Heroes With a Lot of Zeroes

So what would you do if you had turned into Rothschilds overnight? Would you too wear the national mask, the Lotto's coveted red cardboard? Would you too hold a masked press conference at the National Lottery House?

Criminals and lottery winners in Israel are always masked. The criminals fear an evil eye to recognize their guilt, and the winners are afraid the evil eye might stain them with its envy.

And so, our two newest nouveaux riches - the winners of the highest lottery award in Israeli history - appeared before the cameras yesterday. The winning ticket earned them NIS 74 million; the four months it took them to check the ticket cost them NIS 700,000 as a crafty radio presenter calculated last night, and a one-off income tax payment slims it down to 55 million. A couple in their late 30s, they walked into the National Lottery meeting room holding hands, as if to stress they're splitting the award fifty-fifty.

He does all the talking; she stays mum. She's wearing a black straw hat, he's sporting a blue jacket he saved from his uncle's wedding - two decades ago at the very least. To be on the safe side, he's wearing a tie - being rich, you know, noblesse oblige - but it shows that the orange tie is his only one, standing out like a sore thumb on his black shirt. The gossip columns' fashion police gave life sentences to both.

The literati, by contrast, would probably give them a Best Short Story award, for fiction or non-fiction. It's a fantastic tale, to judge by what the husband recounted for the cameras. The winning ticket was just lying there - sometimes in the car, sometimes in the house. For months. They don't always check the tickets. How they found out: They were going over a pile of 20 old tickets, and got to the penultimate one. Bingo. They won NIS 5,000. Then, they look at the screen, which says: For winnings over NIS 5,000, contact the National Lottery. Oh, no.

And then their lotto man tells them, you did win more than 5,000. It says 74 and then a lot of zeroes. Maybe 74 square? "No," the lotto man says, "You've won 74 millions."

Pause. He says: "I don't think so." She says: "Let's count the zeroes." They got home, they checked over the Internet, they looked at the old media coverage.

Cut. Back to the meeting room.

"It's not simple. We aren't poor. But it's disquieting. I've nothing to do with that kind of money. We didn't know about it, who watches TV? I would come each time with a stack of tickets and she'd yell at me."

Did you believe it?

"I still don't believe it."

Do you know what to do with the money?

"Do you know what to do with 55 million?"

Coming to senses: "Let's put things in proportions. The first thing I want to do when I get up in the morning is to take a pee. Nothing's changed. We won't tell anyone and we won't tell our kids. The kids don't know it yet. We don't know what we'll tell them and how much of it we'll tell them. They'll come asking for this and that. We won't change the way we live."

Oh, come off it. As early as yesterday, the lucky winner already said: "Let's not fantasize about us continuing to get up at 8 A.M."

Did finding the ticket prevent a tragedy? "There wouldn't have been a tragedy because we wouldn't have known." Damon Runyon himself couldn't have put it better.