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Fame, Israel Style

Fame, Israel Style

‘See that guy over there?” my friend asked, nodding towards the table behind us. “I think he’s famous.”

I turned to have myself a look, which wasn’t difficult considering the Jerusalem café we were packed into was about the size of the skirts sashaying around a Silvio Berlusconi party.

And lo and behold, the guy with the slightly Russell Crowe-esque face, deep in conversation with a table full of rough-and-tumble Israeli men, all of them smoking, did look familiar to me.

So we did what any 21st-century armchair detectives hot on the trail of a famous person would do: We looked him up on my friend’s iPhone.

“I knew it!” she said, doing that funny scroll thing with her finger that everyone, including all of my friends’ 3-year-olds, but me knows how to do, bringing up a full page of photos of a very popular Israeli rock band. And there, his head poking out of many a group shot, was our café neighbor: A real, honest to Hashem, rock star! Sitting right behind us!

I pondered for a moment the odd sensation of checking someone out virtually who is in reality just inches away. Is there a word for that?

The whole thing got me thinking about fame, Israel style. Because Israel is such a small country. So small, that fame is not relegated to the select group of remote mega-stars living in a little Hollywood bubble — with the occasional few trying to get by unnoticed on the streets of New York — but rather “famous” the way every Midwestern Jew once upon a time knew young Bobby Zimmerman or, if not, him, then at least his mother.

It reminds me of when I lived in Tel Aviv during my college days and regularly passed Dudu Topaz at the corner café. At the time, in the mid-’90s, Topaz was a well-known TV personality who hosted a popular talk show. (For those in the know, this is the same Dudu Topaz who recently committed suicide in jail after being caught hiring thugs to rough up media folk he felt had done him wrong.)

The whole thing was akin to seeing David Letterman on a regular basis — only with a café hafuch, a ton of cigarettes, and absolutely zero special treatment or awe directed his way.

And if you think about it, it’s all a matter of scale — the way American friends of mine who, after living in Israel for years, found themselves perplexed while trying to locate a campsite in California. They had been driving for hours and were beginning to panic as darkness was approaching and their destination was nowhere in sight.

“We realized that we were reading a map of California as if it were on the scale of a map of Israel,” my friend later confided. Which is another way of saying, in a country whose entire length can be driven in six hours, fame is not only relative, it is accessible.

So it was not a surprise that while leafing through a Time Out Jerusalem one day, I realized that I recognized more than one of the city’s “50 Important People to Know.” There was that wild-haired, bespectacled, gangly young man I often saw on the bus who it turns out is a rapper, poet and club owner. Then there was my dog’s former veterinarian, whom I never knew was such a beloved local figure.

And then, staring back at me from the pages of the magazine, was a man who looked suspiciously like one of my neighbors.

“Is that guy who lives in the building next to us, the one with the little brown dog, some kind of well-known journalist?” I asked another neighbor from her couch where I had parked myself for a snack and a chat.

“You mean that guy who never says hello?” she asked. “The one I’ve never once seen with another person, including a woman?”

“You mean he’s not married?” I asked, my ears pricked up with delight, as she quickly called the building’s landlord to check out this fellow’s credentials.

But she needn’t have bothered.

A few days later, I caught sight of the famous journalist himself as he attempted to scamper unnoticed into his apartment.

“Excuse me,” I stopped him, “but are you a famous journalist who was touted as one of Jerusalem’s ‘50 Important People to Know?’”

Word to the wise: Want to make a man fall in love with you, even if he’s pushing 60, is something of a hermit, and vaguely resembles Boo Radley?

Ask him if he’s famous!

“Well, I don’t know about famous,” he said, visibly swelling up with pride, “but I do have a regular show on one of the major Israeli radio stations and I have a newspaper column that perhaps a few people know about…”

Abigail Pickus’ column appears the first week of the month. To read past columns click here

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