the 90th minute

Until September 2007, when my oldest daughter was born, this blog covered daily life and politics in Israel, as well as Hebrew-English linguistic issues, from the perspective of an American-raised journalist and translator living in Israel. Now it mostly serves as the SmunchMonk&Bear news agency, a portal into the bizarre universe of the little people. Read more at:

Monday, September 11, 2006

The fourth face of Israel

This blog was first posted May 2, 2005, on Haaretz Underground.

I discovered the other day just how sensitive Americans can be when they're exposed to the stereotype of the rich American businessman who loves to visit Israel and give money to Israel and come on an endless number of pro-Israel "delegations," but would never deign to live here himself. The caricature was depicted by Rabbi Benji Levene as part of an educational play run by the Gesher organization, which is aimed at bridging the religious-secular gap.

An audience of English speakers, many of them Americans eligible for senior-citizen discounts, made relatively benign comments on the first three of "The Four Faces of Israel": an elderly rabbi from Meah Shearim, an Egged bus driver and a French artist.

But the fourth incarnation of Rabbi Levene, himself an American immigrant, elicited an emotionally charged response. The audience's ire appeared particularly aroused by the character's signature remark, which went something like: "I don't want to tell you that I gave four and a half million dollars to Israel, not to mention what I gave last year."

When the moderator asked whether the character was an accurate representation of Jewish residents of the Goldeneh Medineh, the seemingly coordinated shouts of "No!" were a bit startling.

But the best response came from a woman in the audience who ought to work as a scriptwriter for Gesher. Speaking in a voice full of that righteous indignation and curious incapacity to laugh at oneself that, of course, only caricatured Americans possess, the terribly insulted woman in the back of the room made known her vehement objection to the portrayal of her ostensible countryman.

"I come from a community that gives a lot of money to Israel," she said. "But we don't talk about it!" To which I can only add: Not to mention what you gave last year.


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