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Auschwitz Pancakes



The one person, that can never know about the messy me, is T.. At 88, with Buchenwald and Auschwitz in his vita, with every single Israeli war imprinted on his body, with his large, scarred hands that have wrestled this country from the desert and from its golden stone, he deserves nothing but my smile. So I call with a made-up excuse to cancel my weekly visit to his Herzliya retirement home on this really shitty day. But as much as T. claims and emphasizes to be from Berlin and to be absolutely “German, not really Jewish at all, Schnecki! Please remember that about me!”, he does have the main characteristic of all Israelis: he makes high-handed decisions with a quiet self-assuredness and inevitability. If he wants something to happen, he exudes Israeli finality, and there is no chance it won’t happen. “So of course I’ll see you here today, Schnecki! Remember, one of us could be dead next week!” Definitely not one bit German.

T. also has the one characteristic that I find completely irresistible in any man the world over: he remembers tiny details about people, from his own shrewd observations or from some throwaway remark to him. Stuff that I said weeks ago without much thought, he remembers and surprises me with: Like how much milk exactly I like in my coffee, or that I don’t like fruit ice cream, but love milk ice cream, and today my soup story: For as long as I can remember, my granny always put a large pot of soup and a gazillion little pancakes on the table every Wednesday at lunchtime for all of us, all my cousins, aunts, uncles, everyone we wanted to bring for lunch from school, and every friend of my family, who happened to drop in at Wednesday lunchtime. Because I am from a village, there were a usually lot of friends, who “happened” to drop in. We often eat with 20 people or more, its loud, chaotic, warm, and I love it. So whenever I am homesick or on totally shitty days, I cook myself soup and pancakes and feel better. That’s why I brought my veggie peeler to TLV: because there were always going to be a few totally shitty days. Only when they hit eventually, I realize they hit with a different intensity here, like everything is a little more intense here. T. is the last person that should hear about that. Except he Israeli-handled me into coming today, and – for some magical reason, because I certainly did not tell him that I feel so low - he has ordered potato soup for me from his retirement home kitchen. “They make it too watery here for our taste, I know that Schnecki, but it’s better than the one at Auschwitz, you see.” He also made small pancakes from an ancient Berlin recipe. Most importantly, however, he has prepared a lesson coming with the pancakes: “Shitty moments and magic moments are always side by side in this place, Schnecki! You need to toughen up a little and create a magic moment for yourself, when things look dark!”

So the Israeli in T. shows the German in me how to create a magic Israel moment: He takes my hand, pulls me to his window, and as we look out onto this crazy, harsh, loveable land outside, that seemed so difficult only a minute ago, he very softly and tenderly starts singing the Hatikva for me with his old, brittle voice.And just like that, the magic is back. 

I collect great beginnings. Beginnings of songs, of movies, of great articles and books.

This quote by Buzz Bissinger is the most beautiful beginning in my collection. It also captures perfectly what it feels like for me to research and write newspaper articles about Israelis and Israel. The short notes below describe the experiences behind my published texts. They are the fun, silly, absurd, baffled or sad real beginnings of those stories. They sketch what happens before or after I write the actual piece and send it off to the editor, and they are taken from my diary entries about rummaging up and down that little country and its people for no other reason but pure curiosity. 

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