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December 15, 1989 - Image 132

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-12-15

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

COMMENT

STUART SCHOFFMAN

"

Special to The Jewish News

erusalem — There's
nothing like the
holidays to make a man
homesick for the Old Coun-
try. The nostalgia had been
mounting for some weeks, as
Thanksgiving drew near I ap-
proached the first anniver-
sary of my emigration to
Israel. During a radio inter-
view on the army station
Galei Tzahal, the question
was recently put to me: What
do you miss most about
America? I was able to reply
without hesitation: "Certain
restaurants, a culture where
they don't interrupt movies in
the middle, and real Anglo-
Saxons."
A few words to clarify. In
America I enjoyed four
decades of anonymity. But
here, as a Hollywood screen-
writer who came on aliyah I
am something of a rare giraffe
— a curiosity, if not outright
bizarre. Zionism is predicated
on the idea of aliyah, yet
Israelis often seem baffled
that anyone would come here
out of choice and not necessi
ty. The fact that I am a
Zionist, not a refugee, stuns
and amuses my Israeli-born
friends, most of whom are in
the arts or media. Film peo-
ple have fled Israel in droves,
frustrated by the tiny market
and tinier budgets, for the
very land of plenty I left
behind. Therefore I found
myself invited to appear on
P'gisha Yomit, a daily hour-
long interview show, and ex-
plain what on earth I am do-
ing here.
Sometimes, while poring
glumly over a menu, I do
wonder. With all my heart I
miss Duke's and Canter's and
the Siamese Princess in Los
Angeles, the ziti with pesto at
Caffe Sport in San Francisco,
Manuel's fajitas and
margaritas in Austin, Texas;
and in New York, the
Acropolis on Eighth Avenue,
if it's still there, and that
Korean place in the West 50's
where I once got drunk on
ginseng cocktails with my
friend the mad Russian direc-
tor. Emotionally, few things
weigh heavier than food.
Ethnic cuisine, Middle
Eastern excepted, is a serious
problem in Israel, since it's
axiomatic that if Mexicans
don't live in your country,
there ought to be a law
against what passes for an
enchilada. In recent years
Israel took in several hundred
Vietnamese boat people, a

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Andrew San Diego

/ 417

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 15, 1989

4i77e9 C)

What I Miss
About America

goodly number of whom have
become purveyors of food
which they call, perhaps
figuring that few here can tell
the difference, Chinese. The
food is perfectly palatable,
and it's delightful to converse
in Hebrew with a native of
Saigon, but first-rate Chinese
cooking this is not.
So antithetical are Zion and
Diaspora that in this country
you can't even get eggs, lox,
and onions scrambled with a
toasted bagel on the side (my
staple at Canter's), except
perhaps at a five-star hotel
for about $28.50. And in
Jerusalem, where kosher
restaurants are the norm, the
best Italian food is served up
by olim from Livorno who
used to be partners but now
compete — one serving dairy,
the other only meat.
But I can live with it.
Strictly kosher trattorias, like
the sukkah at the Hilton
hotel and the absence of trick-
or-treating and Santa Claus,
are to my thinking a healthy
sign of Jewish sovereignty.
Besides, I figure that after
Israel makes peace with its
neighbors the food situation
will improve. Billions
previously spent on defense
will generate economic pro-
sperity that will attract im-
migrants from all over, in-

Further
Confessions
of an American
Screenwriter
Living in
Jerusalem

cluding someone from
Guadalajara who knows how
to make perfect tamales.
Even if he opens his
restaurant in Ashkelon, I
won't mind because the road
by then will be wide and
paved, and it will be like driv-
ing from Hollywood to
Malibu for dinner. We are in
a period of nation-building,
and certain things just take
time.
Interrupting movies in the
middle, on the other hand, is
a far more serious matter.
When I first visited Israel in
1968, people used to roll bot-
tles of grapefruit drink down
the aisles for fun, so things
have improved — but not
much. One's fellow patrons
talk loudly and often during

the show, and since everyone
else is reading the subtitles
and doesn't need to hear the
dialogue, one's complaints
arouse little sympathy. The
theatres begin the show with
15 minutes of commercials —
not coming attractions but
ads, none too artistic, for
everything from mattresses
to foot powder. They almost
never bother to show the final
credits, a grave insult to
dozens of people who worked
on the picture.
But suddenly to shut off a
film in the middle, at a spot
chosen by all evidence at ran-
dom, so the theatre owner can
sell candy and sunflower
seeds — this is nothing short
of criminal. Unquestionably
the nadir of my year in Israel
was the night my wife and I
went to see New York Stories
at the Imperia Theatre on
Shammai Street in Jeru-
salem. As will be recalled, this
is an anthology of three short
films, by Martin Scorcese,
Francis Coppola, and Woody
Allen. I wondered idly
beforehand where they would
put the intermission. Even
when they went from the first
segment directly into the sec-
ond, I continued to dismiss as
unthinkable what did
transpire ten minutes later:
they stopped smack-dab in

the middle of the Coppola.
This shook to the marrow
my faith in the idea of a
Jewish state. If the goal of
classical Zionism is to create
a "normalized" Jewish socie-
ty, a nation k'chol hagoyim,
as the famous biblical expres-
sion goes, like all nations,
then here we have the reduc-
tio ad absurdum of k'chol
hagoyim: what my grand-
mother of sainted memory
used to call goyische kop.
Only someone with the brain
of a Cossack would cut open
a movie in the middle.
The home-video situation is
no better; the video-rental
outlet closest to my house
seems to specialize in Turkish
love stories, kung-fu epics,
and made-for-TV movies you
can see free in the States but
wouldn't want to. What good
films they do carry are
sometimes hard to locate, as
they are listed only by their
Hebrew titles: Hahaverim
shel Alex (Alex's friends) for
The Big Chill and words to
the effect of "International
Intrigue" for North by North-
west. Mercifully, "Casablan-
ca" is still Casablanca, and in-
deed was aired recently on
television, a cause for great
celebration.
Most people in Jerusalem
pick up only two TV stations,
Israel and Jordan. Ours is
marginally better than theirs,
if only because Israel TV
doesn't carry as many
ceremonies in honor of King
Hussein. Between them the
two stations broadcast
perhaps eight movies a week,
which has been quite a shock
to my system after "cable-
surfing" with my remote con-
trol through 50 or so channels
in Los Angeles — but we do
have more Sephardic-music
festivals, bible quizzes, and
French sitcoms with Arabic
subtitles. A movie buff com-
ing to Israel is like Bogie go-
ing to Casablanca for the
waters.
So I read more, especially
the Hebrew press. And before
I moved I taped some favorite
movies from those 50 cable
channels, and people in the
States send cassettes. And
frankly, as much as I miss
American TV, I'm troubled
by the way it portrays Jews.
A friend in California men-
tioned in passing — all my
conversations with the States
are in passing, phone rates be-
ing astronomical — a recent
"trend piece" in the Los
Angeles Times about how
Jews are now "in" on network
TV: the hero Michael on thir-
tysomething and his cousin;

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