The Yenta Complex

It’s Saturday morning and I know it’s Shabbat and I really shouldn’t be writing now, but as the saying goes, “There is no time like the present,” and since I have finished watching all the History  and National Geography Channel stuff I have saved on the DVR , it is now my wife’s turn to watch her American situation comedies and soap operas which frankly, bore the tears out of me. But, don’t tell her that, I’ll wait till she reads this and then decides to tell me that I can make myself a sandwich for dinner tonight.

Anyway, last night, as usual, we had some friends over for dinner-no, cannibalism is not kosher and besides, I have an aversion to eating anything that I saw alive first. I have horrific memories of going to the fish market with my grandmother, z”l, and watching this big, fat guy grab a live carp out of a tank, slamming it over the head with a rolling pin and then dropping it into a plastic bag full of water. Then grandma would bring it home, fill the bathtub, and dump the carp into it and it would start to swim around the tub till Friday afternoon would take the carp out of the bathtub still wriggling, and unceremoniously, chop its head off, skin it, take out the bones and guts and grind it up for her Shabbes gefilte fish-Which, for years, I would NEVER eat-and don’t get me started on her chopped chicken liver which she would make from the live poultry market after the shochet (ritual slaughterer) chopped the head off an unsuspecting chicken which would then flap its wings and, after a few seconds, mercifully fall over dead-get the picture???

Well, since my wife still had the roast beef sitting on the cutting board( thanks to food TV, she now knows that meat has to rest after cooking otherwise all its juices spill out and you need a buzz saw to slice it then) my friend and I went out onto our balcony on the top floor of our building and saw a police helicopter weaving around the wadi ( a dry riverbed that fills up with water in the rainy season-if there is enough rain in the Judea Desert to fill it), going slowly and dipping down real low so it appeared to be just skirting the rooftops of the neighborhood across the wadi.

We knew it was a police chopper cause it wasn’t in the military green/grey camouflage colors, it was white with a blue stripe across the front of it, just where the bubble that the pilot and co-pilot sit. Back and forth, slowly turning from left to right, we first thought that maybe there was a terror alert and they were hunting for possible dangerous characters. But we ruled that out because it was not a military helo and there were no troops or cops on the ground.

Then, because the chopper was concentrating near a neighborhood of mostly religious Jews, we thought that it might be hunting for thieves because some of the houses there had been broken into on Friday nights and Saturday mornings because the crooks know when people are in synagogue and the homes are empty. Or, maybe some kid had gotten lost or fell somewhere  and the police were looking for him.

What we found out this morning was that an elderly gentleman with Alzheimer’s Disease had slipped out of the apartment where he lives with his family and they were frantic about where he might have disappeared too. However, the news this morning was that somehow, he had gotten onto a bus and headed into Jerusalem which is only a 20 minute bus ride away and he was, thank G-d, found safe and sound.

Now, why do I tell you this? Because this, believe it or not, is not a particularly odd occurrence here. No, folks with Alzheimer’s don’t, as a general rule, walk off every day in Maaleh Adumim. No, I tell you this because with all the backbiting, arguing, bureaucratic boondoggles and contumacious argumentation among the people here, there is a genuine concern for everyone’s welfare. I call it the Yenta Complex.

Israel is a country where a perfect stranger up to a minute before he meets you thinks nothing about asking how much money you make, or tells you that you paid too much for your apartment, or the school your kids go to is terrible. What might be considered rude and totally unacceptable behavior and really personal questions in a city like New York or Chicago, is perfectly normal here-a stranger on the bus will scold you for giving your kid a chocolate bar telling you that you’ll make him fat or give him diabetes. In the mall, it is perfectly normal to ask a stranger to watch your baby in the carriage while you go to the bathroom, or to take your toddler to the toilet if you cannot leave your other kid alone for a few minutes. Not a big deal here at all.

But the same rude, cantankerous and nosy neighbor will give you a lift (here, called a tramp-not like a “loose woman” but just a car ride) when your car is in the shop or you are overloaded with bags from the supermarket. That same neighbor who yells at you when you are playing your radio too loud on Shabbat will bring you some soup or cook you a meal when you are sick in bed. Sure, there are plenty of real sons-of-bitches (oy, am I going to be called a male chauvinist for using that remark?) here and folks I wouldn’t give you a 10 agorot(about 2.8 US cents) for, but that is the exception, not the rule.

I have proof. Last week my wife and I were walking out of the mall and I tripped over my own feet (yes, I am the proverbial klutz from time to time, so sue me) stepping off the sidewalk  onto the parking lot and I fell down like a sack of potatoes right on my knees. It was a good thing that I was wearing long pants instead of shorts because I only ended up with a small bruise and some torn skin. However, there must have been at least 8 folks, including a woman with a baby carriage, who rushed up to me, asking me if I needed help to get up. In fact, an older man who looked like a truck driver, actually put his arms under me to keep me steady and held my head off the ground, and this woman with the carriage wanted me to roll up my pant leg so she could check my knee out to see if she could wash it with one of the baby wipes in the bag attached to the pram.

Thank G-d all I just had the wind knocked out of me and I did not need the security guard to get her car to bring me to the 24 hour Emergency Care station in the town or the lift to the parking lot where my wife had parked our car.  I just laid there for a few minutes till I got my breath back and got up with that trucker’s help. He wouldn’t let me go till I could walk steadily on my feet. These people were total strangers to me  except for the security guard who I knew from seeing her day to day at the mall entrance. No, I don’t know her name but I’d recognize her face and her Glock anywhere,

Now, growing up in New York City, I know that probably if an older guy like me fell in the street, most people would just keep walking or think that I was a drunk or a stoner and just keep going-I’ve seen that happen on more than one occasion. No, I don’t make a habit of falling, but I am a klutz( Yiddish word for “clod” that sounds so much more descriptive-I mean, would you really like anyone known as a “schmuck?) and I have to be more careful when I walk, but you know, if I do fall, I don’t worry about people stepping on me, but rather, I know that there will be people stepping up to me offering help.

Like the police chopper on a Friday night looking for an individual man whose family was probably worried sick about him but knew that help would come.

What I am trying to write is that for all the bad impressions that many Israelis make abroad as being rude, pushy and aggressive translates into the opposite when they are home. Maybe growing up in a country where the kids are taught to be self reliant, where they are given a degree of independence and where there is a sense of day to day threats, makes it difficult for foreigners to understand the stubbornness and crass behavior that seems to create a very tough veneer on many Israelis.  Aggressive behavior abroad translates to strength and survivability at home. What is seen as pushy, loud, and intemperate behavior by Israelis in the USA (and i am just as guilty of this misconception till I began to live here) is completely acceptable in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem because it is that harsh personality trait that translates into the tough spine that keeps our backs straight.

Yes, there is something among Israelis that changes their behavior from Boston to Beersheva.  There is an innate love for each other that I’ve witnessed when friends greet each other, when schoolkids kiss their friends that they meet on the bus in the morning, when grown men hug when they meet each other in the coffee shop in the mall and when teenagers and young adults treat their friends like family.

Maybe it’s the common dangers we face, or just the atmosphere of a  tiny, Jewish country where we all seem to know something about each other. Maybe it is that Yenta Complex that puts everyone in everyone else’s business that can be excruciatingly annoying while also being so magnificently loving. It is something ingrained in the Israeli consciousness that I am slowly beginning to acquire and love. It is what makes us unconquerable and eternally optimistic.

“Ein breirah”, “No alternative” is the motto of our fighting strength-that there is no alternative to military victory. But, “Yihyeh b’seder”-“It will be okay,” is what keeps us going day to day.

Shabbat Shalom from Ma’aleh Adumim in liberated Israeli Yehudah, guarding the eastern approaches to Jerusalem, the eternal, indivisible and united capital of the Jewish people.

Yihyeh B’ Seder.



About the Author
Irwin was born in New York City and is now retired. He lives in Maaleh Adumim since making aliyah 7 years ago.