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Voices

Zero for Israeli customer care

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Along with the frozen yoghurt and double espresso, I asked for a Coke Zero. I paid, was handed the coffee and “Zero”, and waited for my son to add the fillings of his choice to his yoghurt.

Just before heading to the table, I noticed that the Coke bottle was still sealed and so not unreasonably, I thought, I asked them for a bottle opener or to please open it. The waitress looked at me as if my request was for her to whip up fresh sushi using a very rare yellowfin tuna found only off the coast of an unhabitable Japanese island.

“We don’t have an opener,” she said, while dismissively shaking her head and turning to the next, hopefully more reasonable, customer.

For her, the matter was closed.

“Wait! What?” was my less than eloquent response. “Please open this.” It was a tense moment, but not long lasting. Realising I was going nowhere, she belligerently snatched the bottle, shouted something to someone at the back, and a moment later, handed me my now drinkable drink.

It was a small but powerful victory for me on the battlefield of Ben Yehuda Street, Jerusalem. A small victory in a war otherwise lost.

Israel, it seems, needs to get out more.

After two years of relative isolation, it’s clear that the country is no longer as accustomed to visitors as it might once have been. With world travel curtailed, and most of us having been forced to “chat amongst ourselves”, it might be true of many countries.

It means South Africans are even more South African than we have been, Australians more Australian, and Israelis, so much more Israeli. We have all been undiluted and less exposed to other cultures, influences, and expectations.

Aside from the breath taking prices and understaffed facilities, we also observed fewer people being able or willing to speak in English (even at hotels). Hotel experiences varied wildly, with some offering offensively bad “service” and others, quite the opposite.

This might be part of the reason that after an absence of more than two years from the country (the longest I can recall), I was saddened to feel less at home and more of a visitor than I ever have before.

The tense security situation, especially in Jerusalem, no doubt added to the overall feeling, but the sense of belonging based simply on being Jewish wasn’t the prevalent feeling.

I have never felt Israeli, but I have always felt at home. This trip was different.

It’s not to say that I didn’t love the time spent. I’m blown away by the development, innovation, and progress of the country. I love the spirit of the people, the zest, and the resilience. And I feel anger, hurt, and outrage for that which people are forced to endure because of the threat of terrorism.

I’m proud that my son, an Ashkenazi Jew, married a Yemenite Jew in a ceremony that combined the best of our heritage. I loved that they were married in the mountains outside Jerusalem and that they will continue to live and work in Tel Aviv. I remain connected to the country on a religious and emotional level that’s near impossible to describe.

I just wish that I felt that the feelings were mutual.

Perhaps it will be: next year in Jerusalem.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Janet

    Apr 28, 2022 at 6:04 pm

    I am sure this is only temporary and will rectify itself. Still the only place you can go for a totally kosher smorgasbord

  2. Devora Even-Tov

    Apr 28, 2022 at 7:42 pm

    Sadly I have to agree with you on this. I have always had this immense feeling of coming home when coming to Israel. I cannot put my finger on it, but this time I definitely feel like a stranger.

  3. Robert Zipper

    Apr 29, 2022 at 1:26 pm

    By 74 one can expect some hardening of the arteries.

  4. Ros Bak

    May 3, 2022 at 1:41 pm

    Sorry that you had a bad experience with the coke opener, sorry you didn’t feel at home, and sorry that you found that the Israelis are more and more Israeli….
    However, get real… What with Covid, the tense atmosphere resulting from a daily..no..hourly real and present security threat..I wonder how you would fare …I know that niceties are nice, and it’s always nice to be treated politely, but… don’t judge anyone until you have walked in their shoes…
    I’m not making excuses for anyone…but just maybe the waitress was under pressure after handling I don’t know how many agitated and demanding customers… it’s a known fact that the restaurant trade us suffering immensely from lack of staff..after Covid there is an acute shortage of staff…
    She should have been nicer and obviously you don’t hand over a sealed come bottle …but…give us a break..us Israelis (by the way I’m also ex South African…having lived here for over 40 years) and it is the greatest privilege to live and grow here…
    Hope your next visit will meet your expectations…

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