Journeys to/through the Orient
July 26, 2007
Dear Reader: After an unexpected summer hiatus (it’s amazing what taking
two three weeks off will do to your traffic), Dash is pleased to return to that warm and welcoming world of the internet. I’d love to say that the last fortnight has been spent doing constructive things like righting the US economy, answering the Jewish Question (at the very least solving the Tel Aviv cat problem), or learning how to knit a “took”; sadly, my vacation has mostly involved reading Yiddish poetry and writing terrible compositions (if only I’d followed my own rules) in said language. Summer Yiddish programs like, I imagine, Ottoman Turkish programs, create a bizarre space where the dying language is revived, albeit temporarily. Still, the artificiality is highlighted; while we can discourse on poetry in Yiddish, I could hardly order a good meal at a restaurant, or ideate the nuances of hand washed laundry. Sadly, this would seem to be an area of linguistic knowledge confined to various chasidic groups around the world. And that, o wise and discriminating reader, leads me to today’s topic.
After the program ended, I decided to upgrade from my third-world digs to what is at the very least a second world apartment in the heart of the light-industrial Tel Aviv garment district (what is it with the kids and light-industrial neighbourhoods?). With a few days without a home to kill, I decided to take the train to Jerusalem to stay with a friend from Harvard. My traveling companion and I sat opposite each-other, speaking quietly and listening to others conversations (thanks for the tip, Lives of Others!). Our solitude was soon interrupted when we were joined by a chasid. His luggage tag gave him away as a Williamsburger, and he had several phone conversations in an English-Yiddish hybrid. He eventually got up and left us, before reappearing a row behind. I imagined we did something to offend him.
After changing trains in Bet Shemesh, my traveling companion and I saw the chasid walk past us. I gave him a smile, he smiled back, and I asked, “vos makhstu reb yid?” Shocked, he stopped and sat down, chatting with me in Yiddish. He yelled at me for my accent–actually, he went beyond that, telling me that I didn’t speak “real” Yiddish. (He later poked fun at my Hebrew accent, despite the fact that he didn’t know any Hebrew and was completely dependent upon me for directions). This would have all been a nice little encounter except he decided to bring up politics. It turns out that our friend is a diehard Guiliani fan, and an equally diehard Hillary hater. I decided to argue with him about Guiliani’s record on crime, only to be backed up, from out of nowhere, by a British citizen sitting across the aisle (literally). Suffice it to say the Chasid and I differ dramatically on our views of politics:
On the suspension of habeus corpus: I’m against, while he believes that if the government declares you’re a terrorist or enemy combatant you must be and the case never needs to be brought before a judge.
On the war: I’m in favor of a gradual withdrawal from Iraq while he’s in favor of increasing the size of US forces by about a half a million. He believes that the US should reinstate the draft if necessary, and that I should be forced to fight. When asked if would have to serve, he informed me that it was against his religion.
On the role of the Christian Right in American Politics: He decided that my question meant that I was Christian (a goy speaking Yiddish! Straight out of a Peretz story), and told me that he spoke to a Christian the other day who wouldn’t vote for Obama. I was out-argued on this one. This guy changed topics like a professional politician. Also, you have to love the way he refers to his one Christian friend, like people who speak about their one Black friend.
Overall, he was an amicable fellow. He tried to screw the Brit out of some money (the pound, he reasoned to me in Yiddish, is at 8.30 to the sheqel, and he can afford to go very far out of his way and then take a chasidic cab back to where he was going) but at least he talked to us like normal people and invited me to hear a shiur in Yiddish at his Yeshiva. And although he’s a diehard republican, he at least seems to care which republican is the candidate. He watches the debates and plans to stay home if it’s a bad candidate (re: not Guiliani). I’m just waiting for him to invite me out to Gottlieb’s.