Israel!

After a twelve-year absence, I am back in Israel for a two-week visit!  I flew from Philadelphia on USAir.  I could have flown British Air via London but right now I’m not overly thrilled by the idea of giving my money to the British due to their blatant and ever-growing anti-Semitism and hostility towards Israel, and I wanted to avoid stopping in Europe in general for the same reason.

The flight was pleasant and uneventful.

Everything is new and unrecognizable.  Twelve years in Israel is the equivalent of light years anywhere else, as Israel continues to build, grow and innovate on warp speed.

But some things never change.  The main source of interesting info, the heartbeat of the country, is provided free of charge (whether you want it or not) through its taxi drivers, who have an opinion on everything and plenty of interesting tales to tell.

My driver, Ahron, was a religious Sephardi man who had just married off his son earlier in the week.  I asked him how he managed it (there are few questions that are unaskable here), because in many circles in Israel, in addition to paying for the wedding expenses, it’s customary for the parents of the couple to cough up the cash for an apartment for the bride and groom (to buy, not rent), and Ahron had already told me he was a man of modest means.

He snorted.  “That’s for the Ashkenazim!” he said.  The Sephardim are not expected to provide an apartment.  The financing of the wedding is provided by the guests.

There is no such thing as a gift registry.  For that matter, there are no such things as presents.  When the parents book the wedding hall, they pay a token down payment to the caterer.  On the wedding day, as the guests arrive, they (the guests) put their gifts of checks or cash in a big box at the head of the hall.  We’re not talking small sums, either; typical wedding gifts are $100 – 250 cold cash.  At the end of the joyous event, after the guests leave, the box’s contents are totalled.

“At my son’s wedding, we made 130,000 NIS (approximately $32,500) in cash gifts.  The wedding cost 80,000 NIS (around $20K).  That went directly to the caterer, the band, and the hall.  Whatever was left over (in this case $12,500), went to the bride and groom to start their new life.”  Everyone was happy.

The money-box system works for all simchos, including brisim and bar mitzvos.  But my daughter, who lives in Be’er Sheva, a city in Israel’s Negev desert in the south,  recounted one time when the system didn’t quite work out the way one fellow had planned.

“David” was an Israeli Sephardi man who, for whatever reason, preferred to daven (pray) at the American minyan at a local Ashkenazi synagogue.  When he celebrated the bris of his son, he chose to mark the occasion at that synagogue and excitedly invited all his American friends to attend.

Everyone liked David and so everyone came.  Since the American Ashkenazim were unaware of the Sephardi custom, they didn’t know why there was a box placed at the entrance.  Instead, they all came bearing gifts – lots of  toys and cute outfits – for the new baby.

David was devastated!  He had committed a small fortune to the caterer and was depending on the money-box to pay the remaining money owed beyond his token deposit.  Now he had nothing to give, and he was seriously in debt!  He was so hurt, that for months and months he would not speak to anyone.  No one could figure out the sudden change in their congregant’s behavior, and his sullen, black mood.

Isn’t it amazing how, due to a simple and innocent misunderstanding in which both sides meant well, resentment, hurt and anger snowballed out of control?  David suffered silently for months; ironically the congregants were afraid to approach him, figuring that since he hadn’t shared the source of his woes, he wanted his privacy.

Eventually the matter came out into the open; for both sides it was a lesson learned.

And yes,  David still davens with the American minyan at the Ashkenazi shul.

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