Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Meet the Anglos

A Plus: 2 Weeks, 6 Days
Shacharit (morning prayers) finished at 9:30 AM.  Chabad has the latest Shacharit in Pisgat Ze'ev so those who miss it at the other shuls wander in here, making most diverse shul in town.  As they clack and zip shut their tefillin cases, everyone is yammering at eachother in Hebrew, oblivious to me, the quiet American guy sitting in the corner. 
Shelly Levine, the realtor who gave me the local apartment listings, warned me about this.  "Why would you want to move all the way out to Pisgat Ze'ev?  There are no Anglos there."  The housing director for Nefesh B'Nefesh told me, "You really should consider moving to Baka or Emek Refaim, it's where all the Anglos are."
Anglo?  Like, Anglo-Saxon?  As in White Anglo-Saxon Male Protestant?  Of all the things to label myself with, Anglo would be my last choice.  Anglos are the people who have Christmas trees and eat gingerbread cookies in December.  When I think of Anglo culture, I think of fox hunting, tea time, and football hooligans.  A true Anglo-Saxon wears a whig and sits in the House of Lords. I'm just a Yid. 
But the fact of the matter is, the Israelis and the English speakers are two different breeds.  We may like eachother but we laugh at different jokes.  I sit at the Shabbat table and see my Israeli cousins cracking eachother up, and my Hebrew is good enough to understand what they're saying, but sometimes I just don't "get" it.
Of course, that's part of why I decided on Pisgat Ze'ev in the first place.  I don't like the summer-campy attitude of the Anglo-nest communities.  There are places in Israel where you can live your whole life never speaking Hebrew, so even when I was studying in Israel four years ago I made sure to find Israeli roommates and move off campus.  I came to live in, rather than at, Israel.  At the same time it's inevitable that I'll clump together with other Anglophones.  The trick is to strike a balance.
I'm finished zipping my Tefillin bag and look up to see a middle-ager holding his Tefillin and Tallit.
"Hi, I'm Ruvein.  Nice to meet you.  So you're from Contra Costa?"
"Uh," I respond, a bit puzzled, "how did you know that?"
"Says so on your shirt.  Camp Gan Israel Contra Costa.  I'm from Los Angeles, moved here four years ago."
"Cool, they told me there aren't any Anglos in town here."
"Oh, yeah, there are a few of us."
"So how long did it take you to learn Hebrew?"
"I never did.  Don't get me wrong, I can understand the basics.  'Sit down,' 'stand up,' 'open your bag,' but I never got very far.  Moshe here is a lot better at it," he says, grabbing the sleeve of the man standing next to him, "He doesn't even like to admit he's American."
"Yeah," Moshe says in an undertone as he races out the door, "I'm from San Diego."
"What do you do?" I ask Ruvein.
"I do ghost-writing, proofreading, that sort of thing.  I work mostly for companies in the states."
"So you're swimming in English all day."
"I don't really need Hebrew for much.  All four of my kids learned it very fast.  It took my oldest daughter two years, but she finally picked it up.  She's eighteen now and learning in a settlement uphill from Modi'in."
Hint hint.
I come back for Minchah and Ma'ariv, the afternoon and evening prayers, and bump into Moshe, who I'm thinking of as American Moshe to differentiate him from my Israeli friend Moshe.
"You know, you should really come to the Ashkenazi shul at the end of the culdesac here," American Moshe tells me, pointing vaguely in the direction of his shul.  "We have a whole Anglo contingient there."
"Really?  I mean, how many could you have in this town.  Everybody says there are no Anglos."
"Are you kidding?  Our shul has its own baseball team."
"Well, I'm not exactly free in the evenings.  I'm going to be telecommuting, if I can ever figure this internet thing out."
"Oh, I do the same thing.  Work west coast hours and telecommute.  I'm usually up 'till midnight working."
As he launches into a crash-course on how internet service works in Israel, I whip out my notepad and jot down every last piece of information I can squeeze from his head.
The next morning, I drag myself out of bed to get to the Ashkenazi shul, which starts at 6:35 AM, not 8:30.  Swiveling my head left, then right, my marksman's eye tries to pick the Anglos out of the praying people.  Um... what does an Anglo look like?  I don't even see American Moshe.   The Gabbai (synagogue caretaker) calls me up to remove the Torah from the ark, a great honor, but this shul is Ashkenazi, not Chabad, so I'm nervous I'm going to mess something up.  He walks me through it in Hebrew.
Forty five minutes later as I'm walking out the door, I notice American Moshe sitting at the far back.  We exchange little waves and I step outside, stopping to enjoy the scenery.  The door to the shul swings open and someone is walking towards me.  Subject is a five foot eight inch Caucasian male with a five inch beard.  Looks like a native, probably been Yerushalmi (Jerusalemite) for five or six generations.  Subject is extending his hand.  Probably has a Yiddish-sounding name like Yoss'le or Avruhum.
"Hi, my name is Steve!" he says, "Moshe tells me you made aliyah.  Way to go!"
"Thanks.  You're American?"
"Yeah, I made aliyah from the states a while ago.  Before Nefesh B'Nefesh.  You have it easy. Hey," he says, pulling the Gabbai over, "meet the gabbai."
"Hello pleased to meet you," the Gabbai tells me in Hebrew, "where are you from?"
"Walnut Creek.  It's a town near San Francisco."  Every Israeli knows where San Francisco is.
"Yes, a beautiful town.  My brother lives in San Jose."
I later come home and describe the people I've met to cousin Galila.  Mentioning my new acquaintence Steve brings a giggle, "His name is Shmuel.  I don't know why he used his American name.  He's our family dentist."
"Pisgat Ze'ev," she tells me, "has a lot of Angols.  But it's not like the other Anglo towns like Modi'in or Beit Shemesh.  Most of the Anglos here are married to Israelis, like me.  This is where you go if you want to be a part of the country."

1 comment:

Yaakova said...

That is so amazing and heartwarming about Pisgat Ze'ev! It looks like you absolutely chose the right community.