sitting at my regular café, one could overhear a couple discuss their intention to sublet their apartment while on vacation, a middle aged man explain in great length why he prefers soy milk to regular milk and a young woman talk about last night’s “walk of shame”.
And in the background there was Dino, still singing “Volare, oh oh…”