Tuesday, November 27, 2007
My Trip to Israel, Part III: Misers, Misereres, and Margaritas
[Hotel Ramat Rachel, Jerusalem. Monday, November 26. Wedding Day, and my last day in Israel.]
Greed and marriage are irreconcilable, and their teleological disparity makes weddings exceptionally conflicted. The hall, caterer, florist, band, stylist, clothing store, and printing shop all epitomize insatiable capitalistic avarice, while the bride and groom (should, at least) exemplify the opposite: unity, compromise, and a remarkable willingness to have less so that another might have more. Here in Israel, these diametric combatants palpably digress—the extremes are even further removed from one another than anywhere else. Israel is a land, simultaneously, of sacrosanct Infinity and unspeakable filth, where the best and the worst spiritual forces awkwardly coexist.
Since my very religious brother is going to be married in less than two hours, the wedding hall’s acute cupidity seems, to me, even more abominable than it normally might. Despite being part of a family that paid thousands for a 5-hour affair, I am assaulted by miserliness at every turn: five shekels (about $1.50) for an outlet adapter; the same for a pack of crackers. Coffee is double. Jewish tradition maintains that a religious couple should recite Psalms throughout their wedding day, right up until the husband stomps on a glass and the union is official. In light of the hall’s financial practices, however, it might be best to recite a revised Psalm 51 not for the couple, but for Hotel Ramat Rachel:
Have mercy on Hotel Ramat Rachel, O G-D,
according to Your unfailing love;
according to Your great compassion
blot out Hotel Ramat Rachel’s transgressions.
Wash away all Hotel Ramat Rachel’s iniquity
and cleanse Hotel Ramat Rachel from Hotel Ramat Rachel’s sin.
For I know Hotel Ramat Rachel’s transgressions
and Hotel Ramat Rachel’s sin is always before me.
Freedom will be swift, literally—my brother and his fiancée, dipsomaniacs though they are not, picked a hall at which an open bar comes standard. Soon I will be imbibing those shekels I dished out right back into my system, and then some. It is my responsibility to drink my family back into the black. A scotch-and-coke costs about 50 shekels at a trendy Jerusalem bar. A glass of decent wine is 30, and a mixed cocktail is 40. If I drink ten of the first, two of the second, and two of the third, then my family will be 640 shekels further towards even. Granted, that’s only about $170, but I’m just one person. If everyone quaffs his or her share we could make my family's money back.
Besides, isn’t it our right—nay, our duty—to think (and drink) along the bottom line? If the hall, caterer, florist, band, stylist, clothing store, and printing shop can do it, then why shouldn’t we? Sure, you might deploy the “two-wrongs-don’t-make-a-right” argument, that joining in their greed is no more defensible than their greed is in the first place. You might call me a hypocrite for deploring avarice and then calling on others and myself to adopt that trait three hours later. You might say, using my earlier statements about weddings—and Israeli society at large—being battles between good and evil, that calculating how much I have to drink to screw the wedding hall might constitute a victory for the latter.
You might be right. I’m not really sure. Inside my frayed emotional universe, I feel like a valiant protector, guarding this family event from greed and vile people, and that by robbing those who are trying to rob me, I am vigilantly fighting back those forces. You might disregard that as a rationalization, and, again, you might be right. But if it’s rationality you speak of, I am currently incapable of such a pursuit. I just overpaid for crackers, my brother is getting married tonight, and the twenty-hour project that is my return to New York will begin 120 minutes after the last guest leaves. I’m equal parts jilted, jocular, and jet lagged.
When the alcohol wears off somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, I’ll hastily reconstruct my reflections in a fuzzier, cuddlier way: nostalgia is the luxury of the removed. In the meantime, an ironed set of dress clothes awaits me, as do a brother and soon-to-be sister-in-law who have a happily less dire conception of tonight’s proceedings than I do.
Stay Swindling, Ramat Rachel