If you are playing the word association game and “romance” gets mentioned, “Israel” might not be the first thing that comes to mind. Say “Start-up Nation,” and we get a fair chance. “Uzi submachine gun?” Definitely, that’s us. Shkedei Marak, those amazing crisp yellow crouton squares that go in your chicken soup? Absolutely: 100 percent, it’s “Israel.” But “romance?” Not really.
Between the mythical toughness of the "sabras," the cynical tone of so much of conversation, the military-bred machismo spilling into everyday life, and the pervasive culture of hanging out with the chevre – one’s gang of friends – it might seem romance is not our thing.
Get Danna Harman's compilation of truly Israeli love stories here: http://htz.li/WMi00t
But this would be patently untrue. This would be forgetting how King David fell crazily in love with the bathing Bathsheba, right here, in Jerusalem. Or how Madonna travelled across the world and then up to Safed to pray for love at the tombs of the Kabbalists. This would be neglecting the fact that we have practically more romantic tzimmerim – bed and breakfasts – on the Golan than people in the country, or how every other corner store in Tel Aviv seems to be selling scented candles and nice bath soaps these days. Yes, take that Paris, or Rome or Vegas. We too are a land of love.
As such, in setting out to write a column about Israel, I decided to write love stories. There are certainly enough columns about the Iran-Israel relationship already, I figured. And clearly enough ink spilled about the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. But what about our other relationships?
What about Chaim, the homely guy from Jerusalem and his relationship with Inbar, his sexy girlfriend in Tel Aviv? How's that working out? What about Eliza from Beverly Hills, whose sister is married to the Edge, and her relationship with Moshe the Moroccan crooner who lost his voice and works at the minimarket? Or what about Sergey and Michael, the two Russian doctors who came out of the closet, found each other, quit medicine, made aliya, and today run a boutique hotel in Tel Aviv's Yemenite quarter? Who is telling us anything about their love? Or what about Zvi, who lived through Auschwitz, who when he was first kissed by Regina, his wife-to-be, fainted dead away because it had been so long since anyone had been so sweet with him?
There are love stories everywhere. There is Shalom, an Algerian from a development town in the south, who can't take his eyes off Yaffa, an Ethiopian immigrant from the north. There is Osher who sailed around the world and docked next to Ashley in Fiji. And there is Karin, the religious businesswoman from New York who came on holiday and fell, as they all do, for the hot pilot of few words. And there are endless, endless others.
Everyone has a great love story, it turns out. Or knows one. Or yearns for one.
And in between the tales of first glances, playing hard to get, clunky early kisses, meeting the families, wedding planning and happily ever afters, other stories also unfold. Turns out, we can learn a little something about this country from our relationships: about where we come from, how we are brought up, what we believe in, and how we have come together in this melting pot called Israel. Or, if you must, romantic Israel.