The encounter: Avi was sitting on a bench, watching passersby. I think he was pleased with the diversion when I sat down beside him and asked if I could interview him. He talked to me very openly – correcting my Hebrew whenever I mixed up masculine and feminine words, because he was a stickler for correctness – but he hesitated when I asked if I could take his picture. “My wife is very devout,” he explained, ”She’d be upset if she sees that I let myself be photographed by a woman she doesn’t know.” He agreed to a portrait in profile.
What are you doing here right now?
I came to Jerusalem to meet my son. So, while I’m waiting for him to get out of work, I thought I could sit here and watch this street juggler who performs on Zion Square every Thursday. But he hasn’t arrived yet. And now you showed up...
What is your occupation?
I used to trade in cleaning materials, perfumery and other things like that. I supplied grocery stores. Now I’m retired.
Can you tell me a bit about your family?
I have three adult sons. They are very educated: One of them completed a master’s degree at the University of Tel Aviv; one completed a master’s degree at Bar Ilan University; and my youngest is now completing a graduate degree in economics and accounting. Last year, he received a scholarship for excellence!
How do you describe your religious or national identity?
I am a religious Jew. My sons are less observant... I’d describe them as “traditional.” I regret they’re not as observant as I am. But you can’t impose your own way on your children – especially not in this day and age. Coercion will only lead to rejection!
Where is your family from?
I was born in Yemen and arrived in Israel when I was five. Three of us were born in Yemen. My other five siblings were born in Israel. My mother was still very young when she arrived here. She is eighty-five now.
The Yemenite immigrants had no difficulty assimilating into the Israeli culture and language, unlike some of the other immigrants from Arabic-speaking countries, who had a hard time with the Hebrew language. The Yemenite Jews spoke the Language of the Bible amongst themselves, so they found it very easy to learn Modern Hebrew.
The Yemenite community in Israel is very special. First, because of the language. Second, because it was a community that was happy with its fate. We didn’t come with demands and complaints! A Yemenite who was alive, and who had something to eat and something to wear – that in itself would be sufficient reason for happiness, especially if, on top of all that, he also had the privilege of being in the Holy Land of Israel! What else did one need beyond that?
I was also exposed to European culture. At the age of twelve, I started learning Torah at a Lithuanian yeshiva.
What are your hopes and expectations for the future of this land?
It would be a great relief for society if the security problem could be solved. The Israelis, because of the security situation, are not relaxed. They are always tense. This is not healthy, not for the body and not for the soul.
But I think only the Creator-of the-World can resolve this jam, because the problems are deep and complicated. And, with the right-wing government we have now, we don’t have much of a chance to resolve this mess. I think that, throughout world history, the right wing has only causedtrouble! That’s what I think. I won’t tell you what I voted in the last elections– that’s why we are shielded by a curtain when we vote – but I assure you that I am not right wing! No, not at all!
But even with the current government, you never know. Back in the days, they said the same about Menachem Begin being right wing. And he turned out to be the one who made peace with Egypt! So, you really never know. It depends on the Grace of Heaven. As they say: “He who commands the oil to burn, can also command the vinegar.”