Sunday, July 30, 2017

ET: Almanac

We had an iron rule that one should never buy anything imported, anything foreign, if it was possible to buy a locally made equivalent. Still, when we went to Mr. Auster’s grocery shop on the corner of Obadiah and Amos streets, we had to choose between kibbutz cheese, made by the Jewish cooperative Tnuva, and Arab cheese: did Arab cheese from the nearby village, Lifta, count as homemade or imported produce? Tricky. True, the Arab cheese was just a little cheaper. But if you bought Arab cheese, weren’t you being a traitor to Zionism? Somewhere, in some kibbutz or moshav, in the Jezreel Valley or the hills of Galilee, an overworked pioneer girl was sitting, with tears in her eyes perhaps, packing this Hebrew cheese for us--how could we turn our backs on her and buy alien cheese? Did we have the heart? On the other hand, if we boycotted the produce of our Arab neighbors, we would be deepening and perpetuating the hatred between our two peoples. And we would be partly respnosible for any blood that was shed, heaven forbid. Surely the humble Arab fellah, a simple, honest tiller of the soil, whose soul was still undefiled by the miasma of town life, was nothing more or less than the dusky brother of the simple, noble-hearted muzhik in the stories of Tolstoy! Could we be so heartless as to turn our backs on his rustic cheese? Could we be so cruel as to punish him? What for? Because the deceitful British and the corrupt effendis had set him against us? No, this time we would definitely buy the cheese from the Arab village, which incidentally really did taste better than the Tnuva cheese, and cost a little less in the bargain. But still, on the other hand, what if the Arab cheese wasn’t clean? Who knew what the dairies were like there? What if it turned out, too late, that their cheese was full of germs?

Germs were one of our worst nightmares. They were like anti-Semitism: you never actually managed to set eyes on an anti-Semite or a germ, but you knew very well that they were lying in wait on every side, out of sight. Actually, it was not true that none of us had ever set eyes on a germ: I had. I used to stare for a long time very intently at a piece of old cheese, until I suddenly began to see thousands of tiny, squirming things. Like gravity in Jerusalem, which was much stronger then than now, the germs too were much bigger and stronger. I saw them.

A little argument used to break out among the customers in Mr. Auster’s grocery shop: to buy or not to buy Arab cheese? On the one hand, “charity begins at home,” so it was our duty to buy Tnuva cheese only; on the other hand, “one law shall there be for you and for the stranger in your midst,” so we should sometimes buy the cheese of our Arab neighbors, “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” And anyway, imagine the contempt with which Tolstoy would regard anyone who would buy one kind of cheese and not another simply because of a difference of religion, nationality, or race! What of universal values? Humanism? The brotherhood of man? And yet, how pathetic, how weak, how petty-minded, to buy Arab cheese smply because it cost a couple of mils less, instead of cheese made by the pioneers who worked their backs off for our benefit!
Shame! Shame and disgrace! Either way shame and disgrace!

The whole of life was full of such shame and disgrace.

Amos Oz - A Tale of Love and Darkness

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