One of the Facebook groups I belong to is called ‘Brits Whingeing in Israel’ (motto: ‘Lose some, whinge some’), having split off from ‘Brits Laughing in Israel,’ which in turn split off from ‘Brits Living in Israel.’ The politics behind the various groups and sub-groups is not clear to me, but I definitely benefit from all of them. The best thing about whingeing is that it gives people like me the opportunity to moan a bit about things that annoy us about life in this wonderful country, which we all love.

The etymology of the word ‘whinge’ is an enigma in itself. I never heard it used in my youth in England (which admittedly I left in 1964), though I do recall the word ‘whine’ being used, probably with reference to my childhood self. I first encountered the word when it was used by Margaret Thatcher, and it seems to have belonged to the upper class vocabulary she liked to adopt, becoming widespread currency subsequently. My own edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary, published in 1964, does not have an entry for it. But that’s the nature of language, it’s constantly changing. And that’s a subject for a whinge of its own.

The ‘Brits Laughing in Israel’ Facebook group has one or two stars, who seem to consider it their mission in life to invent or discover puns or jokes on a daily basis. This enables me to start my day at the computer, iPhone or iPad by bursting into hearty laughter, or sometimes just a mild smile. But heck, there can be worse ways of starting one’s day.

Most of the posts I’ve seen on the whingeing group are about the inability of the average Israeli (some members call them ‘natives,’ but I find that a trifle condescending) to form an orderly queue, politely say ‘sorry,’ please’ and ‘thankyou’ when appropriate, and of course, there are always plentiful opportunities to moan about bureaucracy, postal deliveries and drivers. Fortunately, politics are off-limits, otherwise there would be no end to the whingeing.

Following a recent experience, I posted my own whinge, which went as follows: “At the opera in Tel Aviv the other night. Despite written and broadcast reminders to turn phones off, in the middle of the first act (Cosi fan Tutte) the phone of the lady in the seat next but one to me rang. After the interval, as the announcement to turn phones off was being broadcast again, I asked her if she’d heard it. She attacked me verbally for having the nerve to remind her. So much for culture in Israel.”

Not surprisingly, this prompted a veritable deluge of similar posts (or whinges, if you prefer). Phones ringing in cinemas and theatres, and more often than not, people actually answering, not caring about disturbing all the other people around them. One wonders sometimes why people ever leave their homes to go to a cultural event if all they’re going to do is talk on the phone, but who can fathom the complexities of the Israeli mind?

And that brings me to the peak of my whinge-worthy events of the past week. As is the tradition in these parts, twice a year a choral music festival is held in the nearby village of Abu Gosh. The concerts are held mainly in the beautiful St. Joseph’s Church with its wonderful acoustics, which invariably enhance one’s enjoyment of the music.

We had bought tickets in one of the three front rows for a performance of Bach’s St John Passion. Personally I prefer his St. Matthew Passion, but Bach is Bach, so we took the less-loved work. Still, the music is wonderful. In the performance we heard the excellent Barrocade Ensemble was conducted by Michael Shani, the soloists – mainly talented Israeli artists — were wonderful, and the Tel Aviv Chamber Choir performed with unexpected authority and grace.

Everything was proceeding as it should, and the sublime music was taking us on the well-worn path to the ultimate tragedy, when a ring-tone rang out through the church, augmented of course by the wonderful acoustics. This occurred not once, not twice, but three times, though presumably not always from the same phone, and fortunately not within close range from where I was sitting.

But that was not the highest – or, rather, lowest – point. At one of the most delicate points of the piece, when the counter-tenor was singing about Jesus’s moving poignant acceptance of his fate, someone in our row dropped a GLASS BOTTLE, which rolled noisily along the marble floor between the seats. Although the singer did not stop, I could see his face and he was visibly shaken, and the performance continued unabated. I was more than shaken, I can tell you. Luckily for whoever the bottle belonged to, I was not sitting in close proximity to him or her.

It is beyond me to understand why anyone should bring a glass bottle (was it beer? wine? water?) into a concert. The only reason I can think of is that the person thought they were attending a pop concert in the open air. But tickets for the concerts in Abu Gosh are not cheap, (neither are they for pop concerts, I know) so I would have to rule out that possibility. I hadn’t thought of this before, but perhaps it was deliberate sabotage by someone who disapproves of Jews enjoying church music.

The concert ended, everyone applauded and filed out in an orderly fashion. I wonder, though, was I the only one who felt cheated out of the transcendent experience of being able to listen to magnificent music in an inspiring atmosphere?

 

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