I had the dubious honor of receiving not one, but two letters from
the Prime Minister of Israel this week. Other than the "Dear
Family Slon" which appeared in Hebrew, the letters were written
entirely in Russian! I take offense to that. Not that I have anything
against the Russian immigrants in this country, Jewish or otherwise,
G-d forbid it! I just don't like to be wooed by unscrupulous right-wing
politicians in a language as familiar to me as Mandarin Chinese,
all because my last name happens to have a Russian twang to it.
In fact ever since I arrived here in Israel, it seems that my
last name has been a never-ending source of amusement to my Russian
compatriots. The first time I introduced myself to a Russian,
his whole face screwed up into a smile as wide as Ariel Sharon's
waistline and then he collapsed with laughter. I stood there uneasily
wondering to myself whether it was some kind of bizarre Russian
social more to enter into introductions accompanied by paroxysms
"Slon, Slon, Slon," he kept repeating over and over
in his thick Russian accent, all the while pointing at me and
Pretty soon his comrades had joined him and after a brief explanation
to them in his native tongue, they were all looking at me and
As you can imagine, I was not amused and fled the scene none the
wiser, but with a newfound animosity towards Russians.
It was only later, after this incident was to repeat itself again,
that the word "slon" was revealed to me to mean "elephant"
in Russian. Given my five-foot, 40-ish kilogram stature, I suppose
the incongruity of such a coupling would be comical to those at
a loose end for something to laugh at. After years of suffering
under Big Brother, Stalin, and Boris "I'm-not-as-thunk-as-you-drunk-I-am"
Yeltsin, I guess we can begin to understand the desperate straits
of Russian humor.
Indeed, if like me, you had the enormous pleasure of sitting
through three hours of nightly elections advertisements, 97.3%
of which were in the Russian language, you too would have gained
a deeper understanding into Russian humor. Take Yisrael b'Aliyah's
party slogan for example: "MVD Fod Nash Kontrol" - roughly
translated as "The Interior Ministry is Under Our Control"
- roughly translated as "All Immigrants who aren't Russian,
piss off!" Not that I have anything against Sharansky and
his party, G-d forbid it. I have had nothing but the greatest
respect and admiration for the midget in the khaki cap ever since
I read in his biography how he managed to survive Siberian winters
by using his own urine to stay warm! He would pee into his drinking
cup and hold it to his body -- the Gulag's answer to a hot water
bottle. Just brilliant. A man with such genius surely has a great
future in politics (or urology)!
Unlike Sharansky, Avigdor Leiberman -- leader of Yisrael Beiteinu,
the right-wing rival Russian party -- is no genius. He doesn't
even play chess. His rather fearsome looks suggest involvement
with the Russian mafia, but you didn't hear it from me. Rumor
has it that next election he plans to join forces with Amir Peretz
(One Nation), and Azmi Bishara (Balad) to form the Autocratic
Facial Hair Party (AFHP). They already have the backing of Shas,
the Haredi establishment and Sara Netanyahu.
But I digress. I came to Israel to be Israeli - to live in a
country where Hebrew was heard in the streets and on television.
How do you think Ben Yehuda would react were he to be resurrected
and propped up in front of a television to view the 1999 Israeli
Elections advertisements only to be assailed by the Russian language?
He'd probably be back in his grave before he could cry "Mah
Zeh L'Azazel?"* And he'd have a point!
*"What the hell is that?