Tsfat Blog—Summer 2004
Every tourist that comes to the Middle East knows that you should never buy anything without bargining for it. For most people, this comes in the form of a bit of haggling at the open-air markets in places like Jerusalem’s Old City, where souviniers are sold in stalls. However, even after 20 years, I am always amazed at how much a part of our everyday life bargining really is here, and what an art it is.
Avocados. Avocados are a staple of our Pesach diet, and, bless the growers’ hearts, they come on the market every year at Pesach-time. Avocados can also be rather expensive, and I try to make sure that we have a good supply at a reasonable price. So when I went to the shuk (open-air market) before Pesach, I went towards the end of the day, when the prices tend to go down, and found someone with not-too-soft avocados still available. “How much” I asked. “Eight shekels per kilo” he answered. “Oy, even the supermarket sells them for less” I told him. “OK, take them for seven” he offered. “Hm-m-m-m” I replied. “Yallah, six shekels, if you buy two kilos” the guy said. “How about five?” I asked. At that point, he turned to the next customer, and I realized that I had gone over the limit, so I filled up a bag with 2 kilos, and the seller threw in a few extra, and we were both happy.
Another example is my hot water heater. Even after 20 years in this country, I had assumed that there are some places where bargining is simply not going to get you anywhere, and a shop (with a cash register, receipt booklet, and supposedly, an obligation to the tax authority) is such a place. Big mistake. I took our hot water heater in to the shop where I had bought it for a repair, and told the owner that I had bought it there and I honestly didn’t remember whether it was just over or under a year – the guarentee had been lost somewhere long ago. After playing around with it for a few days, the owner informed me that the heater would need a new heating element, and since we didn’t know whether it was still under guarentee or not (he couldn’t have cared less about the guarentee certificate – my word was good enough for him), he would charge me 70 or 80 shekels for the element, and the work would be thrown in for free.
When I came to pick up the hot water heater, the owner told me that it would cost 130 shekels. And I, with 20 years of experience in this half-way third world country, knew what was expected of me. “Oh, no! I only budgeted for 80 shekels!” I said. “What am I going to do?” Had I argued, I would have gotten no where. But I turned it into HIS problem, and sure enough, he came through magnificently. “Well, seeing that it’s right before Pesach, I’ll talk to the company” he said. “Here, pay me 80 shekels now, and if there’s a problem, I’ll split the difference with you.” To which I agreed readily, because both he and I knew that I would never hear from him again about any further cost, and we both knew that, in the future, if I ever need an appliance, I will go to him, because he did me a “favor”. And do you know what? I certainly will.
Now, go try that at Sears.
Maccabi Tel Aviv is the basketball team that represents Israel when competing in EuroLeague games. Last week, in a “get into the EuroLeague quarter-finals or not” game with the Lithuanian team, Maccabi was 3 points down with 2 ½ SECONDS left to play…the stands were emptying out, and our neighbors who had come up to watch the game had headed home…when Maccabi’s shortest player scored a tie-breaker 3-pointer. (We yelled for the neighbors to come back). As you can imagine, the entire country held its breath for the “extra inning” fifth quarter, and Maccabi went on to win the game.
As Israel celebrated, all the coach and the players could talk about, in interviews, was how it all came from “upstairs”. “We prayed and asked for divine help” Pini Gershon, the decidedly non-religious-looking coach of Maccabi told the television interviewers, “and He heard us”. Every question about strategy, player talent, and teamwork was replied to in these terms – according to Gershon, Maccabi’s win was part of this Pesach’s Divine Plan, and everyone should be putting on tefillin the next morning! “And they will” my son Avishai told us. “You won’t believe how many guys will be stopping on the main street tomorrow where the Chabadniks stand with their tefillin stands to put them on and say their morning prayers”.
The first game of the EuroLeague Quarter Finals is scheduled for April 29th, and, if Avishai is right, the religious rituals of the country (the male population, anyway) will take a leap upward for awhile. The Likud, in the meantime, rescheduled its vote on affirming Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan, which had been scheduled for that night – Likud officials were concerned that there wouldn’t be anyone around to vote that night. (I guess it’s kind of like scheduling the Democratic Convention during the Superbowl).
Tsfat has always been known as the City of Kabbalah – the first Rabbi to begin teaching Kabbalah, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, lived in this area during the Roman Times, and during the Middle Ages, the mystics who developed the study and writings of Kabbalah lived in Tsfat. This designation, actually, marks Tsfat as one of Israel’s 4 holiest cities – the others being Jerusalem, Tiberias (where the Mishna was written) and Hebron (where the Cave of the Patriarchs is located). But little has done more to spread the name of “City of Kabbalah” than the recent upsurge in interest in Kabbalah among the famous, and that is scheduled to increase after Lag B’Omer – the yearly pilgrimage to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s grave in nearby Meron – when Madonna and Company are scheduled to arrive in Tsfat. Local rumor has it that Ms. Kabbalah herself is planning to stay in our local hotel (about 2 minutes from my house) and will continue her exploration of Kabbalah in its birthploace. Should be an interesting time for Tsfat’s Tourist Center! (where I work).