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The Y. Factor


Suddenly all I can think of is Y.

It’s because of this gesture. The gesture that this Israeli man, that I am interviewing right now, just made: This pointing of both hands to the front, with all their fingers spread open and with a short pronounced wave upwards at the end of the movement. Y. always gestured exactly liked this almost every time he spoke, and each time I used to think that this was such a marked thing. So I get my phone out to text Y. But then I remember that it is very late at night in Tel Aviv, and anyways it would be such a creepy text: “Hey, I have been thinking of you for the last hour. I know it’s been months, but guess what: this man, this other Israeli guy that I am with, he is copying that thing you always do with your hands!! Do you still do that? Anyhow, hope all is well!” Instead of the creepy text message, I file my interview from Cambridge into the Israeli night and go home.


But of course, in the next days that gesture is everywhere, in the guest speaker in Hebrew class, in that waiter at Tatte, in my favorite Israeli Netflix character. I have far too much time to think and become bored with work enough to investigate: Why do so many Israeli men gesture in exactly the same way? Is it a political gesture? Is it a Jewish thing? Is it meant to be aggressive? Is it a simple Dude-Who-Wants-To-Make-A-Point-thing? I finally agree to a date night with O., who keeps telling me that he has some position of authority in Israel and who loves chattering about the Israeli mind. “It’s a power-grabbing signal gesture”, O. says over dinner with a deep frown on his forehead. “Very fierce, you know! Check out some pictures of Israeli politicians online.” After another sip of wine: “Now that I think about it, this is crucial to understand for foreigners like you.” And after two more bites of pasta: “In my position and as a professional, I have of course closely studied and understood those gestures. So how about a little intensive lesson with me later tonight?” I’ll be damned if I take that lesson. But the next day, my German editor goes for my “70 Years of Israel - International Gestures of Power”-themed photo/text-story pitch for the summer silly season, once we have a government at home again and if Bibi survives the spring.

Thanks Y.! I really hope you’re well. After all my research, there is still nobody who does this fierce, power-grabbing move quite like you.

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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