Saturday, 15 October 2011

Only in Israel - a word of advice for new arrivals.

My name is Julian Chagrin, I am a British Mime and Comedian and I have lived and performed my One Man Comedy Show and worked on Television in Israel since 1976 apart from brief forays into what I laughingly call ‘the real world’ which is anywhere other than Israel, to perform and regain some vestiges of sanity before returning to the mad house which is my favourite country.

I live part of the time in Tel Aviv and part of the time in an artist’s village called Ein Hod which is perched on a hill on the Carmel Mountain ridge.

Actually the Carmel Mountain ridge is just a bunch of small hills. I have never understood why the Israelis call any hill higher than 100 metres a mountain, I think it’s what the French call delusions de grandeur. En passant the English have neatly adapted this to describe TV presenters the world over: they have delusions of adequacy. As I was saying, I always thought mountains were great big dangerous things with snow and no oxygen. Here in Israel you can wander up one in ten minutes. As far as I know there’s only one real mountain in Israel and that’s Mount Hermon, where every winter people flock to fall off their skis (actually these days they’ve modernised and they fall off their snowboards) and the army goes to test their battery heated socks.

So I’ve lived here for thirty years and to be frank, even after all these years I’m still trying to decide whether I want to stay here. You might wonder why I still haven’t made up my mind. I put it down to three reasons:

1. Actually the real reason is that I have absolutely no idea, but that’s not good enough for a grown up, mature adult, so here are some others.

2. A comedian is, more often than not, an angry outsider who snipes at life from a safe distance; he views life from the periphery, which let’s face it, is the safest position for sniping. Therefore as I live on the outside of society, ergo, I do not feel part of it.

So that’s a sensible, intellectually safe, reason.

2. The third reason isn’t a reason at all. You can’t reason rationally in a funny farm. It’s what women call instinct and what men haven’t found a word for yet, unless its ‘gut feeling’. Pity they have to bring intestines into it, but still.

Israel is a mix of such extraordinary opposites that reason doesn’t help you, it just sends you potty. You just have to dive into the mad sea of anomalies and swim, pretending that all the contradictory waves going in every direction are part of a normal ocean. If you can manage this then you don’t drown.

A good rule of thumb, if you are going to come and live in Israel, is to leave all your expectations behind and arrive here with an open mind as your only baggage. By the way that’s not such a bad way to travel through life either. In my opinion expectations are responsible for almost more misery and catastrophes than religions.

Two American friends arrived recently after years living in various European countries, but always promising themselves that they when they had made enough money they would come and live in Israel. They arrived with much brouhaha bought a yuppy house in a yuppy neighborhood on the coast and within three years had fled screaming to a nice safe boring country, Switzerland I think, yelling about the Byzantine bureacracy, how everybody was trying to rip them off and that it was nothing like California, London, Paris or Rome or wherever. Also it either wasn’t Jewish enough or it was far too Jewish, I forget which. You never heard so many complaints. It was expectations that were their downfall.

Yet they knew they were coming to the Middle East, to a tribal, nepotistic society, which still has one foot in the desert however high their beautiful skyscrapers are. No country can be quite normal that has been at war all it’s life. Here you pay your high taxes basically so the army can acquire nice shiny new hi-tec sabres to rattle at their 280 million hostile neighbors. And a good thing too.

Joke: how do you get a million dollars in Israel? Arrive with three million dollars.

So you can see I’m still puzzled. But one thing’s for sure, I’m not leaving Israel until I find out whether I want to live here or not. I know that doesn’t make sense, but it’s very comforting.

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