In the preface, we gave the reader a light whiff of the chauvinistic atmosphere prevailing in Israel, which cannot be condemned in too strong wards. To give him further proof of our specifically Jewish mentality, we think we could not do better than describe the game of poker we had with our friend Ervinke 1 ► one sleepy afternoon.This aught to' bring the reader nearer to' understanding the Jewish soul than anything NBC's most skilled Middle East commentator could tell him.
For quite a while the two of us sat at our table, wordlessly stirring our coffee. Ervinke was bared.
All right, he
Let's play poker.
No, I answered.
I hate cards. I always lose.
Who's talking about cards? thus Ervinke.
I was thinking of Jewish poker.
He then briefly explained the rules of the game. Jewish poker is played without cards, in your head, as befits the People of the Book.
You think of a number, I also think of a number, Ervinke said.
Whoever thinks of a higher number wins. This sounds
easy, but it has a hundred pitfalls. Nu!2 ►
All right, I agreed.
We plunked down five piasters each, and, leaning back in our chairs began to think of numbers. After a while Ervinke signaled that he had one. I said I was ready.
All right, thus Ervinke.
Let's hear your number.
Eleven, I said.
Twelve, Ervinke said, and took the money.
I could have' kicked myself, because originally I had thought of Fourteen,
and only at the last moment had I climbed down to Eleven, I really don't know
Listen. I turned to Ervinke.
What would have happened had I said Fourteen?
What a question! I'd have lost. Now, that is just the charm of poker: you never know how things will turn out. But if
your nerves cannot stand a little gambling, perhaps we had better call it off.
Without saying another word, I put down ten piasters on the table. Ervinke did likewise. I pondered my number carefully and opened with Eighteen.
Damn! Ervinke said.
I have only Seventeen!
I swept the money into my pocket and quietly guffawed. Ervinke had certainly not dreamed that I would master the tricks of Jewish poker so quickly. He had probably counted on my opening with Fifteen or Sixteen, but certainly not with Eighteen. Ervinke, his brow in angry furrows, proposed to double the stakes.
As you like, I sneered, and could hardly keep back my jubilant laughter.
In the meantime a fantastic number had occurred to me: Thirty-five!
Lead! said Ervinke.
With that he pocketed the forty piasters. I could feel the blood rushing into my brain.
Listen, I hissed.
Then why didn't you say Forty-three the last time?
Because I had thought of Seventeen! Ervinke retorted indignantly.
Don't you see, that is the fun in poker: you
never know what will happen next.
A pound, I remarked dryly, and, my lips curled in scorn, I threw a note on the table. Ervinke extracted a similar
note from his pocket and with maddening slowness placed it next to mine. The tension was unbearable. I opened with Fifty-four.
Oh, damn it! Ervinke fumed.
I also thought of Fifty-four! Draw! Another game!
My brain worked with lightning speed.
Now you think I'll again call Eleven, my boy, I reasoned.
But you'll get the
surprise of your life. I chose the sure-fire Sixty-nine.
You know what, Ervinke- I turned to Ervinke -
As you like, he agreed.
It's all the same with me. Seventy!
Everything went black before my eyes. I had not felt such panic since the siege of Jerusalem.
Nu? Ervinke urged.
What number did you think of?
What do you know? I whispered with downcast eyes.
I have forgotten.
You liar! Ervinke flared up.
I know you didn't forget, but simply thought of a smaller number and now don't want to
own up. An old trick. Shame on you!
I almost slapped his loathsome face for this evil slander, but with some difficulty overcame the urge. With blazing eyes I upped the stakes by another pound and thought of a murderous number: Ninety-six!
Lead, stinker, I threw at Ervinke, whereupon he leaned across the table and hissed into my face:
Sixteen hundred and eighty-three!
A queer weakness gripped me.
Eighteen hundred, I mumbled wearily.
Double! Ervinke shouted, and pocketed the four pounds.
What do you mean, I snorted.
If you lose your temper in poker, you'll lose your shirt! Ervinke lectured me.
Any child will understand that my number doubled is higher than yours, so it's clear that. . .
Enough, I gasped, and threw down a fiver.
Two thousand, I led.
Two thousand four hundred and seventeen, thus Ervinke.
Double! I sneered, and grabbed the stakes, but Ervinke caught my hand.
Redouble! he whispered, and pocketed the tenner. I felt I was going out of my mind.
Listen - I gritted my teeth -
if that's how things stand, I could also have said 'redouble' in the last game, couldn't I?
Of course, Ervinke agreed.
To tell you the truth, I was rather surprised that you didn't. But this is poker, yahabibi,
you either know how to play it or you don't! If you are scatterbrained, better stick to croquet.
The stakes were ten pounds.
Lead! I screamed. Ervinke leaned back in his chair, and in a disquietingly calm voice
announced his number: Four.
Ten million! I blared triumphantly. But without the slightest sign of excitement, Ervinke said:
And took the twenty pounds.
I then broke into sobs. Ervinke stroked my hair and told me that according to Hoyle, whoever is first out with the ultimo wins, regardless of numbers. That is the fun in poker: you have to make split-second decisions.
Twenty pounds, I whimpered, and placed my last notes in the hands of fate. Ervinke also placed his money. My face was
bathed in cold sweat. Ervinke went on calmly blowing smoke rings, only his eyes had narrowed.
You, I answered, and he fell into my trap like the sucker he was.
So I lead, Ervinke said.
Ultimo, and he stretched out his hand for the treasure.
Just a moment - I stopped him -
With that I pocketed the Mint's six-month output.
Ben-Gurion is even stronger than ultimo, I explained.
But it's getting dark outside. Perhaps we had better break it off.
We paid the waiter and left. Ervinke asked for his money back, saying that I had invented the Ben-Gurion on the spur of the moment. I admitted this, but said that the fun in poker was just in the rule that you never returned the money you had won.
One of most popular words of the
Yiddish language is tsores. It means trouble, misfortune, calamity. Ever since
Paradise, Jews have had a particularly strong affinity for tsores - in keeping
with their character of Chosen People. There are natural tsores, which we
receive from nature ready-made, and artificial man-made tsores.
In Britain, for instance, the main tsore is the weather, as day by day, year in, year out, the four seasons succeed each other in rapid sequence. For this the British cannot be blamed. On the other hand, it was they who artificially set up Jordan, and then had to suffer for their rashness which is only natural. As for ourselves, we have to suffer from both the weather and the Jordanians.
Strictly speaking, we should not complain about our climate. Perhaps it is a blessing if our winters are as warm as a West Coast summer day enjoyed in a locked telephone booth. But we are further blessed with a searing-hot desert wind, a kind of supersirocco, a replica of which can be found only in the ingenious furnaces for testing the heat resistance of tank crews. This wind is called "khamsin," which in Arabic means "fifty," as it is supposed to blow for fifty days a year. (In fact it blows for at least one hundred days, but the Arabs are great hands at bargaining.)
During a khamsin, you fight for breath, feel giddy, and your nerves are on edge. If a Bedouin kills one of his wives during a khamsin, he goes scot-free. He does not fare any worse if he kills her while there is no khamsin blowing, but that does not make the desert wind any pleasanter.
White men seldom exterminate their wives, probably because the husband-wife ratio is so strictly balanced, but they, too, sometimes do queer things. Take myself, for instance.
On one of those hot sand-swept mornings, my wife heaved a deep sigh and said:
What a heat! This reminds me that our kerosene stove is so
rust-eaten that I always feel like sinking into the ground whenever we have
I did not answer the woman, because a jabbering man is like a leaking bucket at a barn fire. Instead it flashed through my mind that here was an opportunity to make my wife a pleasant surprise: I'd give that stove a good coat of silver paint.
Naturally, I decided to do the job myself, because right now that is very fashionable.4 ►In a Jaffa paintshop I bought a huge can of
fireproof silver aluminum paint,manufactured in Kibbutz Tushia 5 ► , and a medium brush, so that my work should not be hampered for lack of technical means.
Next morning, with the khamsin going as strong as ever, I feigned sleep until my wife had left for the office to earn our daily income tax, then got up, opened the tin, mixed the glittering silvery liquid according to prescription, and made a beautiful job of the stove. The coat of paint fitted as if it had come straight from Dior's hands, covering the dirt and soot as if they had never been there. Being a modest man, I must however confess that any college graduate could have done as well with aluminum paint, which has such properties that one simply cannot help doing a good job with it.
If you have never tried, I warmly recommend it to your attention. You'll never touch any other paint.
I enjoyed my work tremendously and simply could not
until first coat dries properly before applying second,as some
benighted bureaucrat had written on the can, but immediately applied a second coat,
and, to be on the safe side, a third as well. Seeing that the faucets had
become somewhat tarnished, I restored their silvery sheen, then reasoned
My hands are stained anyway and the can is open. Why not look around? There might be something else in need of
I reconnoitered the flat and silver-painted two worn-down door handles, a dripping kitchen tap, and three aluminum saucepans (after the treatment they looked like new), plus the cactus pot and the cactus spines, a few trifles like a shoehorn, an ash tray, two footstools, and the kitchen table.
By then I really wanted to stop, because I felt I was falling from one extreme to the other, but when I saw the paint flaking off my faithful old motorcycle, the least I could do was drag it out onto the porch and highlight its streamlined form. But my tackling the rear chain as well points to a certain deterioration of my mental balance, no doubt brought about by the inhuman weather. By then I had completely lost control over myself, and as the floor tiles had anyway become covered with a pattern of silver polka dots, it occurred' to me to relieve the monotony of the floor with a checkerboard effect.
After the checkerboard I said,
enough! But down on my knees in front of the stove, I gave it another coat.
Then it occurred to me that it was in bad' taste to paint only two door handles
silver, therefore I silver-plated all door and window handles, then devoted a
few minutes to the picture frames and made a few changes in the reproduction of
the Mona Lisa, dressing her in a silver lame evening gown, which fitted her
imbecile smirk much better.6 ►
But while painting the sides of the radio set, I realized that my shoes had become covered with silver freckles, which I made disappear under an even layer. The shoes were literally shining, and I am really surprised that nobody has yet thought of making aluminum shoes, especially for wear with dark suits. After silvering the covers of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, I really decided to stop after rejuvenating the lamps, which I did while standing on a ladder. (Funny ladder: I could have sworn it was aluminum, though I knew it was wood!) I painted the light bulbs as well, and as I stood there on top of the. ladder, some paint spilled on the Persian rug 7 ►, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the rug had an amazing ability for absorbing silver paint, which proves what gratifying progress kibbutz industry has made.
At this stage in the stove painting I gave the big cupboard a quick once-over, then completely transformed all my wife's handbags and a few ties, and finally promoted my mother-in-law's rabbit stole to silver fox. Uttering strange animal grunts, I stumbled out into the garden and made a few saplings look like silver poplar, then created the world's first silver carnations. Just as I put the second coat of paint on the shutters, the postman came, so I put some silver on his temples to make him look more distinguished, but the poor man misunderstood me and, shouting hoarsely, fled, scattering registered letters all over my lawn.
While I was giving the walls an appearance more in keeping with the general character of the apartment, the door opened, and my wife stood there.
Excuse me, sir, she said.
I thought this was where I live.
With that she turned on her heel, but I caught her and assured her that this was I, and what she saw was supposed to be a big surprise. She was surprised, but not pleasantly, and said she was going to move into a hotel until the rabbinate's verdict. 8 ► However, the poor woman could not pack, because all the suitcases had somehow turned into silver. My wife began to weep, and I, with a few bold brush strokes, painted her nails silver.
We'd been debating the question for months: to go or not go abroad. We'd
weighed all the pros and cons, we'd arched our conscience, slept on it for
nights on end, and decided: to go.
Once we'd made up our minds there was only one problem left: what would the children say? Well, there's Rafi - but. Rafi is a big boy, you can already talk to him as to a grownup person. He's sure to understand how the King of Switzerland has invited Mummy and Daddy to come and visit him, and how you mustn't say no to a king because then he gets mad at you. So much for Rafi. That leaves Amir, who's only two-and-a-half years old, just the age when a child is most attached to his parents. What do we tell Amir?
A tough question We'd heard of people leaving their little ones for a mere fortnight - with the most horrible consequences. One little gin in Jerusalem we know of was abandoned by her irresponsible parents for a month - to Yugoslavia they went - and she's been full of complexes since, and left-handed to boot.
We started discussing the question one day over lunch, but we'd no sooner exchanged our first few words in French, than Amir looked up from his plate with those big sad eyes of his and asked pathetically:
No doubt the child had sensed something and got scared. He's very attached to us, is Amir. We looked at each other, the wife and I, and promptly gave up the whole idea. I mean, foreign lands are a dime a dozen, but how many children does a man have? Two. And one of them little. We're not going abroad and that's that. Try and make us. And anyhow, how can we possibly enjoy a place like Paris with always this nagging thought in our mind that back home Amir may perhaps be writing with his left hand already? Kids aren't something to be trifled with, mind you. Kids are a lifetime vocation, and if you aren't willing to make some sacrifice for them you may as well drop everything and go.
Exactly, That's just what we want to do. We're dying to go. We haven't been abroad in donkey's years. We want to go abroad.
But what do we do about Amir and his big sad eyes?
We went and talked to Mrs. Plim, a neighbour of ours whose husband is a pilot, so she gets free airline tickets twice a year. It turned out that what she does is - she always breaks the news gradually. She tells her kids all about the lovely places she and their daddy are going to see, and later they take pictures everywhere and bring them home to show the kids. The point is to make the child feel part of it all, to make him fee! as if he himself had been on that trip with Mummy and Daddy. A bit 0 tact, a little insight, that's all there is to it.
Good. We figured we might as well start on the insight at once, so at home I took Amir on my knees and said:
Do you know, my boy, that there are such high mountains in the world that . . .
Not go-way! screamed Amir,
Not go-way! Amir not stay allolone! Amir
Daddy-Mummy! Not mountains! Not go-way! Not go-way! ...
His blue eyes were streaming with tears and he dung to me trembling as a little leaf.
We're not going! we cried, his mother and I,
We'll stay right here with Amir!
Not go to the naughty-naughty mountains! Mummy-Daddy Amir forever! Not go-way! .
. . To hell with abroad! All the lakes of Italy aren't worth one tear in the
eyes of our sweet darling. One smile of his is more precious to us than all the
sunsets in the world. We're staying! Maybe when the child's a bit older,
eighteen perhaps, or twenty, maybe then we'll go abroad. For now let's just
forget about it.
The matter would have ended there, except that now a new problem cropped up, to wit: next morning we decided to go abroad anyway. We love our Amir very much, but we also love going abroad, and that's the truth. So what do we do about the little fellow now?
We resolved on action. We know this woman who's something of a child psychiatrist, so we went and put the problem to her.
You've handled this badly, I must say, the psychiatrist told us,
know you should never lie to a child? There's an innocence about children which
only responds to the truth. You must be open with him. Open and honest. Like,
for instance, don't go about your packing behind his back. Do it openly, let him
watch, and then he won't suspect you of trying to run away on him . . .
At home we took down two of our largest suitcases and brought Amir in to watch.
Amir, we told him all open and honest,
Mummy and Daddy . . .
Not go-way! Amir broke out,
Not go-way! Amir loves Mummy-Daddy! Amir not
allolone! Not go-way! ...
He was positively shaking, his eyes all wet, his little nose all crimson, his arms flailing in helpless panic. Oh, God, how could we do this to him? We took him in our arms and hugged him dose.
We're not going! we swore,
Who said we
were going? We just fetched these suitcases down to see if there were any toys
for Amir in them! Mummy and Daddy are staying home, you hear! For ever! Only
here! Always here! Only Amir! Never anything but Amir! Abroad naughty!
But this time the shock has evidently been too much for him. Our boy is sobbing as if his little heart would break. He is holding on to my trouser legs like he'll never let go again. oh, my poor baby, what have we done to you?
Don't just stand there, the little woman cries in consternation,
Get him some
Amir's weeping stops with a squeal of brakes.
Bubblegum? he says,
Daddy bring Amir bubblegum from the broad?
Yes, I say quickly,
The child gets up, the child isn't crying, the child is happy.
Bubblegum-with-stripes! Bubblegum-with-stripes! he sings, dancing about the
room and clapping his hands,
Go-way, Daddy, go-way, Mummy, go broad! Bring Amir
heaps of bubblegum!
His eyes shine, his cheeks glow, the child is overjoyed.
Go-way! he shouts,
Go-way now! Go broad! Why Mummy-Daddy not go? Go-ho-ho! ..
There, now he's crying again. His big blue eyes are wet with tears, his whole little body is trembling. He drags the suitcases over and dumps them under our noses.
We'll go in a little while, we promise,
In a little while. Soon.
So that's why we left for Europe a week earlier than planned. The last few days were particularly hard because the child kept urging us to be gone, to be gone already. Every morning he'd wake up and be disappointed all over again to find us still there. He's very attached to us, is the child. We intend to bring him lots of bubblegum with stripes. We'll bring the psychiatrist some too.
They speak three languages in Switzerland: the Germans know French and Italian,
the French know French and the Italians know how to work the land. Those of
French origin look down upon the Germans, the Germans look down upon the French,
both look down upon the Italians, and all three look down upon foreigners
Before going out on our first walk in Zurich, we had a quiet talk with the hotel
They say the Swiss don't even lock their bicycles, I gushed to the
but just leave them out in the Street. Is it true?
And, the wife asked,
aren't they ever stolen?
AOf course they are. And how! But anyone who doesn't lock his bicycle deserves
to have it stolen. Now, when the city is full of foreigners....
Every fifth person in Switzerland is a foreigner. I was No. 1,100,005 my wife was No. 1,100,010.
All the Same, there are Swiss emigrants. Even Israel gets a few genuine born-Swiss citizens. Why? I don't want to be obvious, hut I think it's because of the cleanliness. One day, for instance, we went to the famous Zurich Zoo and stopped in front of the monkey cage.
As is known, the favorite pastime of mamma chimpanzees is to hunt for fleas in the fur of their offspring. Well, this mamma chimpanzee had been looking for over half an hour for any sort of insect on the head of her little son: she scratched, combed, rummaged about in his hair, then gave up, an expression of total dejection on her face, and sat down to brood.
We don't even know what to do, the keeper complained.
We even imported fleas,
hut they fled in the face of Swiss hygiene. How is it going to end?
I had no advice for him. I told the keeper that soon I would be back in Israel, and lectured him about our rich, flourishing insect life. When we parted, he had tears in his eyes.
We first clashed with the supernatural cleanliness of the country on the farnous Bahnhofstrasse. We had gone into one of the department stores lining the street, taken the escalator to the fourth floor, and bought two precisely crafted cream puffs packed on trim little paper plates. On the way down we opened the package, and walking to our hotel, swallowed the cakes greedily. They were great. We had never eaten such marvelous pastry before, except in Italy a day and a half ago. But hardly had we swallowed the last bit when we heard a big helloing and someone carne running after us:
tschuldigung, a well dressed gentleman panted,
you lost your plates.
With that he held out the chocolate-stained paper plates together with the wrapping paper, which we had thoughtlessly tossed away at the climax of our enjoyment.
tschuldigung, I replied to our benefactor,
lost this. . .
What do you mean, then what?
Then how come I found it on the pavement?
Tanke schön, the wife said quickly, took the sticky papers from the
gentleman's hand and dragged me away.
Have you gone out of your mind? the little woman hissed.
I looked around and reeled with the shock of it. Only then did I realize that we were in clean Switzerland's cleanest city and in that city's most antiseptic quarter. On the sidewalks there was not a trace of litter; at worst there were a few pale stains which had not yet come out in the scrubbing. In the distance an impeccably dressed sweeper kept chasing a few lazily rolling dust specks. And I had dared to pollute this immaculately clean pavement with my dirty paper! It was sacrilege!
I carefully folded the paper plates in such a way that the sticky parts faced inward, then looked around, greatly perplexed.
All right, I said,
still I can't carry this on me wherever I go. After all,
we'll be in Switzerland for two weeks. . .
Keep your shirt on, the little one calmed me.
Somewhere we'll find a place
where there is litter, so that we can dispose of the plates legally.
She made this statement at 11 A.M., and by 2 P.M. I was still in possession of the gooey things. If we had found but one tiny slip of paper, we would have unhesitatingly mated our bundle to it, hut we did not find even a piece of confetti. In the end we boarded a streetcar, sat down in a corner next to the open window, and at a curve, deep in conversation, instinctively, with a careless flick of our wrist. . .
The driver slammed on the brakes.
Tanke sehr! I nimbly jumped off the streetcar and picked up our lost
Very kind of you, I thanked the conductor as we moved off again.
nothing has happened to them. . .
By then we were ready to press the panic button. With the courage of the desperate I accosted an elderly Swiss gentleman sitting next to me, and asked him what would he do if he were stuck with, let's say, a piece of dirty paper and would like to get rid of it. The old gentleman thought it over for a moment, then said this sounded so hypothetical that he could scarcely visualize such a situation hut, theoretically, he supposed he would take the paper waste in question home and on Sunday afternoon burn it. I disclosed to him that the package in my possession qualified as waste, whereupon the Swiss gentleman immediately gave us his address, inviting us to bring it there next day at 3:45, and once there, we could Stay as his guests to the end of the year - his wife would be delighted.
My wife visibly felt inclined to accept the invitation, but I had my doubts about its sincerity, so while expressing our deep-felt gratitude, I told him I would take advantage of his kind offer only in an emergency as I had thought of a simpler method for getting rid of the nuisance: I would put it in an envelope and mail it to Israel.
All right, said the old gentleman,
but what are they going to do with it
They'll throw it into the Jordan, the wife said, whereupon the gentleman
nodded understandingly, and after a sentimental farewell we got off in the
suburbs. My idea was to wait for the fall of darkness and then bury the bundle
under a tree. However, we found all trees girdled with iron fencing, to prevent
the burying of refuse. . .
We strolled back toward the centre of the city and there, to our delight, hanging on a lamp post, discovered a cute little litter basket with an inscription reading:
Keep Zurich clean, drop your refuse here! At the end of
our tether we stumbled over to the basket and with a relieved smile dropped in
our infamous burden....
tschuldigung, a policeman remarked behind our backs,
kindly take that thing
back! This is a brand-new basket. Let's keep it clean!
But, I said in a daze,
but it says here to drop your litter in.
The litter, yes. But no refuse!
I stuck in my arm to the elbow and fished out the little parcel. A strange heat flushed my cheeks and my teeth started chattering.
Listen, I croaked to the little one,
I'm going to eat the damn thing!
Don't be silly, the saintly woman replied,
you won't take that abomination
into your mouth.
All right, I whispered,
I'll have it cooked. . .
Just then we were passing an exclusive restaurant, so we walked in and ran into the headwaiter, who immediately noticed the little parcel.
Waste paper? the headwaiter asked.
Shall we cook it?
Yes, I muttered.
Well done, please. . .
The usual way, the headwaiter said, then placed the Thing on a silver platter
and hurried away to the kitchen. Fearing the worst, I fidgeted about on my
chair, because the cooking in Swiss restaurants is rather colorless. Ten minutes
later, a waiter brought in the little parcel:
they had fried it, then smothered it in dill sauce. I took a bite and spat it out.
It's burnt, I shouted,
disgusting! With that we jumped up and left.
Before our mind's eye there appeared good old Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv,
with the brilliant sunshine of our country pleasantly reflecting itself in thousands of nice heaps of glittering litter
Israel is a country so tiny that there is no room to write its
name on the world map.
It is the only country in the world which is financed by its
It is a country which all the time eats up its inhabitants, and yet
does not grow fat.
It is a country of boundless boundaries.
It is a country where mothers learn the mother tongue from
It is a country where the fathers ate sour grapes, and the
children's teeth are excellent.
It is a country where one writes Hebrew, reads English, and
It is a county where everybody has the right to speak his mind,
but there is no law forcing anybody to listen.
The State of Israel
It is the most enlightened country in the region, thanks to the
It is a country where all the capital is concentrated in Jewish
hands--and there is much grumbling because of this.
It is a country where one can buy anything in the world for his
money--except an apartment, which is very expensive.
It is a country where any babe in arms may contradict his
papa's political views.
It is a country of elections, but no choice.
It is a country which is an organic part of its trade unions.
It is a country where nobody wants to work, so they build a
new town in three days' time and go idle the rest of the week.
It is a country where a slip of paper can move mountains, but
all the mountains beget is speeches.
It is a country which produces less than it eats, and yet, of all
places, it is here that nobody has ever died of hunger.
It is a country where nobody expects miracles, but everybody
takes them for granted.
It is a country where one calls ministers simply
then almost dies with the excitement of it.
It is the only country in the region whose political regime is the
It is a country whose survival is permanently endangered, and
yet its inhabitants' ulcers are caused by the neighbors from
It is a country where every human being is a soldier, and every
soldier is a human being.
It is the only country in which I could live. It is my country.