Food, drink, film and other random thoughts from The Lone Star State.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Israeli By Proxy

I saw him everywhere this year. He would be coming out of a class while I was walking in. Then it was in the parking lot, at the library, even the sushi counter at the campus cafeteria. We started giving each other the guy-to-guy head nod acknowledgement, unspoken buddy hello and a smirk as if to say, 'oh, dammit, its you ...again!'. Then it got more coincidental, passing each other at Pei Wei, at Central Market, even one day on the freeway he zoomed past me in his Eclipse, waving.

My accidental stalker.

He has an odd look, not bad, just out of the ordinary. At 6'4" and all of 170 pounds I would say he falls into the tall-thin category. Freshly shaven but a persistent 5-o-clock shadow - Greek? Italian? Some flavor of Middle Eastern? But there's something more odd, a heightened awareness of everything, as if he is constantly waiting for the first shoe to drop and already forming a contingency should there ever be a second. A walk that is tight, almost militant.

It came as no surprise to me when I returned to my library table from a quick break and found HIM sitting at the opposite corner.

I just started laughing when I saw him sitting there. He did too. He asked me if I was stalking him. I told him I was at the table first, so he was the stalker, unintentionally, but still.

Hi, I'm Eitan.

The look, the walk, the awareness and now the name. It immediately cleared up his origin - Israeli.
I'm Jim. You're Israeli, right?

Well yeah, but how did you know that?

No, I'm not Jewish, not really, although I'm sure the blonde hair and green eyes probably give that away. However, according to part of family actively engaged in our genealogy, my sister and I are roughly equal parts German, British and Russian. Its the Russian part where we inherited a bit of Jewish.

I was raised in the Church Of Whatever You Want To Be, so we were never given a template religion from which to pattern our lives. I did go to Synagogue with Jewish friends in NYC, I certainly find Judaism and the Hebrew language to be fascinating, but no, I'm not Jewish.

But I do have family living in Israel.

The Israeli Connection

In 1972 my aunt, uncle and cousin moved from NYC to Tel Aviv. The 'why' part of the story is long, so I'll save that for some other time. My uncle, by marriage, is Jewish, orthodox, and through a sequence of life-altering events, he decided that he wanted to live in Israel and he wanted his family to be raised at the source, so to speak.

Cousin Marnina

My cousin, Marnina, at the time, was all of 3 years old, so she definitely considers Israel her home. I have two other cousins born in Israel, one of whom I have never met. He turned 25 this year.

Having family in Israel has been interesting to say the least. In the early 1990s during the Gulf War I remember watching the scud missles lobbed onto Israeli soil, wondering exactly where they were making contact and if any of my family was in the proximity. Several nights I spent hours trying to get a line to Tel Aviv to no avail. Days later when I finally did reach my cousin she sounded happy and expressed little concern.

Oh dont worry about this, its just more of the same. When all your neighbors want to kill you, you just get used to it and get on with your life.

Right, I'm not sure I could have that perspective if someone was shooting bombs at me. I think I might just take it personally.

Going Orthodox In Houston

Some of family from Israel came to visit my parents in 1995 when they lived in Houston. If you have not had Orthodox Jews come to visit a non-kosher house, it is quite the treat. You would not have believed the preparation. Since my parent's house was not kosher they could not use anything in their kitchen; no plates, no utensils, no food, no appliances, not even anything in their refrigerator. My mom went out and bought a microwave, a small refrigerator and tons of kosher items.

I have to admit their stay went very smoothly and they didnt fuss a bit at the many inconveniences. They prepared their meals separately, ate separately and went through their prayers and rituals quietly and without fanfare. Fascinating rituals and of course Hebrew is an exotic, mystical language that beckons you to watch their rituals clandestinely from the other room. Which I did.

The Star Issue

One night Marnina and I decided to get out and see some night life in downtown Houston. She was really excited but at the time we agreed to go she was still not ready and I found her staring wildly out of the kitchen skylight, cursing. Apparently after the Saturday rituals, they can't leave the house until they see a certain star in the sky. My cousin might be orthodox but she's also impatient and intensely lippy.
I can't leave the damn house until I see the f***ing star!!

Interesting. I forget why or which star but it was fascinating to me that this ancient ritual from thousands of years gone by was playing itself out in my mom's kitchen, in modern-day Houston.

Squeamish Americans

I haven't seen my cousin since 1995 but we have chatted and exchanged letters. The last time we spoke in early 2001, she bugged me relentlessly to come visit her in Israel. At the time there were some unpleasant exchanges with the Palestinians. I told her I thought I would wait until things 'settled down'. She gave me quite the earful.

Oh that? Oh come on Jamie, that will never end. Plus the fighting is miles and miles away, most days you can barely hear it!

Barely? Definitely not coming, lol.

She went on and on about how she was working for the Israeli police and knew how to stay out of the line of fire, nothing bad would happen, everything would be fine. She would not let me continue to go through life without experiencing Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in person.

You Americans are so squeamish, just wait until someone starts dropping bombs on your soil, you'll start taking more risks.

I heard my cousin's haunting words on repeat in my head, several months later on September 11th as I watched CNN in disbelief.

The Police Women

Eitan kept interrupting me during this time to ask more and more questions about my cousin Marnina. How old? How tall? Last Name? etc. I know Israel is a small country and perhaps now it is much smaller to me. Eitan's older sister also works for the Israeli police ... with Marnina.

I had to laugh, it just couldn't be possible. But as I read my aunt's address from my Palm Pilot, he showed me his sister's address; same town, same street! After all the wierd vibrations settled down, Eitan leaned over and whispered to me.

We have a phrase to describe people like you - Israeli By Proxy.

מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל


Blogger The Great Cranky One said...


That is a great post!!

Going through the conversion process has been great fun here in Little Rock in part from the Israeli's I have met.They just crack me up.

Thanks for a friday smile!


8:50 AM

Blogger Brian said...

Great post, Jim! The world is such a fascinating place.

9:27 AM

Blogger ScottyFerguson said...

Fan friggin tastic post Jim.

1:58 PM

Blogger Jim said...

Thanks Tim,

Thats right, I remember now that you are converting. Such an interesting religion; inspirational even.

4:44 PM

Blogger Jim said...

Thanks Brian and Scotty :)

4:44 PM

Blogger Jim said...

Wow... amazing how small the world is at times! You must have been floored.

9:31 AM

Blogger Jim said...

Still am, Jim

It reminded me of the time I travelled all the way to Florence only to see my next door neighbor coming out of the hotel next to mine . I think I dropped my gelato in the Arno :)

2:21 PM

Blogger The Persian said...

Wow...that is incredible.

12:56 AM

Blogger Ariel1980 said...

Just another example how all of B'ney Israel, no matter how distant, is still connected. Shalom from NC.

2:55 PM

Blogger Jim said...

True, Ari. Its also a reminder I need to call my cousin!

7:19 PM

Blogger Noeha said...

Unreal - and how many years have I known you by now??? The layers of the onion keep peeling back one by one...

What a fascinating story! And, at the end of the day, we are all connected.

10:24 PM

Blogger Jim said...

Noeha, Did I not tell you about my family in the Middle East? I think your country and my (by marriage) country actually share a border :)

10:55 PM

Blogger theclamwhisperer said...

You are an incredible writer and your stories draw me in. I wish you would send this to the Sun Magazine. It is such a wonderful read and it reminds me of wonderful work I've read in that magazine. I find myself saving and pulling out old editions to enjoy the articles and reflections again and again. Thanks for bringing such a wonderful adventure to light.

7:25 PM

Blogger theclamwhisperer said...

Did I say WONDERFUL? Damn, I suppose there's another word to describe your writing...okay, how about great. Yeah, great. That will do for now. I loved it.

7:31 PM

Blogger Jim said...

Thanks CatchYa!

Great, wonderful. I am equal opportunity in the acceptance of compliments, which mean alot coming from a great and wonderful writer such as yourself :)

11:18 PM


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