'Don't Be a Sucker' - or, Why Israel Needs You

There are differences between Anglos and the average Israeli when it comes to public norms, but one can observe and learn. Perhaps. A tongue-in-cheek article.

Moshe Saperstein,

OpEds Moshe Saperstei
Moshe Saperstei

The writer of this article is the indomitable Moshe Saperstein, an American immigrant who lost an arm in the Yom Kippur War and was seriously injured in a 2002 terror attack in Gush Katif, the place from which he and his family were later expelled in 2006. The story of his heroism in that terror attack and his successful lawsuit against the PA are a must read here.He and his wife Rachel publish the Katif Bloc Viewpoint and are active in helping other expellees. They can be reached at  ruchimo@netvision.net.il

Most Israeli Jews will tell you that they revere the Ten Commandments. Some actually do, though even among these certain commandments are treated with greater respect than others.

There is one commandment, not among the Top Ten, a commandment with a corollary that is passionately observed by most Israelis. "Don't be a sucker" is best translated as Get Away With Whatever You Can, the corollary being If You Get Caught, Blame Somebody Else. This results in a lack of courtesy, a lack of elementary decency, that astounds even naturally churlish New Yorkers like myself. Some examples?

I'm at our local clinic patiently waiting my turn to see our doctor. My turn arrives and I enter the office. We exchange the usual pleasantries. The door bursts open. "Just one question" a gentleman yells, "just one question." I look at the floor. One question, which is answered, which leads to another question, etc, until my doctor says to me "Please wait outside, Moshe. I have to examine him."

When my turn does come, my doctor – a local who is married to an American – says "Sorry. You're just not trained for this."

Another example. I am at a large supermarket in an Ashkelon mall. There are ten checkout counters. I am at the counter marked '10 items or less'; it is also marked 'Handicapped to the front'. In all my years shopping there I have never been ushered to the front, nor do I push my way forward. I wait my turn patiently. My turn comes. I'm unloading the shopping basket.

"Please" says the guy behind me, "I just have two items. Please let me ahead of you."

"Sure" I say, but my heart is sinking. I know that no good deed goes unpunished.

He puts two large bottles on the counter. They are marked Lizard's Tequila. The clerk, a Russian lady I've known for years, says "These are on special. Three for two. Run back and get another bottle."

Off he goes. And doesn't come back. Three minutes go by. Five. The slow lanes on either side are positively flying. We are still.

"What if he was run over by a shopping cart?" I ask the clerk. "Do we have to wait till he recovers?"

"Shame on you, Moshe. That's not nice," says the clerk.

Ten minutes have gone by.

"What if he died? Do we have to wait till he is buried?"

She is about to lecture me on being nice, when the gentleman returns. He is holding six full plastic bags. "I saw some other things I needed". He puts them on the counter and gives me a smirk best translated as "Got ya, stupid."

But it ended well, sort of.

"Now you have more than ten items," said the clerk to the Tequila fancier. "You have to go to another line."

Rachel goes to a hairdresser, an old friend. She patiently waits her turn. Repeatedly, just as she is seated, a woman bursts in and says "You have to let me go first. It's an emergency. I'm late for a medical procedure." The procedures have included breast enlargement, a tummy tuck, a reshaping of the nose. What she really needs is a brain transplant. Rachel moves aside. The hairdresser, who should intervene, never does. "You're just too nice, Rachel."

My favorite occurred several years ago. I was driving north on the Ayalon Freeway that passes through Tel Aviv. It was February, and already dark, though early in the evening. The Freeway was having repairs done, so the usual four lanes going north were compressed to one. Bumper to bumper, barely crawling forward, everyone in a foul mood.

About eight car lengths ahead of me I saw a car trying to pull in from a side road. He was blowing his horn, blinking his lights, waving like a madman. Everyone ignored him. As I pulled up I signaled him to enter. He waved, seemed to be in tears, and much to my embarrassment was blowing me kisses.

Half an hour later the highway had now widened to two lanes. I was in the left lane, and had to turn right to exit. No one would let me in. I found myself alongside the fellow I had allowed in. I tried to get his attention. He ignored me. Finally, my window rolled down, I yelled "Didn't I let you in?"

He stared at me, a look of genuine incredulity. "Just because you were a sucker, do I have to be a sucker too?"

So there it is. Expect nothing. You'll never be disappointed.