Urban legend has it that a bearded man, wearing a white robe with a large white kippah (yarmulke) covering his head, fervently roams the streets of the southern Tel Aviv neighborhoods of Florentin and Neve Tzedek spraying on the walls an unequivocal, monotonous message: "Am Yisrael Chai" (The Nation of Israel Lives).
The design is always identical: a Star of David on top, text in 2 lines underneath. Always using blue spray that on the walls' white background, he creates a replica of the Israeli flag.
What drives him? Is it a one-man campaign to infuse some optimism into the difficult daily lives of the Israelis? No one knows for sure, although everyone has seen his work; very few streets were left bare.
But optimism is not necessarily the cynical, feisty Tel Avivians' cup of tea. Some began reacting. Using the original text, add-ons quickly appeared, at times popping up before the paint of the original piece has even dried. The "responders" usually add a letter or two, a couple of words or simply a question mark at the end, and give the text a whole new meaning:
Am Yisrael Chai bkoshi ((Nation of Israel hardly lives)
Am Israel Chai Mikesef Amerikani (Nation of Israel lives off US dollars)
Am Israel Chai al Harbo (Nation of Israel lives by the sword)
No explantion need...
Some dismiss it as vandalism, more "dirt" on the not-so-clean streets of the city. Alternately, it can be regarded as the echoes of the dilemmas and internal strife Israeli society is dealing with.
Tsafrir Corcia is a tour guide and a researcher of the history of Tel Aviv and Jaffa. Tours are available to organized groups in Hebrew and English. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org