Half an Englishman in Tel Aviv, Chapter 2

CHAPTER 2: Why Israel? (aka The Look In Her Eye)

Being a foreigner (or at least half of one), I often get asked by the natives why I chose to come and live in Israel – they hear my British accent and immediately question why, why would someone ever want to leave a city like London, let alone for a country like Israel (their words, not mine)…

Of course, it’s not a simple answer, and due to the fact that you can’t very well explain the many nuances and complexities of such a decision to every person who asks, I usually find myself generalising:

I typically begin with the weather (definitely a key factor, and hey, I’m British; the weather will always be at the forefront of my mind). Back home, the relentless dreariness of the English sky was starting to get me down, especially as I got older. It had reached the stage where, late August, early September, I would catch myself looking into a mirror, mentally preparing for the onset of yet another winter of discontent.

The British summer is like a joke without the punch line; indeed, the statement ‘British summer’ IS the punch line. My relationship with the weather in England was precisely like the one a heavyweight boxer has with his one big fight of the year, that one, lone opportunity to make sense of all those months spent in training: if you’re lucky, the weather in England will be nice for around three weeks of an entire year; the rest of your time is pretty much spent indoors, keeping your head down, eating the right foods and taking care of your body in the blind hope that when the good weather DOES arrive, it does so on a weekend:

That’s the other thing; it’s no good if the sun is shining and you’re stuck in some office gazing at its glow from afar – it needs to be out specifically during the weekend so that you can actually exploit it.

So let’s do the math. There are around 21 days of sun out of the 365 available + of those 21 days, only a paltry 6 have the ‘opportunity’ to actually mean anything; now maths was never my strong suit but I know enough to realize that, taking everything into the equation, ‘good weather’ + ‘England’ = not terribly likely to happen.

Some people aren’t affected by the weather. I envy them. I remember a time when I too wasn’t so affected. I remember the freedom and folly of my childhood, when the weekends seemed to last an eternity, when all that mattered was playing football: jumpers for goalposts, Ribena for sustenance…

…I remember the weather so clearly then, when each season seemed to be so perfectly defined, rather than the homogenised sludge that they always seem now:

Spring actually WAS spring, when the air was alive with fresh possibilities; summer WAS summer, halcyon days of dandelions and mischief; autumn WAS autumn, my favourite season, when the earth seemed a shade of muted greens and browns…

Way back when, I even liked winter (winter meant Hanukkah, Hanukkah meant gifts, gifts meant everything). I worshiped snow (just like any other self-respecting child) and hell, I even had time for those ridiculous fingerless gloves – I say ridiculous because in reality, they did absolutely nothing to combat the cold and, when all is said and done, are a largely pointless invention. Ditto balaclavas; they might protect your ears and a tiny section of your chin, but what about THE REST OF YOUR FACE. I can see it now, my mother sending me out into the bitter, uncaring world wearing BOTH those aforementioned garments for protection; I probably thought I looked cool, but I also remember a period when I felt the same about fluorescents and shell suits.

Okay, looking back, perhaps I’ve NEVER liked winter. Strange, because I’m certain I did. Funny how memory works, how it contorts and idealises…even funnier is how, when we’re young, all we did was dream about the future, and now, when we’re older, all we do is reminisce about the past:

“When do we actually LIVE?!”

…That’s what I found myself almost screaming at the last hapless individual who asked me the question that serves as this blog entry’s primary title – it was a chance encounter on Shenkin, and she just so happened to be working at one of the street’s many restaurants:

Poor girl. I’d first made her acquaintance during my previous visit to Israel; the friend of a friend, we’d met a couple of times after that initial encounter and though we’d gotten on well, overall, if I had to label our relationship, somewhere within that murky water between ‘friend’ and ‘acquaintance’ is where we would reside.

So basically, I barely knew her.

She spotted me, I spotted her; after sharing a somewhat awkward hug, the following ensued:

Me: “How are you?”

Her: “I’m fine. What are you doing here?”

Me: “I made Aliyah.”

I’ve never seen someone’s face turn in the manner hers did after she heard me mention the word ‘Aliyah’. On the most basic of levels, she simply went from a smile to an expression of abject horror – but it was the look in her eye that truly caught me off guard…

How to explain that look. While it’s basically impossible to do it justice, here goes nothing:

Firstly, imagine the number 54838903107961801127. Then multiply it by a giraffe.

It was as if she’d just been confronted with the image of her parents having sex. With a giraffe.

Her: “Wh..wh..why Israel?!”

Instead of some witty, unchallengeable riposte, I started mumbling something about the weather, eventually finding myself in a scenario where I’m writing a blog entry as a means to not only explain one of the many reasons why I came here (or should that be why I left there), but also as a vehicle for exorcising that poor girl’s demonic expression from my soul. It was as truly frightening as it was unexplainable. I genuinely felt guilty for what I’d put her through, and all I did was emigrate.

Clearly, the answer to ‘why’ will never be easy. As discussed earlier, even if I explained EVERYTHING, that wouldn’t do it justice; concurrently, to simplify matters is only belittling both myself and the person doing the asking – what I know for sure is that the grass is never greener (actually, in Israel’s case, it’s a different shade altogether, almost a yellowish brown) and that the mirrors in London reflect in exactly the same way they do over here; nothing ever truly changes apart from our surroundings, and eventually, they too will become routine and familiar. I guess it just comes down to trying to be happy. I’ve always believed happiness is a choice rather than a privilege, and if you’ve become too accustomed to something, or if you’re just coasting, or if everything is just a little too safe, then I suppose the question ceases to no longer be ‘why’, but rather, why not?

Until we meet again, shalom and salutations.


Football is a sport. And a rather popular one at that. I only include it in the references section for the aid of my American friends who know it under a different moniker, namely ‘soccer’ – let it be known that I will NEVER accept ‘soccer’ as a term for the beautiful game. Ever. Football is football. Sure, I appreciate the Americans want to differentiate it from AMERICAN football, but seeing how one’s foot is barely used in that sport, perhaps they should call football by its actual name and American football by something more accurate: I suggest ‘Mindless Nonsense Involving Shoulder Pads & Helmets’.

Ribena is a syrupy concentrate you dilute with water, creating possibly the greatest drink known to man (blackcurrant is best – obviously – but a refrigerated carton of the strawberry flavour runs it pretty close).

Dandelions are a widely distributed weed of the daisy family. They are not, in any shape or form, effeminate, nor are their inclusion in this post an indication that my childhood was spent living in some real-life version of a Monet painting.

Shenkin is a street in Tel Aviv.

Aliyah is a term given to those immigrating to Israel i.e. “Students making Aliyah.”

References WITHIN References:

Oscar-Claude Monet was a founder and key practitioner of French Impressionist painting, a philosophy based on expressing one’s perceptions before nature.


 Sal (aka Mark) Sayles is a writer/filmmaker based in Tel Aviv, Israel. He remains homeless.


 Put up with me on Twitter (@SalSayles)

Watch my films on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/user/marksayles)

If you’re a film producer – preferably one with loads of money and who likes the film Edward Scissorhands – please (PLEASE) contact me; I’d really appreciate it if you produced one of my screenplays. By the by, I also have to direct the film itself. Cheers.

Likewise, if you’re a publisher, please (PLEASE) contact me and immediately publish my novel – it’s longer than Ulysses and possibly not as good.

Salism # 42 – “Life is a war and the biggest battle is against ourselves.”


About the Author
Originally from London, England, Sal spent many years working as a freelance writer/filmmaker before taking the plunge at the end of 2013 and making Aliyah - this blog tells of his attempts to acclimatise to his new surroundings, alongside offering frontline reports of his random thoughts and adventures.