Real Israelis

A36 semgirl6

Youssef was waiting for us in the plaza in front of the Damascus Gate. When we got close enough that we could see him sitting on one of the steps leading up to the street, Sami slowed his pace a little.

“He doesn’t speak Hebrew, and just a little English.”

I nodded. When Youssef saw us he stood up and dropped the cigarette he had been smoking. He didn’t step on the butt, and as he approached I watched the embers glow orange and then die.

He was taller than Sami, and slimmer, but his face was the same, the skin tight on his cheeks and his chin very square. He wore glasses with thin metal frames, and his hair needed to be cut, but he was good-looking, and wore a shirt I remembered seeing on Sami a few weeks earlier.

“Hello,” he said, and put his hand out. I blinked, but then took it and we shook hands awkwardly.

“Hi, I’m Yael.” I forced a smile.

“Youssef.” His voice was like Sami’s, too, but louder and less hesitant.

“American?” It was a question, and I nodded but didn’t say anything. I put my hands in my pockets then, and looked at the ground.

Youssef said something to Sami then, the two of them going back in forth in Arabic for a few minutes. I tried to gauge the tone of Youssef’s voice, hearing what I thought was doubt, but might have just been exhaustion. Youssef shook his head at one point, and then Sami laughed and I looked up. Youssef asked something in Arabic, and Sami translated it for me.

“When do you go back to America?”

“In June,” I said, staring at Youssef.

“You like him?” he asked then, nodding toward Sami.

“Yes.” My voice was quiet, but I could tell he heard because he exhaled through his nose and then shrugged.

“Okay.” He shook my hand again and then looked back at Sami who said something in Arabic. Youssef smiled and gave me a little wave before walking back towards the gate. Sami moved closer to me then, and when he touched my back I realized I was shaking.

“My cab is in the parking lot,” he said in Hebrew, pointing across the street.

“Yeah,” I said.

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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.