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February 2018
Norman Mailer in Synagogue
The best writer of his generation addresses the pews.

Seeing Shlomo
A bittersweet remembrance of my teacher, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

Where There's Smoke
A politically incorrect view of the current rage to ban all smoking everywhere.

Building the House
The contractor -- can't live with him, can't kill him. Or can you?

A Wing and a Prayer
Finding a small homecoming in transit.

Gunning Down the Cockroaches
Roach problem? Just call the expert.

Waiting for Death
Our parents taught us how to live. Their final gift -- showing us how to die.

On the Road
Driving beyond the Green Line prompts a look in the mirror.

Dog Days
Summer ended when they came to kill my dog.

On Guard
Guys like me don't carry guns, right?

Learning to Pray
It's slow and not easy. But that's not all.

Turning 50
Some thoughts on a millstone - uh, make that milestone - birthday.

Outsider Art
Simply the most compelling art exhibit I've ever seen.

Dave van Ronk
A visit to the world of my favorite folk singer.

Remember: "stressed" spelled backwards is "desserts."

New Year’s Celebration
Watching the ball drop slowly in my daughter’s life.

My Father's Blessing
A poignant final moment strengthens my fragile connection to my father.

Going Crazy
Being at war while normal life continues makes life in Israel feel crazy.

Visiting Rose
Old and poor, she's got one hope left: the movie of her life.

Building the House
The contractor -- can't live with him, can't kill him. Or can you?

In Israel, we have three major ethnic groups: Yehudim, Aravim and Kablanim — Jews, Arabs and building contractors.

As a minority, kablanim are often spoken of in bigoted terms: “He’s a kablan, but he’s nice,” for example. Or: “He’s honest, for a kablan.” This stereotyping on the basis of ethnicity is reprehensible, of course, and merely demonstrates that kablanim have a unique culture that outsiders don’t understand.

In the interest of ethnic tolerance, then, let me introduce you to my kablan, a sweet-faced, plump and rumpled fellow named Dado, whom I hired because he seemed competent, honest, energetic and could speak English. That was before we had a screaming fight about the stairs, which he’d made only wide enough to accommodate the heel of my shoe. “That’s the tekken,” he insisted, the legal standard.

“No,” I insisted back. “They’re suppose to be 27 centimeters wide, but these are only 18.”

“From 18 to 27, that’s the tekken,” he invented on the spot. Then came the screaming. He gave in only when he almost killed himself running downstairs.

Then he installed the front door so that it opened the wrong way, blocking people against the wall as they entered. I had made the mistake of telling him what I wanted and then going away for the day.

When I came home, I said, “Dado, the door should open the other way.”

“I did like you want,” he tried in his cute accent.

“No, Dado,” I protested. “It has to open the other way. Look at the plans.”

Ee efshar,” he told me, waving away the engineer’s printed plans, meant to govern his work. “Impossible. You got amud in the wall.” His hands built a wide supporting beam in the air between us.

“Oh,” I nodded, stymied by the impossible. But after overnight study of the plans, which showed no amud in the wall, I tried again, and now Dado had an utterly new answer. “If I make it your way, I have not enough wall to support the door.”

“So build the wall out another 10 centimeters,” I suggested.

Ee efshar. That way, the door don’t open all the way.” His round face narrowed with worry for my straitened entranceway. “It’s more better this way,” he assured me.

“There’s plenty of room, Dado. The door really has to open the other way.”

Ee efshar.” He was becoming agitated. “That way the door is closing too hard and all the glass broke.”

Felled temporarily by the accumulation of three ee efshars, I again retired from the field. However, I had now figured out the cultural gap between us. To Dado “impossible” meant “I don’t want to do it”; “I don’t know how to do it”; and/or “I made a mistake but I will never admit it.” Meanwhile Dado’s men continued to cement, drill, screw, plaster and paint till the door was all trim and sleek in its niche. It looked very nice, except that it opened the wrong way.

“You’re want me to break down all what I did?” he protested, amazed. “I bring the workers back? Ee efshar!

And did I, in truth, want him to damage the metal doorframe by pulling it out and then have to wait for a new one to come while we argued over who would pay? Did I want to delay the work for weeks, subsisting in the thick dust of renovation, my life contracted into a single room? Did it matter really, I thought wearily, preparing to surrender, which way the door opened?

Luckily, the next day my wife returned from a trip to the States. She walked into the house and said immediately, “What’s with the door?” And Dado, who would have fought me to a testosterone-drenched death, became all fluttery with her and soon agreed, over a cup of coffee she brewed and sweetened generously for him, that yes, maybe it was, without too much trouble, efshar, after all.

A friend who lives in the Negev development town of Yeruham tells me that when he first moved there, the Jews guarded the building sites at night to keep local Bedouin from stealing. Fifteen years later, with the town firmly established, Bedouin guard building sites to keep local Jews from stealing. This dynamic may constitute a brief history of Zionism. Or maybe the moral is that Jews and Arabs change, but the world of the kablanim is eternal.

First previewed, www.davidmargolis.com