Leaflet pasted up on a bulletin board at the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station:
“The Carat Hotel in Ramat Gan: small, comfortable, discreet, rooms equipped with DVD and coffee, hourly rates.”
To: Adina Hefetz, counsel, The Association for Civil Rights in Israel
From: Gal Dagan, proprietor, the Carat Hotel, Ramat Gan
Dear Ms. Hefetz,
I write in response to your letter, received today, with regard to the large sign that I have placed in the front window of my establishment in Ramat Gan’s Diamond district, which declares in large, bright orange letters “No Jerusalemites Allowed.”
You state in your letter that your organization, for which I have the greatest admiration, “has reluctantly concluded that said sign may, by denying access to a group based solely on city of origin, constitute illegal and unwarranted discrimination. While the sentiments expressed may be understandable, indeed shared by a significant portion of the Israeli population, our mandate requires us to take legal action to end all infringements of the rights of all Israeli citizens, even in those cases, as this one, in which they are richly deserved.”
Believe me, I am happy to see that the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the watchdog of our freedoms, stands vigilantly on guard. But I am certain that if you knew the facts of the matter, you would agree with me that the sign in my window is not an infringement of human rights but rather a desperate attempt by an embattled Metropolitan Tel Aviv to survive in the face of an onslaught of medieval mores from the primitive Levantine highlands.
The incident occurred on Monday, March 21, a normal work day, although we were all still feeling the effects of our hard Saturday night Purim partying. A cold breeze was blowing outside. Dima, the day clerk, was still dealing with the half- case of vodka he’d downed and had excused himself a minute to throw up, so I was manning the front desk. It was about 2 p.m., just as our active lunchtime business was winding down. A man walked in the door pulling a small trolley suitcase. He looked to be about 50 years old and was dressed in nondescript slacks and an even more unremarkable shirt. His head was given a misshapen contour by badly-applied knitted cap emblazoned with a Donald Duck figure, which framed a face notable for its oddly-shaped nose.
I raised an eyebrow. The clothing marked him as foreign, but not in any familiar way. We often host diplomats in tailored European suits, and the occasional playboy son of an Arab potentate will play the patriot by showing up in a Bedouin headdress. We get haredim, too, both local and from Antwerp, who rent space for “business meetings.” But this was not a get-up I had seen before.
The man came up to the desk and smiled politely.
“Hi, my name’s Haim, I saw your notice up at the Central Bus Station. It sounds great, the coffee and the DVD and all. Is there a room available?”
Dima returned from the bathroom, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, and stopped in his tracks. Dima’s been great for business ever since I hired him last year. He’s two meters high, has shoulders shaped like Rosh HaNikra, biceps like Mt. Carmel, and abs that look like the morning traffic jam coming into Tel Aviv. Actually, he’s three employees rolled into one—a diligent desk clerk, an impregnable bouncer, and adept at the auxiliary services that an establishment of this kind is sometimes called upon to provide. He cocked his head in the silent gesture that means “Should I throw this guy out of here and into the path of an oncoming bus?” I motioned for him to join me behind the desk and turned to the stranger.
“There’s a 25 percent surcharge for single occupancy,” I informed him, “but we throw in the appropriate cable channels.”
“No need,” he said. “My wife will here in just a minute.”
I looked at Dima. Dima looked at me.
“Your wife?” I said.
At that minute the door opened and woman of olive complexion in a long knit shirt, long skirt, and New Balances walked in. She looked around and broke into a big smile.
“Oh, Haim, it’s beautiful!” she exclaimed as she came up to the desk.
“This is Ilana,” the man who had identified himself as Haim said.
“Your wife,” I said dryly. “May I ask the purpose of your visit?”
“Well, you know, it’s Purim today,” the purported Ilana said.
“Purim was yesterday,” Dima pointed out.
“We’re from Jerusalem, so we’re a day behind,” she explained.
“A day?” I said. “And I always thought it was several centuries.”
“So we had the day off,” the man broke in, “and so we thought, why not a trip to the big city? We hardly ever get to Tel Aviv.”
“You know, nahafoch hu, topsy-turvy, that’s the theme of Purim!” the woman said brightly.
“So originally we thought we’d hit the museums and maybe go to the opera in the evening,” said the man, “but then we saw your sign and we looked at each other and said, we’d really rather just relax.”
“This is not a rest hotel,” I said politely. “Our guests engage in strenuous activity.”
At that moment the elevator opened and one of our regular couples emerged. Shasha Pitzaworkisman is the 63-year old CEO of Pitzaworkisman and Rehenson Advertising Consultants and he was accompanied by this month’s secretary, the stunning Pelega, who got out of the army last Wednesday. He dropped his key on the desk.
“I hope everything was satisfactory?” Dima asked him. “You’ll be back at lunchtime tomorrow as well?”
The woman from Jerusalem turned to Sasha. “What a lovely girl! You must be proud to have such a daughter.”
Sasha noticed the two intruders. “If I saw my daughter anywhere near here,” he said, “I’d break every bone in her body.” And he ushered Pelega out.
“Everyone in this city is in such a hurry,” Ilana observed.
Dima stared at her. “That’s why we offer a special Sabra rate,” he said. “Fifteen minutes for 50 shekels. That includes five minutes on Facebook so that you can tell all your friends.”
“And how long will you be needing your room for?” I asked pointedly.
“How long is the movie?” the Haim asked the Ilana.
She searched through her handbag and drew out a plastic case. “It says 109 minutes.”
“So I guess we’ll need a couple-three hours,” the man from Jerusalem told me. Then he leaned over and whispered. “It’s Zeffirelli’s film version of La Traviata. Pretty risqué—it’s about a courtesan who has an affair with a younger man. They sing at each other and then she dies.”
“You’re just going to watch a movie?”
The Haim looked startled. “The sign said ‘discreet.’ What we might or might not do in our room is our own business, isn’t it?”
“In this town,” I said, “Discreet doesn’t apply to what you did, only to who you did it with.”
Now, Ms. Hefetz, I am a liberal, open-minded man. The Carat Hotel is fully accessible for the handicapped. I welcome patrons of all races, creeds, and nations, and of all walks of life. So I tried to be understanding and helpful even though I was by now deeply offended by the attitude of these clueless interlopers from the City that Never Wakes Up.
“Haim and Ilana,” I said, “I’m afraid you may not understand just what kind of hotel this is. You see, we live here in a busy, thriving, modern metropolis. Men and women work long hours and when they get home they are too tired to invest in loving and understanding their spouses. But we all have our natural drives that need to be satisfied. Frustrated workers produce less. So we provide a much-needed service, a place where people can take a mid-day break, have some fun, and then go back to making money. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
They digested this for a minute or so.
“So it’s sort of like a gym?” the Ilana asked.
“I suppose you could think of it that way.”
“Well, that’s fine, as long as the music’s not too loud,” she said brightly.
“So could you give us a room?” the man asked. “Because we’d like to watch the movie and catch the 6 p.m. bus back to Jerusalem.”
“Let me make things clearer,” Dima interjected. “We don’t rent rooms to married couples.”
“You don’t rent rooms to married couples?” the woman asked in surprise. “Then what kind of couples do you rent to?”
The elevator door opened again and another pair of clients emerged. Dima called them over.
“Haim and Ilana, please meet Professor Avi Maskil and his student, Dina Temima, who is enrolled in his senior seminar on the Feminist Imperative in Modern Israeli Fiction.”
“It’s an honor,” the woman from Jerusalem said.
“The feminist imperative?” said her husband. “I learned about that in ulpan. You form it from the second-person future form by lopping off the prefix.”
“Avi,” Dima asked, “How would you feel if we rented a room to a married couple?”
Professor Maskil looked at me in alarm. “I’d see that as an another ominous step toward the religious takeover of our society,” he said. “It’s a short step from married couples to separate rooms for men and women.”
“But we love each other,” protested Haim from Jerusalem.
“Connubial love would be a funeral knell for our modern Mediterranean city,” said the professor. “Were it to become the accepted norm, children would expect their parents to demonstrate affection. Employees would begin leaving work as early as 4 p.m., saying that they need to spend time with their spouses. The sexual act would be divested of its spontaneous, animal nature and pressed into the service of family cohesion. Army officers and high government officials would find themselves bereft of one of the traditional perquisites of their positions and scholars like me would have to grant students grades on the basis of their performance in class rather than in bed. Who would want to live in such a society?”
“I’m disappointed,” the woman from Jerusalem said. “I so much wanted to spend a quiet afternoon with my husband.”
“I have an idea,” the man from Jerusalem. “Give us two rooms.”
“And then I’ll sneak from mine into hers.”
Ms. Hefetz, need I say more? As we bid farewell to the pandemonium of Purim and proceed toward the festival of freedom, please help me keep Diamond City emancipated and libertine.