Real Israelis

A36 semgirl3

When I arrived in Israel in August, Uncle David arranged to meet me for dinner near my seminary. We sat at a table outside an old house that had been converted into a bright bohemian café overlooking a well-kept garden. My uncle ordered for both of us in a flawless Israeli accent, explaining in detail which wine he wanted with his ravioli, and asking about the quality of the fish before ordering trout for me. When I looked closely, I could see some of my mother and grandmother in him, but it was clear he’d done his best to outgrow his family, a calculated gruffness evident in his facial hair and the way he moved his jaw. During dessert he slid a key to his apartment across the table to me and told me to let myself in whenever I needed to get away from the other girls.

“These days I spend a couple nights a week at my girlfriend’s apartment anyway.”

I swallowed a piece of tiramisu and put my fork down. “You have a girlfriend?”

He laughed. “For six years now.”

“Why haven’t you told my mother? Or your mother?”

“I’m not going to marry her,” he said, his voice even and pleasant in a way that seemed incongruous.

“Why not?”

“She doesn’t have time to be my wife. People would expect us to have children, and neither of us want to.” He sipped his wine, then put the glass back down on the table and ran his thumb around the rim, not looking at me. “There are lots of reasons. It just wouldn’t work.”

Uncle David was on a business trip in Ireland for the week, and he’d asked me to water his plants, reminding me I was free to sleep on the day bed in the study. I stood still in the dining room, holding onto the back of a chair and listening for sounds from the street, but there were none. Across from me a bookcase was full of CDs filed in rows, with extras jammed in sideways, leaning into each other. My uncle’s taste was much more eclectic than I had expected; there was very little of the subdued classical music that my parents listened to. I pulled out an album of Louis Armstrong’s Big Band Classics and fed the disc into the stainless steel CD player. The first song to come on was ‘Fascinating Rhythm.’

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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.