Saturday, December 10, 2005

Two Jews Are Talking

As Members of the Tribe ("MOTs") know, it often appears to the Gentile world that we all know each other. ("Six Degrees of Separation" is nothing more than a variation on what I know as "Jewish Geography.") This stereotype persists mainly because it’s true. Also, time and distance do nothing to mitigate our ability to play Jewish geography. After all, as an MOT once said, its all relative (or was that relatives?).

So I’m in Busi, a grill restaurant in the Hatikvah neighborhood, with Liz and Becky. Busi is a real neighborhood place and, this being a mostly Yemenite and North African neighborhood, it is not unfair to say that we are the only white folks in the place, though everyone is Jewish.

Our waiter knows enough English and the two women at my table know enough Hebrew, for me to feast on salads and grilled meat. Grill at its best is subtly seasoned and melts in your mouth. Tonight I went for the lamb chops, chicken hearts and your basic kabob (seasoned mystery meat). Another young waitress got curious as to where we were from. She had blond streaks in her naturally wavy hair. Hers are waves you’d pay $100 in the States to get put in as a perm – hers are just in her DNA. She asks Becky where we are from and what we’re doing in the neighborhood. Becky explains (in Hebrew) that she’s been living in Hatikvah, volunteering at local schools and we, her parents, are being allowed to buy her dinner on her last night in the neighborhood.

Becky then leaves us to go spend a quiet evening packing, going to a party at 2200 in a nearby park and then on to a bar on a Tel Aviv side street that the kids, but not the tour guides, have discovered (i.e., a good bar whose location is not to be given up to parents, straight friends or other drags). She will then be “up” at 0730 for a final house inspection and to get on a bus to Jerusalem as she starts her travels to her next location (see “Year Course – Young Judaeans Take Hatikvah”).

After Beck is gone I sip a Turkish coffee. Turkish coffee is your basic sludge that needs at least three ounces of sugar to be drinkable by a westerner. I get the check and, without looking at it, ask the waiter if he’ll take a credit card. He says Visa or Diner’s Club (don’t ask, its Israel). I give him the card and the check without looking at it. Now I realize I haven’t looked to see if a service charge was included or not. The last thing I want to do is stiff a waiter after an excellent meal and great service. But I also don’t want to tip excessively. (I’m already going to give 20% which is too-New York in a town where 10% is the norm but less than 20% and my Father reaches out from the grave and whacks upside the head.) So now we need to find out if a service charge was added to the check or not. I also need change of a 100-shekel note as tips cannot be written onto credit card slips in Israel (I don’t know why, ask Burt Solomon, he’s the international bank lawyer among The Usual Suspects). This would not be a problem except my Hebrew consists of phrases like, “Vayomer Adonai al Moshe l’aymor” (And G-d spoke unto Moses, saying…) which is not going to settle the matter of a tip in a neighborhood restaurant where a half dozen languages are being spoken, none of them English.

So Liz gets the attention of the pretty young waitress and in Hebrish (Hebrew and English mixed up in ways that would horrify your high school teachers) explains our dilemma. It turns out that Hebrew for tip is, wait for it, tip, pronounced “teep.” She gets the check back and sure enough, they added 10%. So I leave another 10% on the table. Now the waitress asks us where we are from. It turns out she has relations who live in Brooklyn and New Jersey. So I proudly announce that I am from Brooklyn. She unfortunately does not know Brooklyn neighborhoods so the conversation is winding down when a voice booms out from two tables over, in clear, New York English. I then engage in the following classic exchange of two Jews talking:

First Jew: Hey, I’m from Queens and I’d like to pay my check too. Let’s go, I’ve got to get to work.
(Waitress takes check and money, David walks over to First Jew.)

Second Jew: So how do you get from Queens to here.

First Jew: I was born here, moved to Queens and now I’m back visiting the Mishbuchah (extended family, freinds and hangers-on). Where in Brooklyn are you from?

Second Jew: Sheepshead Bay.

First Jew: Really, you don’t look Russian.

Second Jew: Hey, I got there long before the Russians.

First Jews Young Male Dinner Partner: I used to work in Sheepshead Bay. I did valet parking at the synagogue on Ocean and Shore Road.

Second Jew: No kidding? Manhattan Beach Jewish Center. Remember the benches along the bay? (Young Dinner Partner nods “yes.”) Well, two benches past the footbridge, which was my office during high school. (Turning back to First Jew…) So, where in Queens?

First Jew: Fresh Meadows, after some time in Forest Hills.

Second Jew: Shavuah Tov.

First Jew: Shavuah Tov. Have a good trip.

Shavuah Tov

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