“What number you got?” asked the puffy-eyed guy sitting in the metal chair next to me. He hadn’t shaved in two days, from the looks of it; his clothes were stained and his breath bad. Blue and white stripes flashed across the LCD screen hanging on the far wall of the Ministry of Interior waiting room in downtown Jerusalem, then resolved themselves into the digits 2399.
“Next but one,” I said. “Is something wrong?”
“It’s my third time,” he said. His eyes searched the floor. “I just can’t seem to get it right.”
Now it was 2400.
“I gotta get it right,” he said desperately. “Help me get it right.”
But my number had appeared on the screen. I got up and strode confidently into the room where I would take my loyalty oath.
“Remain standing,” said the thickset policewoman who closed the door behind me. I was in a small courtroom. At the high bench before me were three figures of stern demeanor, their names engraved on the brass plates on the bench before them. On the left sat Loyalty Justice Yehuda Shomron, a heavyset man with a bushy gray beard and a large knitted kipa; on the right, Loyalty Justice Nimrod Re’alitisho, a young man of about 30 with a ponytail and a fashionable four-day growth of beard. In between them sat Presiding Loyalty Justice Manya Porat, a dour woman with close-cropped hair and a lined face. She looked up from the papers in front of her, surveyed me from head to ankle, and curtly asked: “Watzman?”
That’s right,” I said jauntily.
“Yes, your Honor,” the policewoman corrected me.
I found myself in the crossfire of three judicial glares.
“Yes, your Honor,” I repeated, with all due humility.
“And what brings you here, Watzman?” Justice Porat asked me.
I puffed up my chest. “I have come,” I said confidently, “to declare my loyalty to the State of Israel.”
Identity Justice Re’alitisho leaned back in his leather chair and smiled. “And why,” he asked me, “do you feel a need to declare your loyalty to the state of Israel?”
“Being a good citizen,” I said, “and seeing as our duly-elected parliament has legislated that citizenship is conditional on taking a loyalty oath, I have come to declare my allegiance to the Jewish state.”
The three judges looked at me impassively. It was the first time that a shadow of doubt fell across my mind. I steeled myself and repeated:
“Being a good citizen…”
Identity Justice Shomron cut me off. “We’re the ones who will decide if you are good citizen.”
“But I am,” I said. “I sing ‘Hatikvah.’ I pay my taxes. I served in the army.”
Identity Justice Re’alitisho’s ponytail undulated as he guffawed. “He pays his taxes!” he noted to his colleagues. “And he claims to be Israeli.”
Justice Porat brought down her gavel three times, hard. “I will not have levity in my courtroom,” she announced, eyeing her younger colleague. “Now let us proceed with the matter at hand. Watzman, before we allow you to swear your fealty to the state of Israel, we need to establish some facts. Mr. Justice Shomron, would you like to begin?”
“Thank you,” said the judge with the large kipah. He opened the large dossier in front of him. “Watzman, my clerk has obtained a large number of documents in which you advocate handing over the holy, historic territories of Judea and Samaria to Israel’s mortal enemies. Is that correct?”
“Well,” I said, “I believe that Israel’s future as a Jewish state depends on…”
“Yes or no, please. No equivocation.”
I looked nervously at the impassive faces before me. “Yes,” I send, with a quaver in my voice.
“And you call yourself a Zionist.” Justice Shomron shook his head sadly. “I also see that you have advocated the dismantling of the official state rabbinate. Would you care to deny that?”
My knees felt weak. “No,” I muttered.
“Excuse me?” Justice Shomron asked, cupping his hand to his ear.
“Listen, I’m a good Jew,” I protested. “I observe the Sabbath. I eat kosher.”
“But you used to drive to synagogue.”
“Yes, but that was a long time ago. It’s how I was brought up!”
“Not at all surprising,” said Identity Justice Shomron. “Mrs. Justice Porat, I have taken the liberty of tracing Watzman’s ancestry, along the matrilineal line, back to the granting of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. And I have two testimonies to the fact that, when God and Moses pronounced the Ten Commandments before the assembled Children of Israel, Watzman’s maternal ancestor’s response was ‘Oof!’ We may take this to indicate that she did not accept the yoke of the Torah and mitzvot. I submit that the man before us is neither a Zionist nor a Jew.”
“Thank you, Identity Justice Shomron,” Porat said. “Identity Justice Re’alitisho, would you like to continue?”
“I’m fascinated by the results of Justice Shomron’s investigation,” the young judge said, “because my own research, while pursued in quite a different direction, leads to much the same conclusion.”
“But this is outrageous,” I objected.
Justice Porat banged her gavel. “If you don’t behave yourself, I’ll jail you for contempt!”
“My informers indicate that Watzman here refrains from engaging in a number of pastimes that our society views as defining characteristics of Israeli identity. Watzman, when was the last time you visited a pub?”
“A pub?” I asked.
“And I see that you did not watch a single episode of ‘Big Brother.’”
“I prefer to read,” I said.
“And can it be true that you don’t boast to your friends about your sexual conquests?”
“Conquests? I …”
“Watzman has been faithful to the same woman for twenty-five years,” the young identity justice informed his colleagues with disdain. “We have no recorded evidence of any sleeping around.”
“It’s none of your business!” I exclaimed.
“You only say that because you’ve got nothing to brag about.” He shook his head in pity. “You didn’t even try.”
“And Mrs. Identity Justice Porat, are you aware that Watzman has never been to Thailand? Not even Peru.”
“Not even Peru?” Porat gasped.
“Not even Peru,” Identity Justice Re’alitisho stated. “Need I say more?”
“I’d like to thank my colleagues for their thorough investigation,” Justice Porat said. “Now I have a few questions of my own.”
“I’m not feeling well. May I sit down?” I asked.
“You’ll be finished in just a moment,” the presiding justice said. “Watzman, you claim to be Israeli, is that correct?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Then perhaps you could recite for us Natan Alterman’s poem ‘The Silver Tray.’”
I gripped the bar before me.
“Your country’s Declaration of Independence?”
I shook my head.
“Perhaps you’d rather sing? Maybe the Palmach anthem?”
“I don’t know it by heart.”
Justice Porat cast a knowing glance at her two colleagues. “What do you know by heart, Watzman?”
“Um … well, I used to know ‘The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.’”
“Paul Revere. I see.” She clasped her hands in front of her and addressed her colleagues. “What say you?”
“He’s a traitor to the Land of Israel and his Jewish ancestry is doubtful,” Identity Justice Shomron said.
“His everyday conduct is notably un-Israeli,” Identity Justice Re’alitisho observed.
“His knowledge of the classic texts of Zionism is virtually nil,” Presiding Identity Justice Porat pronounced.
They shook their heads in unison. Justice Porat banged her gavel three times, slowly. I jumped at each resounding crack.
“This loyalty court hereby declares you un-Israeli,” ruled Justice Porat. She and her colleagues stood and filed out of the courtroom.
I looked desperately at the policewoman. “What does it mean?” I cried.
“Prime Minister Lieberman is quite clear about that,” she said. “If you aren’t a true Israeli, you cannot enjoy the benefits of Israeli citizenship. You can’t vote, receive social security payments or health care, or enjoy other government services. Furthermore, your home may be annexed to the Palestinian state.”
“What number you got?” I asked the guy in the metal chair next to me. I envied his clean-cut, neat appearance, his innocent enthusiasm. Me, I hadn’t shaved for four days or showered in two. Blue and white stripes flashed across the LCD screen hanging on the far wall, then resolved themselves into the digits 2399.
“Next but one,” he said. “Is something the matter?”
“It’s my third time,” I said. My eyes searched the floor. “I just can’t seem to get it right.”
Now it was 2400.
“I gotta get it right,” I said desperately. “Help me get it right.”