Who's Ashamed to Look Pathetic?

I admire those who aren’t ashamed to look pathetic. For example, people my age who dance in public.

There are quite a number of Yiddish speakers among my readers, it turns out, which is why they wrote and pointed out my mistake in last week’s column, noting that the popular Yiddish saying is not that the frenk ‏(a derogatory term for a Jew of Middle Eastern descent‏) is a-haya ‏(an animal‏) and the Ashkenazi is a-mehaya ‏(a pleasure‏), but rather: “A frenk iz a-haya und a frenkinia iz a-mehaya” − in other words, Mizrahim are animals, but their women know how to make Ashkenazim feel good.

The impressive number of letters I got made it clear that, in fact, as one woman from Haifa claimed, this saying is strongly entrenched in general, not only in Haifa. And therefore, even people who have no idea to which ethnic group they belong and certainly don’t divide the world into Mizrahim and Ashkenazim, and even people who are turned off by the connotations of this expression, couldn’t tolerate the mistake.

Neri Livneh - Avi Ofer - March 9, 2012

Several men even explained to me that this expression has nothing to do with racism, but reflects a desire to explain the advantage of Mizrahi women, who know how to make men feel good. I was immediately reassured, as a female frenk ‏(well, only one-quarter of one, actually‏). At least, according to this saying, there’s something at which I can excel, which apparently couldn’t be said about my grandfather, the 100-percent frenk, who was apparently a-haya. And they say that mankind is not progressing!

But my happiness didn’t last long, because several days later I saw Meshulam Riklis in a promo that kept being aired in advance of his interview on Amnon Levy’s program “Panim Amitiot” ‏(“True Face”‏) on Channel 10. Of course, when associated with Riklis, there is a certain irony in the expression “true face.” But of course he has a right to try to maintain his youth as he wishes, and I don’t even have anything against the almost-perpetual cravat around his neck. Everything must be accepted with humor and a positive attitude, of course, since I rely on Tali Sinai-Riklis, his wife ‏(“She wanted me for my money,” as he puts it‏), to continue to make him feel good ‏(“And I wanted her because of life,” he explains further‏). And the fact is that he really doesn’t look even a second older than 88 ‏(or, again, in his own words: “All the others can kiss my ass”‏).

Riklis, as we discovered in the promos for “True Face,” speaks like a racist of the lowest kind. He considers Arabs “murderers from birth” and says this a genetic trait shared by all Arabs, whereas Jews who come from Arab countries are not murderers like the peoples they lived among − rather, they are “thieves and liars.” At his age, he claims, he is exempt from political correctness and therefore can tell others what he calls “the truth.”

I wondered whether if, at least when it comes to the Mizrahi issue − in other words, the frenk issue − Riklis is willing to cut people some slack, but it’s not at all clear. In any event, Riklis, it turns out, likes his women blonde ‏(whether real or artificial‏), and decades younger than he is.

Outwardly, Riklis may look pathetic, because the attempt to adopt the mannerisms or style of young people and not act your age engenders comic situations and self-ridicule, just like the cliche of the elderly billionaire falling for a young blonde. And precisely for that reason, I’m capable of admiring Sinai-Riklis ‏(if not her husband, whose wealth, to my mind, still does not give him the right to say whatever he pleases, nonsense included‏). People who aren’t afraid to look pathetic make me jealous, because all my life I’ve been afraid of being pathetic.

“Did they say ‘good for you’ for showing up?” asked Anateleh when I told her I had gone to a Rami Fortis concert. “Because when Rachel and I once went to a nightclub they didn’t stop saying ‘Good for you, good for you,’ and that was seven years ago.”

Within a week I found myself going twice in Holon, a city I would gladly move to if it weren’t located outside Tel Aviv. It began with a tribute to writer Zeruya Shalev, which took place on Friday afternoon − thanks to which I discovered how beautiful and pleasant the arts complex in Holon is, especially when compared to the monstrous Tel Aviv Cinematheque and the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center.

The week ended with the total opposite of that event: Fortis’ performance at the Steinberg Center, at night. Of course, the tribute to Shalev was the natural place for me and a genuine Shabbat treat. On the other hand, the event in the nightclub aroused a vague sort of fear in me. Although Fortis is no younger than I, and I’ve heard enough about him to confuse him with my neighbor Berry Sakharof − I wasn’t at all familiar with his songs, and I didn’t understand the meaning of a “standing show,” as noted in the invitation.

We arrived there on the rainiest day last week; they let us in quickly.
“And weren’t you insulted that they didn’t even conduct a search on you at the entrance, as though you’re incapable of hiding a knife or something, and that you went past the bouncers easily in spite of your dark skin − because I was very insulted by that seven years ago,” asked Anateleh.

But I was more concerned with not being pathetic. Although there were several people who were older than me in the audience, they could be counted on the fingers of one hand, and there would still have been some left over.

The lighting, which included colored spots that lent the entire event a surrealistic atmosphere, fascinated me. I didn’t know a single one of Fortis’ songs, but the rhythmic music thrilled me. Behind me, all around me and particularly in front of me, folks were dancing. But not me. From the age of 30 I don’t dance, due to a fear of being pathetic. And yet, something did happen to me. Toward the end, when I could no longer control myself, I could clearly feel how the fingers in my coat pockets were jumping around uncontrollably.