A Falafel Story

When trying to explain to people the uniqueness of Israel and Israelis, I find that a story speaks volumes. This story, however, speaks a whole bookstore.

One evening, on our way back from a trip, we stopped at an unfamiliar falafel store in Jerusalem. We were hungry and tired, and looking forward to some quick food, and then our return home.

We glanced around the place, determined that only falafel was sold there, all the while the proprietor watched us expectantly. As I moved toward the counter he asked, “Do you want falafel?”

Seeing as there was nothing else on the menu, I said, “Yes, just deciding how many.”

He replied that unfortunately there was no pita left, but would I like him to run to the store and buy some? Not seeing any other way to hold the falafel balls and salad together, I replied that yes, I would very much like for him to get some pita for our falafels. It was then that I realized that his hesitation was due to the fact that he was the only one manning the store. I therefore graciously offered to watch the store while he was gone. He accepted and dashed off.

While waiting, I marched self-importantly around the store, vaguely wondering why the owner would trust a total stranger, and what I would do if someone actually came in and wanted falafel. Then I realized I would tell them we were waiting for the pita. This was true of course. Suddenly a customer who had already eaten got up to pay. This, I wasn’t ready for. He seemed to have lots of change, so I offered to take his money for him. After all, that was my job at the moment, wasn’t it?

The customer briefly sized me up, perhaps a bit suspicious, then finally explained that he only had 11 shekels, while the falafel he ordered was priced at 14. He wondered if he could come back the next day to pay the difference.

I was momentarily stumped (though not any more than I’d have been if he’d asked me for change!) I asked the man if the proprietor knew him, but he said that he didn’t. But he suggested I describe him as “the religious man who sat at the corner table.” I thought, hmm, kind of describes 90% of the customers, but what the heck.

Moments later the owner returned and I gave him his money along with the explanation. He was positively delighted – I had done exactly what he would have. I was even more delighted. Realize that in Israel, a perfect stranger may tell you to lose weight; but that same stranger will also trust you with the shirt on his back. In five years I may have learned how to navigate the Israeli system; but in those 15 minutes, I was the Israeli system. And it felt really good.

About the Author

Laura Ben-David is the author of numerous articles and the book, MOVING UP: An Aliyah Journal, a memoir of her move to Israel. She has done public speaking about Israel and Aliyah all over the United States and Israel. Contact her at laura@aliyahbook.com or follow her tweets at http://www.twitter.com/laurabendavd