Arbitrary Rules Win… for the Day

In the big picture, the pen is always mightier than the sword.

But sometimes, in the day to day,  it doesn’t feel that way.

Oh how my pen is mightier than my sword. I use my pen (or in this day and age, my tablet) to sway the world.  To praise and to critique.

Case in point: To Praise

Last week, I woke up at 4AM unable to fall back asleep, plagued with jet lag. A good friend of mine back in the US suggested that I go to Benedict’s to take advantage of their 24/7 hours of operation.

Great idea!

I got there. Had a great experience. Filled my belly as well as my soul…I always have an “eggs benedict” shaped hole in my stomach.

I felt compelled to immediately write a glowing review on Trip Advisor, sharing with all of Tel Aviv’s early risers, that there was hope, great service, and a delicious breakfast awaiting them, on mornings like this one.

So, as you can see, I’m not just one of those negative people, constantly bickering about little things in Israel that irk me. I try to stay positive and celebrate the good stuff too.

But of course, the universe loves equilibrium, so a less lovely experience followed.

As I said before, “Oh how my pen is mightier than my sword. I use my pen to sway the world. To praise and to critique.

Case in point: To Critique

I finished my breakfast at Benedict’s at around 5:30AM, and I decided to go to my favorite beach, Hof Metzitzim. I wanted to put up my portable hammock in one of their wooden huts on the beach. These huts are on the beaches of Tel Aviv year round, and are one of my favorite things about our beaches.

I put up my hammock, watched the sunrise and fell asleep.

At 7AM, the most annoying wake up call came to me, two men from the iriyah in orange shirts grunting and huffing at me, “Gveret. Ee-eefshar le’hiyot kan eem ha harsal.  Ani mitztayer, ze lo hoe-kee”.

Translation: Miss. It’s impossible for you to be here with that hammock. I’m sorry, but it’s not legal.

I leaned forward, opened my eyes, looked around the empty beach, and answered, groggy: What do you mean it’s not legal? What’s illegal about a hammock on the beach?

“We’re sorry. But you have to take it down. You have five minutes.”

I was calm and quiet, but annoyed. “That’s ridiculous. What’s the law against a portable hammock on a public beach.”

“Take it down. It’s the rule. You have 5 minutes”

“It takes less than 5 minutes to set up, 5 minutes to take down, keeps my body off of the sand, and allows me a relaxing, free seat. Why is there a rule against it?”

I tried to keep my cool, as I asked the gentlemen from the municipality if it makes sense to them.

One of them impatiently repeated his mantra…”Gveret. Ze Lo Hoo-kie”.

The other listened and looked sympathetic.

I took a deep breath and tried to reason with the men. In my broken Hebrew I explained, “Listen, I know your boss has told you that you must stop people from doing X..y…z. And that your job is to tell me, ‘Don’t do it’. But just for a second, think about it. Am I really disturbing anyone? Would I be preventing someone else from enjoying the beach if I stayed with my hammock? Is it a rule that is logical?”

It was clear that one of the guys just wanted to go about his business, picking up trash, never questioning the validity of such a ridiculous law (if it does in fact exist). I saw a look of empathy and understanding in the other guy.

I am not what the Israelis call “Rosh Katan” (little head)… a cog in the system. When I see injustice, I don’t just let it go. At least not the 2nd time I encounter it.

I should mention, this whole song and dance took place about three months ago on the same beach, with the same pea brains.

So I asked the men, “Where can I find a copy of this law?” And they pointed vaguely in the direction of the bathrooms and a building near it.

I took a deep breath, and went to face the battle that I didn’t have the patience or motivation to face, at the start of the summer.

I’ll summarize.

I got to the office and I asked a plain clothes guy taking a nap on a chair if this was the office of the manager of the municipal beach patrol and life guards station was. He said yes.

“Has he been in the office yet today?”

“Yes” he replied.

“Do you know where he is now?”


“Can you call him on a walkie talkie?”

“He will be back soon.  What’s the problem?”

“I want to see the rules for the beach? I brought a hammock and I was told that I was not allowed to use it, that there was some kind of law against it.  I’d like to see that law, if it exists.”

The plain clothes guy seemed irked by:

#1 My broken Hebrew…I said safsal (bench) instead of harsal (hammock) at first, and

#2 The fact that I was cutting into his nap time

The boss took about 30 minutes to locate  No one in the orange shirts seem to know anything.

When the boss finally did arrive, he basically just shouted and repeated the whole thing again. “There is a rule…no hammocks… NEKUDA!”

“Can I see that rule please?  Is it written somewhere?”

“Gveret.  You aren’t listening.  There is a law that says you cannot use hammocks on public beaches.  So you can’t.”

“I hear you.  And I’m asking to see that rule.  Do you have a book of municipal laws and ordinances?”

“Gveret, you aren’t listening.  This isn’t a private beach.  You cannot use your hammock here.  Where are you from?”

“What does that matter?  Why does where I’m from, matter?”

“Because you aren’t Israeli.  You don’t know the rules here.”

“I’m from here.  I’m an Israeli.”

“No, you’re from America, I can hear it in your accent.”

“Yes, but I’m also a citizen of this country as much as you are.”

“Where do you live?”

“I live near the University, in Ramat Aviv.  Where do you live?”

“Tel Aviv!” and he pats his chest as if he’s more “Tel Avivian” than me.

“Me too.  Ramat Aviv is a neighborhood here in Tel Aviv, you know.”  I immediately regretted saying Ramat Aviv, because now he probably thinks I’m a rich snob, which I’m not.

“Look, this isn’t America, Hamuda (cutie).  You cannot put up a hammock here where ever you want.  This is a public beach and there are rules.”

“Don’t call me ‘Hamuda’.  My name is Sarah.  And I heard you the first time.  All I’m asking is to see the municipalitie’s book of ordinances.  So that I can see for myself that you aren’t just creating a rule, because you feel like it.”

“I make up rules and they have to be followed.  That’s my job”

I chuckled.

Then the guy who was napping, woke up from his slumber and came over.  He asked the manager, in Hebrew, “Do you want me to write her a citation?”

I interrupted, “A citation for what?  For asking to see an ordinance book?”

I scoffed at the blatant intimidation they were showing me.  I reminded myself to breath deeply, and to not loose my cool.

The two of them had a little quiet discussion.  They went over to their computer and started looking something up, presumably the ordinances on line.  They seemed completely and utterly confused and baffled.  I couldn’t imagine, from their bumbling that they have ever even seen a list of the actual municipal ordinances.

Suddenly though, I overheard a new word,  “Oogdan”.

The boss requested that the sleepy helper go and find an “oogdan”.  Judging from the context that must be a book of ordinances.

Hooray, progress.

So they went and found an oogdan, brought it back, and….

big surprise, they couldn’t find the ordinance.

But that wasn’t enough for the manager of the municipal beach patrol and life guards.

He said to me, “It’s rule because I say it’s a rule.”  Ayze Chutzpan!

So I asked who his boss was.  And he answered with another name and a phone number 106.  In a few more minutes some man, who had no identifying features as a municipal worker came and told me to leave. He said, “Not all municipal rules are written down.  You still must follow them.  Now go away.”

I left.  but I left with the refreshing empowerment of the phrase, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

Hopefully something good will come of this, perhaps not today, but down the line.  Today, arbitrary rules will win.  But today is only the start.

About the Author
As an American-Israeli immigrant to Israel, I have seen the beautiful and the ugly side of Israel. And still through it all, the beautiful side wins. I am a teacher, an artist, a small business owner, an activist for peace, an optimist, but also a realist. I was very active in the Jewish community of Charlotte, NC before making Aliyah, teaching 1st grade in their Sunday school program, as well as holding the position of President of the Jewish Student Organization at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte for two years.
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