I am now an Israeli citizen. I find this unexpectedly moving, and sobering, too. I collected my Israeli passport from the post office on Hayarkon this morning. On the front, in gold letters, it says TRAVEL DOCUMENT IN LIEU OF NATIONAL PASSPORT. It’s valid for five years, so classed as temporary, so it’s a sort-of passport.
It’s not something I ever thought about becoming before in my life, yet here I am, an Israeli. I slid into it. I wasn’t exactly passive in the process, but it took so little effort. Mostly, I just had to be here. It’ll probably be more difficult to give up, if I ever decide to do that.
I showed it to Din, my new friend at the juicing kiosk. Israelis are genuinely pleased when you tell them you’ve made aliya. They smile broadly and shake your hand vigorously and wish you mazeltov warmly. We joked how now I’ll have to buy a second phone and grow a beard to really be Israeli.
I went to the Nahat, on Diezengoff Square, which is really a circus, to show Dan, who is famous, at least to me, for introducing the flat white to Tel Aviv. We became friends when I used to come here on holiday and stayed at the hotel opposite. His daughter was born on the day I moved here last November. I suppose the two events are unconnected. Dan shook my hand and smiled and said, Welcome home, and I felt emotional again.
I sobbed the first time I sang Hatikva, the national anthem, a couple of months ago. Lord, it drags. It would arm wrestle God Save the Queen for worst song if either of them had any muscle tone. But this move has been emotional, how could it be otherwise?
I feel like a fraud because I’m not going to stay here, and disloyal to Britain, which I love, too, even if it is utterly coco bananas at the moment. Yet, besides being Jewish, I feel I have some ownership of this country; my father fought in the War of Independence in 1948, three years after he was liberated from a concentration camp.
Nathan, who is from Frankfurt, is less ambivalent about his new passport. He fears the worst for Germany’s future and wants to be able to come here without any obstacles, if ever there is a need. Israelis, generally, think the same as him about Europe; that it’s days as a centre of liberality and enlightenment are, at best, numbered. But Jewish feelings about Europe are complicated, anyway. Many Israelis tell me they feel safe in Israel, in a way they don’t anywhere else in the world.
Nathan says, Ha ha, wouldn’t it be funny, ha ha, if you left Israel because of the food, ha ha. I can’t persuade him that the food is genuinely one of the reasons I won’t stay. I have started, for my own amusement, making a list and They don’t cook with salt, is high on it. Israelis are bombarded by tv ads and newspaper articles about the evils of salt, yet continue to smoke like damp firewood. One of the first vape shops I’ve seen here, London’s finest vape store coming to Tel Aviv! it says on a sign in the window, is opening soon on Diezengoff. I hope it is an enormous success.
Despite all the hype about the so-called Israeli food revolution, it is no more than so-called. There are a few smart (and expensive, often pretentious, too), restaurants. Hummus and falafel are good, as is the sabich, if you like it, which I don’t. The produce here is shiny and tasteless, or worse, bruised and tasteless.
They play with their food, scientifically, I mean. This is, after all, the country that invented cherry tomatoes. I have found radishes the size of grapefruit and grapefruit the size of radishes. The am:pm is like the Supermarket of Doctor Moreau.
Meat, which I can only find factory farmed, is kosher and therefore bloodless. A butcher told me there’s no organic farming in Israel because it’s too hot to grow enough grass for the cows to eat. I’ve been all but vegetarian since I arrived.
Still, excitingly, a Parisian butcher is opening around the corner. It has taken months for him to get the permits. He will sell roast chickens, which thrills me, as I don’t have an oven. I have four gas rings and three feet of melamine surface. Many homes only have two hobs and a toaster oven. I also don’t have a fridge, which is stupid of me. I just haven’t got round to buying one, and now I think I’ll only be staying a few more months it doesn’t seem worth it. Even so, what I wouldn’t give for a John Lewis and a Waitrose.
Today’s word: hatikva – hope – התקווה