Remember Me to Nazareth

I noticed a large photograph of me pasted on the driver's door, and below, in Arabic, English and Hebrew, the words, 'Not authorized to enter.'

I was at a wedding in Nazareth this week. The next day, when I took a taxi back to the parking lot of the banquet hall to pick up my car, which I'd left there, I noticed a large photograph of me pasted on the driver's door, and below, in Arabic, English and Hebrew, the words, "Not authorized to enter."

Oy, Nazareth, Nazareth, what did I do? The truth is that I don't remember much - occasionally I am assaulted by shards of memories from that wedding, which only add to the hurt. I don't know the scale of the damage that was caused. My wife, who was sitting next to me and dragged me out of the hall, is still not talking to me. The bride, a friend of my wife's and just about the only person I knew at the wedding, sent me a text message declaring, "I regret the day I met you."

One of the things I do remember is that in Nazareth, as opposed to Tira, you don't have to hide drinks in the trunk of the car in the darkest corner of the parking lot and mix them with Coke and orange juice to fudge the evidence. In Nazareth, bottles of good whiskey and excellent arak were distributed generously on the tables. It took me exactly a quarter of an hour to lift off from there into new spheres. I do remember that at one point I went to the restroom, and instead of returning to the wedding to which I was invited, on the second floor, mistakenly went to a different wedding, on the first floor, without noticing the blunder. I recall dancing with the bride at that wedding, and that she looked different from the one I remembered. As for the grooms in both halls, I didn't know either of them anyway.

Somehow, I occasionally eavesdrop on my wife's phone conversations, and I hear things like, "I am very sorry. Yes, there is no problem. No, really - I have to make it up to you for the dress. I'll put a check in the mail. Thank you, and again, sorry."

The main memories that I manage to dredge up from that evening consist mainly of looks. Eyes with expressions that are filled with contempt, sometimes fear, too. Looks of women who worked for hours on their hair, of dozing men in ties and tailor-made suits. The guests on both sides actually chose their wedding clothes well. They looked like members of the established elites of Nazareth who refuse to acknowledge the new reality. Like aristocratic families for whom weddings afford an almost rare arena to flaunt forgotten history.

It wasn't a mistake but deliberate intoxication. I wasn't ready for the wedding and until the last minute I hoped to persuade my wife to pass it up, and just send along a present by mail. I knew what fate held in store for me. There are two situations at weddings: Either I suffer the whole evening from music, dancing and ceremonies that for some reason plunge me into a deep depression, or I have a good time and the thing ends in a full-scale catastrophe. I haven't yet decided which of the two options I prefer. I usually attend the weddings I'm invited to, and it must be three or even four years - I'm not sure which - since I was last at one.

The instant I got to Nazareth, I understood that I was going to get really stewed. Something about that city, about its streets, threw me into a black funk. I remember Nazareth from my childhood as the red city, the steadfast turret, as the party leaders liked to call it, the great Nazareth of Tawfik Zayyad [the late longtime Knesset member from the Hadash party], which appreciated struggle, freedom and poetry.

Yet now this capital city looks almost like Tira, only on a hill. I'm really not sure that this feeling, which never left me from the moment I entered the city, has anything to do with Nazareth; on the contrary, it almost certainly has everything to do with me.

The main street of Nazareth is crowded on a Friday afternoon. It's damp and stifling, or maybe it's only me, the stranger wandering around there. The community police closed the main street to cars, turning the place into a shopping arena and creating a festive event for the children. A clown on a stage danced and sang for happy children whose laughter gave me a twinge in the heart. Women in kerchiefs and veils walked alongside girls in daring outfits, but for some reason that sight, which might have stood for hope, plurality and acceptance, left me with a black image and a feeling of certain impending doom. I had a sense of confusion caused by polar opposites that don't meet. Green flags on doors next to blue-white stickers declaring "We will triumph." The Mashbir Latzarchan department store across from the Basilica of the Annunciation, uniformed Arabic-speaking policemen in the plaza of the Shihab a-Din mosque.

Oy, Nazareth, Nazareth. And I am the stranger who has to decide. That is the feeling. I have to decide. Standing on the sidelines is prohibited. There is no room on the sidelines. You are either for us or against us. You are either among our ranks or you are a collaborator. If you are critical of us, you are definitely for them. Don't give us stories about social classes and global economies. Communism died long ago - look around.

Now I remember, I swear to God, that at the wedding where there were young women and polite men they danced to a modern musical arrangement, almost an Arab dance, to a poem written by Tawfik Zayyad, a poem that usually accompanied demonstrations, not weddings. I remember that just then something inside me was lost.

"I'm sorry," I hear my wife say on the phone. "He definitely didn't mean it. I know, but I can promise you that he absolutely did not want to hurt anyone's feelings. You're right, it was off the wall, but he really meant it when he said he was becoming religious. I know he was holding a bottle of whiskey. But he definitely was not trying to offend the faith. At this very moment, he is praying in the bedroom."