Room for two, one night, including dinner and breakfast is 560 shekels. Not bad. But what if I spend four hours in the evening arguing intensely with my guests, veins standing out on my temples, bellowing until my voice is hoarse, then another hour the next morning grovelling? When I add that to the time spent preparing the room and doing the meals, I reckon I’m on about 80 shekels an hour.
It was a father and daughter from the US, travelling the country in a rented car. I went out to greet them, as is my wont. She was over 6ft tall, a stunning girl, I had to squint when she smiled. She strode over to me and shook me by the hand. Her dad (there could be no question of paternity here) was one of those Americans who smile constantly, he was friendly, he was affable — and held me at arm’s length. He wore a spotless t-shirt that said, “It is a Wonderful Day”.
They were certainly gentiles, which meant that they had to be Christians. Why else would they have come to Israel?
For dinner that night, I had produced my cottage pie, the children were in bed, it was just the two of them, and the wife and I. The talk was of empty hotels and, not unnaturally, the recent war in Gaza. I wasn’t following the conversation all that closely because I was dishing up seconds and trying not to stare at the daughter.Then I heard the “disproportionate” word, and I hadn’t expected that at all from this Christian Zionist. He blithely went on: “It seemed to me to be as much about the Israeli elections as a response to the rocketing from Gaza.”
I was stunned. Who was this guy? The wife cleared her throat and left the room. I don’t mind saying that I argued the point in no uncertain terms; in fact, I was giving the guest quite a beating when the statuesque, Harvard-educated, reserved daughter softly interjected: “You would agree, surely, that the Israelis waited until George Bush was too weak to do anything, and Obama wasn’t yet in the White House, it was a tad cynical, don’t you think?”
Now I was truly shocked. This was verbatim from the New York Times. Why had they come to Israel if they felt this way? We argued passionately long past my bedtime. I believe I may have shocked them with my viewpoint. The wife heard the commotion, understanding perfectly what was afoot (she refers to me in public as “the fascist”). She now returned to the table to lay into me personally. It was three against one. I become atavistic when cornered, the evening was turning ugly.
This is bed-and-breakfast Israeli-style. I could no longer restrain myself. I turned to the daughter and asked: “Why did you come to Israel?”— which was unforgivable under the circumstances. Was I not really telling this paying guest, “go away, you don’t belong here”? Who would do such a thing?
“I wanted to discover my Jewish roots,” she said. “I am one quarter Jewish.” What?
“On… er… your mother’s side?” I just couldn’t shut up.
“No, my father.” I turned to look at him. I endeavoured to keep the upper molars in contact with the lower set. He was a gentleman farmer from Vermont, he made all his own furniture, he quite possibly changed his own engine oil.
“My father was Jewish, his people came from Lithuania and the Ukraine,” he said softly.
“Then we are from the same village,” I said breathlessly.
Money can’t buy this kind of revelation, and I was getting paid 80 shekels an hour for it.