Finding the quintessential Israeli moment is a weird task. I have had nothing in my life but Israeli moments, but if I had to choose, I guess it would be the morning UN officers visited my army post.
It was a white, cold winter day on Mount Dov and everyone was concerned about the imminent war with Syria, in a nutshell – life as we know it.
In that Israeli moment of mine, I – Private Levy – was standing guard at the gate; or in other words, manning the bottom of the military food chain. Ten yards away, Lieutenant Uri Phicha, my company commander, was crawling in a puddle under our APC (armored personnel carrier), trying to figure out where the hell is all that oil leaking from.
All of a sudden, a sparkly UN jeep pulls over and two UN officers, looking like they were gift-wrapped for Christmas, stepped out. Seeing them there, with their circus-like appearance; their shiny medals and insignias pinned to their chest – and the colorful feathers added to their hats over the years, courtesy of my imagination – I could barely hold from laughing.
"May we speak to the officer in charge?" they barked at me with Prussian elegance; "sure," I answered. "C! C! We need you over here!" Lieutenant Phicha immediately rose from his puddle and marched his greasy, sooty, muddy self – so help me, I wouldn’t have used his shirt to sweep a chimney – towards us.
"You… you're the officer in charge?" asked the two titivated officers, pale as they can be. Never have I seen such shock before; and then it hit me – we were so much better off this way, in the realm of high-fives and friendly smacks, with no prissy manners and no bells and whistles. I long for those days. Especially whenever I get that pesky feeling, that those days are gone. We too now have manners and decorum and soon no self-respecting company commander will be crawling under a leaky APC.
When push comes to shove
But my real Israeli moment happened several hours later. That night, that God-awful night, we all became intimately familiar with the term "Pal-Kal"; that night changed our collective association and from that night on, the word "Versailles" no longer rang with the splendor of Paris luxury, but with negligence, with the horror of a wedding hall collapsing on the people in it. We were at another wedding that night, when the sound of music was suddenly drenched by an Israeli concert of a different kind – wailing ambulance sirens rushing to the scene.
Hours later, as the gory details kept us all glued to our radio sets, then-Health Minister Nissim Dahan (Shas) went on the air. He wasted no time on assumptions, speculations or political babble and simply called on everyone to donate blood.
An hour or so later, outside the Magen David Adom stations in Jerusalem, there were thousands of us. We stood there for hours. People from all over Jerusalem: Tattoo-covered teens fresh out of the clubs, yeshiva and university students and Arabs from east Jerusalem.
We soon realized we were going to be there all night, so someone stepped out for a minute and came back with a box full of beers. Pretzels and burecas appeared as well, and so an impromptu feast was born. That was the strangest, nicest Jerusalem party I've ever been to. If it was up to me, I'd start a country with those people.
That wonderful, horrible night was one of the most Israeli, most Jerusalemite nights in my life. Every now and again I'll run into a familiar face from that night. We exchange hallos, smiling like people sharing a secret.
Nothing subversive happened that night. We were just there, when small dosages of catastrophe, idiocy, fiasco, endless stupidity, generosity, warmth, wisdom and kindness, all came together to create an Israeli moment for posterity.