No one takes me seriously. Everyone thinks I'm being funny all the time. The truth is, this is not everyone's problem, it's mine. I can never say no. Lately I've been thinking that it's a genetic thing, or maybe cultural, even though I know that culture and economic status are no less genetic than Down syndrome.
I inherited, was taught or simply developed an inability to be unequivocal with my no's. When I entered the Jewish world, meaning when I started to work for Jewish bosses, who were usually older than me, whenever there was something I was asked to do, but didn't want to, I said "Insh'Allah," which is the politest word I can use with someone who is older, to say "I don't want to." Jews treated "Insh'Allah" as though it means yes. But it doesn't. When an Arab says, "Insh'Allah, I will come at five o'clock to fix the faucet in the bathroom," he is actually telling you: Forget it, I don't have time, call another plumber. That's how I found myself, owing to a mistaken use of "Insh'Allah," undertaking to wash dishes in a restaurant that I happened to eat in, leaving the university and becoming the sex slave of the owner of a steak joint, who was on the far side of 60.
"So, you're meeting me in the storeroom later on?"
Afterward, when I found out that "Insh'Allah" has different meanings in other cultures, I switched to, "I don't think I want to." Still, politeness is politeness, and I really, but really, cannot say no. Certainly not to a Jew. It's a caste thing.
After the boss in the restaurant was arrested for some illicit financial activity, I started to rehabilitate my life. I re-enrolled in the Bezalel Academy of Art, taking photography courses and enjoying every minute. When the time came that I needed money for paper and developing materials on a scale that I could no longer ask my parents for, I started to look for work in the profession. I came to the editor of a local paper with a portfolio and a camera slung over my shoulder, and asked if they needed free-lance photographers.
"Photographers we don't need," he said, and asked, "Tell me, are you an Arab?"
"Yes," I nodded my head.
"Can you write?"
"We are looking for a reporter on Arab affairs, what do you say?"
"I don't think I want to," I replied.
Following this wrong use of "I don't think I want to," I found myself getting heart attacks in Gaza and Jenin, crying with hungry children, fleeing from snipers from both sides, interviewing wanted individuals and settlers, and trying to escape from helicopters. When the war stopped being sexy, I found myself interviewing models and dog barbers, writing about television, cars, nightlife, restaurants, pimps and whores.
A good few years passed until I adopted the rejection statement, "That's not for me." I rehabilitated my life, wrote books, saved up money and got a girlfriend.
"Do you want to get married?"
"That's not for me."
"Is there a big hall in the village?"
"That's not for me."
"A thousand guests?"
"That's not for me."
"Honeymoon in Antalya?"
"No, that's really not for me."
"That's not for me."
"That's not for me."
"What about a third?"
"No. I don't want to. Do you hear? I don't want to."
"Fine, fine. Since when have you become so unequivocal?"
"That's it. I don't want to."
With the powerful put-down assertion "I don't want to," I wrought miracles. I worked only in jobs that I wanted to have. I wrote only what I wanted. So simple. How had I survived without the words "I don't want to"? I wrote a screenplay and a television series that I wanted to write, and then I started to get a lot of calls from producers and big agents. A real success story. Until recently, people started to approach me who don't take my no for an answer.
Already in the first meeting with the first producer who offered me a job writing a telenovela, I whipped out the put-down response that had saved me in recent years: "I don't want to." With producers and agents, it turns out, the word no is not an option. It's like in "The Godfather" - you can't say no to a serious producer. At most you can hit him with an "Insh'Allah" and pray he will leave you alone.
Five producers to whom I said "I don't want to," came back with "No is not an option." Suddenly my no is being defied. "Sure you want to, but you just don't know yet that you want to" - that's another sentence you often hear from businessmen with plenty of money.
"Ah, really? So you are saying that I do want to?"
"Sure you want to."
"Walla, I don't know, because the truth is that I don't feel so comfortable, and anyway I don't have time ..."
"Do you want $50,000?"
"Yeah, sure, that's something I really want."
"So you see that you want to?"
"You were right."
"Okay, within a month I want a musical for a huge production starring all the children's heroes."
"I take it you have no trouble composing music, either?"
Recently I realized that I'm afraid to invite Haredi) relatives to my house. When I say "Haredi," I mean dyed-in-the wool Haredi. Not Haredi-lite or amateur Haredi, but genuine Haredi, with a beard and earlocks and Torah and fear of God. It's hard to explain. It's not that there's any problem of halakha here. As far as I know, our building is free of objectionable advertisements, desecration of graves, a Gay Pride march or anything that could constitute an insult to Haredim. But still, something isn't very clear here - as though it's uncomfortable to bring them to Ramat Hasharon. It's really hard to explain. I can only say that it was much more natural to invite them to my previous home, in Jerusalem.
A few days ago I decided to overcome my hesitation; I have nothing to be ashamed of. This is our house, this is our city, it's true that it's not exactly Bnei Brak, but really, after all, I'm not going out to Reviva and Celia Cafe with my Haredi cousins. It's only a visit with us, in our home, in the living room, with apple juice and cookies with the kosher seal of the Badatz.
So we invited them, and they were happy to come, and they traveled all the way from Jerusalem and in the end they found our street and stopped at the doorway. Not the door to the apartment. The door to the building. "Oy, did you notice that your mezuzah fell off?" my uncle inquired in a friendly tone. Walla, how could I not have noticed, I replied. I looked at my wife and that was exactly her expression, too. Walla. How could she not have noticed?
The truth is that the first thing we did as soon as we moved to the apartment, almost a year ago, was to take all the mezuzahs to be checked. "There are very kosher mezuzahs in this apartment, of the highest quality," the outgoing tenants boasted to us, and we, ever the skeptics, decided that to be on the safe side we would take all the "highest quality" mezuzahs to be checked by a sofer stam in Bnei Brak. Just to get his approval. He took a screwdriver, opened the case of the first mezuzah, the designer one from the main doorway, and I was so embarrassed that I wanted to flee from the shop and from Bnei Brak altogether. There was no kosher mezuzah inside and no non-kosher mezuzah. There simply was no parchment at all. Empty. How stupid!
But we forgot to consider the mezuzah at the entrance to the building. When you live for years in religious surroundings, you're used to the fact that religious issues are the responsibility of public figures, the MKs, the minister of religious affairs, the heads of the tenants' committee. It's clear that they take care of the mezuzah, isn't it? Maybe I'm also responsible for watering the garden in the building? Maybe I'm supposed to schedule an elevator inspection once a month?
Right at the end of the visit with the relatives (it was lovely), my wife said that we should go upstairs, without unnecessary delay, to the third floor, to the head of the tenants' committee, and tell him that a mezuzah must be put up. Tell me, have you lost your mind, I asked her. Do you want me to knock on the door of the neighbor from the committee, ask him to turn down his television a little and request that he put up a mezuzah on the entrance door?
"Oh, stop it," she said. "Stop thinking all the time about what secular people think of you. They don't think of you at all. And besides, it's not some feudal lord; it's the head of the tenants' committee. And what are you asking him to do? Only to put up a mezuzah. It's elementary."
"Elementary? And putting on tefillin is not elementary? So maybe we'll put up a booth at the entrance to the elevator," I suggested. "I'll help them put on tefillin and you'll give them Shabbat candles? But you know what, I have an idea. We'll buy a mezuzah and late at night, when everyone's sleeping, we'll put it up, you and I. Don't worry, I'll bang quietly with the hammer."
"What a cowardly little Jew you are," laughed my wife, and since then she's been waiting for a week already for me to go upstairs to speak to the head of the house committee.
Yesterday I decided to merge the portfolios, and to combine my plea for a mezuzah with another cowardly little Jewish request. It's already the middle of Elul, the month of mercy and forgiveness, and soon it will be Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and then Sukkot. After all, I need permission from him to build a sukkah on the lawn.
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