Real Israelis

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On a Thursday night we met in Rechavia, the neighborhood just south of downtown, and walked west into an area I’d never been in before. There were no cars on the streets and no lights on in the houses, but Sami explained that his friend’s father owned a falafel place that stayed open all night, and we ended up at a small storefront with the door open and a television playing loudly inside. Before we walked in Sami pointed at the kosher certification that was taped to the inside of the front window.

“It’s okay, right?” he asked.

“Yeah, thank you.” I opened the door for him, feeling strangely embarrassed.

The man behind the counter wore a dirty apron and gave Sami a tired smile when we ordered. They chatted in Arabic while I chose drinks from a refrigerator, and when Sami tried to pay with a limp 100-shekel note, the man shook his head and pushed Sami’s hand away.

We ate slowly, and Sami told me about the wedding he’d gone to the night before. His whole family, his grandparents and all his cousins had all been invited, and it was the first time in years that everyone had left the house at once. “We didn’t even know where the keys were,” he said, grinning, “We spent an hour looking for them because no one has used them in so long.”

I laughed and thought of my house in Chicago and the way it sat empty for hours every day after we all rushed out to school or work. In the morning my mother often ran through the living and dining room, lifting piles of papers and checking on pushed-in chairs for her keychain while coffee from her commuter cup sloshed onto her sleeve.

When we finished eating, Sami lit a cigarette and moved to sit next to me, so we could both watch the soccer match on TV. He slouched in his chair and slung his arm around my shoulders, his movements easy and casual. Moving closer to him I tried to focus on the back-and-forth on the screen, but my mind was empty. I watched him, observing the path his cigarette made from his lips to the ashtray, where it shed a caterpillar of grey dust. He looked over at me at one point, his face serious as his arm tensed behind me, pulling me a little closer.

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Author of Jewrotica's Double Mitzvah column, Tamar Fox is a writer and editor in Philadelphia. She will try anything once, including open relationships, dating someone who is chalav yisrael, and going to Suriname.