Yossi ben Yochanon from Jerusalem said: “Let your home be open wide to the multitudes. Let the poor be like children of your home. And don’t overemphasize light conversation with your spouse.”
The two predominant populations of Tel Aviv’s Florentin neighbourhood are artists and furniture-sellers.
There are considerable parallels in the culture and customs of both, with the important distinction that artists, on the whole, do not sell furniture.
A short stroll along Herzl Street reveals that quite a few of the furniture sellers don’t seem to be actively selling any furniture either. Instead, they are sitting outside, reclining on their own merchandise (sofas, easy chairs, chaises longue).
They are drinking Turkish coffee and engaging in loud conversations on topics including: local and international politics, where the best falafel can be bought, football, how hard it is to park in Tel Aviv.
On the street corners, under the shade of dusty, parched-looking trees, sempiternal games of backgammon are being hotly contested, whilst onlookers shout: instructions, insults, encouragement, opinions.
On my own street, there is a little coterie of elderly men who spend the day sitting on a bench, drinking “Malty” (an Israeli brand of root beer - like Marmite, you either love it or hate it), eating pitzukhim, and gossiping.
They are also the self-appointed guardians of the local rubbish bins: if you walk near them, they will watch you like hawks, and should you be so bold as to actually throw any rubbish into these bins, they will shout: “Excuse me, excuse me! That’s not your bin! Put your rubbish into another bin next time!”.
Above them, on the opposite side of the narrow street, is the home of a large Sephardic family whose most famous, or infamous, member is known only as Aviva-The-Crazy-One.
Poor Aviva’s only crime is an inability to talk quietly.
At the slightest provocation, she will start to yell and scream and bellow all kinds of insults and oaths. I have learned some of my juiciest Hebrew and Arabic profanities simply by sitting inside my apartment with the window open and listening to Aviva’s operatic shouting.
When Aviva starts one of her shouting matches, it prompts a chain reaction from the neighbours. First, the old men on the bench start up: Aviva, Aviva, quiet! Aviva, Aviva!
This has the effect of making Aviva shout even louder, this time at them: You be quiet, you be quiet, you profanity of a profanity! Profanity off!
Next, the Hasidic men from the neighbouring silver-polishing workshop start to troop outside, menorahs and polishing cloths in hand, to watch the unfolding spectacle.
After a while, the eldest and most Biblical-looking of them, a short white haired man with a most impressive beard and magnificent peyot, will say loudly: Aviva, what’s the matter? Why all the noise? Be calm…
At this point, the old backgammon-playing men turn on the Hasidic silver-polisher: What’s it your business? Such neighbours!
By this stage, the entire street has come out stand on their balconies and look down at the show, like opera-goers gazing on a performance of La Traviata from the safety of their plush boxes.
Meanwhile, Aviva continues to scream and shout.
At this juncture, the street theatre’s piece de resistance usually makes an entrance, stage right.
Known to us only as Megaphone Man, this character is a local (piss) artiste and musician and consequently feels the need to dress accordingly, in order that all who see him will realise instantly that he is eccentric and therefore must harbour a great talent.
Thus, wearing a large, red fez and a baggy patchwork suit (and looking not unlike the Pied Piper of Hamlin), Megaphone Man makes his presence known - using his loudspeaker system.
AVIVA! AVIVA! THIS IS YOUR NEIGHBOUR SPEAKING. I BEG YOU TO CALM DOWN. EVERYTHING IS OKAY AND YOU MUST BE HAPPY. HAPPINESS IS ESSENTIAL! PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST!