Kobi Oz in Toronto, Part I

December 30, 2009 by

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Musician Kobi Oz was invited to put on his new show, Mizmorei Nevuchim (Psalms for the Perplexed) in Canada and, on the way, he wrote a special diary for Walla!. Reproduced and translated with Kobi’s blessing.

Chapter One: Discrimination in the Skies, A Lebanese Driver and Recommendations   


When I realized I had been invited to put on a performance of Mizmorei Nevuchim in Toronto, Canada I got very nervous. It was going to be my first solo performance abroad. I had to get all the songs translated, and put on powerpoint slides, and I’d have to present all the continuity bits in my not-so-brilliant English… pressure… What about the little stories and Midrash excerpts in Hebrew? Will they come out alright in English? And how will the punch lines come across? When I present the texts in English, will I be like a cart driver trying to drive a racing car, or like a racing driver trying to control a cart? Will the audience in Toronto be as curious as Israelis about Mizmorei Nevuchim? Will they want to leave their warm homes for the freezing streets and actually come to the show? Will they be open enough to make the voyage with me, from the start of the show to the end, or is it only the Jews in the Holy Land who are capable of enduring the Psalms of the Perplexed?

One night I had a dream that I was the Minister of Defense and I was standing, mustachioed, in a square behind a microphone, and my English speech sounded like it was a squelching Achilles heel. I woke up in a pool of cold sweat horrifiedat my former Sderotness, and I immediately sat down to write all the Jewish Midrash commentaries for my English show.

Good God, this English is trampling my Hebrew. Instead of a simple everyday word like “amba” I’ve got to use three words – “pickled mango sauce”, or two words – “Iraqi chutney”. Even the name of the show, Mizmorei Nevuchim, is tough to translate. I put a lot into the translation work and gave the fruits of my labors to a representative of the British community – Robbie Gringras – to go over my English and to set my Middle Eastern hotchpotch to rights. To my great surprise he quite liked my Anglicization efforts.

So, with Robbie’s help, we translated Mizmorei Nevuchim to Psalms for the Perplexed. Despite Robbie’s optimism I finished the work feeling that I was going to be a flop, all the jokes would be blown away by the cold Canadian wind, all the rabbis would be angry with me from the heavens, in Aramaic, and all the Israelis would be offended that I had flown half way across the globe just to Anglicize them to pieces.

The Social Divide in the Skies  

As we boarded the plane there was the usual procession of cowed passengers shuffling their way to the down-and-outs’ section through the kingdom of the lucky First Class flyers. It was like a scene out of Dickens. Well-heeled Ehud Barak types settled in enormous armchairs, clasping their champagne glasses and doing their utmost to avoid making eye contact with the doleful looks of the Economy Class paupers. It was the social divide at its best. The Economy Class have-nots will be tossed about for hours leaning on bundles of straw, in between sheep and goats, while slaves row to push the plane through the sky. Once in a while a mustachioed stewardess will flit through our part of the plane and serve us some pitiful looking butterwood oatmeal mass while, just on the other side of the curtain, the moneybags nibble on quality crackers with beluga and ring bells of gold to ask for a napkin.

And maybe I’ve got a bit over the top.

Who’ll Give Me Chicken?  

Although I’d pre-booked a kosher meal I noticed, throughout the flight, that only the covered passengers got Kosher Food portions. Maybe, if I’d asked the stewardess she’d have sorted it out it for me but, on the other hand, she might have said to me: “Sorry, no kosher lunch for you Mr. Oz,” and I would have had to fast all the way, or I would have had to endure the glares of the jetsetter religious as I tore off the aluminum foul wrapping of my rabbinically unsupervised meal. I shut up and ate what they gave me, and it was fine – as far as a plane meal can be fine. And I noticed I’d once again been banished to the secular slot.

So, as a devout secular Jew I saw a daft but wonderfully entertaining movie called Year One, which takes place somewhere in the middle of the Book of Genesis. In the film Jack Black struts around with his navel exposed, completely unaware of the fact that he’s chubby. Naturally, there was plenty of disgusting stuff, in the best traditions of rotten movies. The crowning moment of the movie was when Abraham our Forefather tried to persuade Jack to have a circumcision, and Jack said something along the lines of: “Talking people into cutting off part of their penis? Do you think that will work?” And Abraham replied: “I tell you, this custom will really catch on. It’s going to be a smash hit!”

Gripes from the London Flight  

1) Why, every time the captain talks to the passengers, is the video disrupted like back in the Eighties? Come on, the plane’s kitted out with the best technology humankind can produce and you can’t even manage a quality pause?

2) When will they get past the stupid earphones with the two-pin plugs? We’re not thieves. Stop being so sensitive about the earphones!

3) What’s this business with the remote control being attached to the seat? Who wants your old fashioned Eighties style remote?

Noam’s Sorrows  

We arrived at Heathrow Airport to change planes. Noam, my heavy smoking guitarist, ran around like a fly smashing into the windows. There wasn’t even the tiniest of corners where he could poison himself with a juicy cigarette. Everywhere he went he got a polite British slap on the shoulder from a uniformed kick boxer, and they also confiscated his whisky. Life’s tough for hardened smokers. Noam had a tough time with the security guys too. They pulled everything apart, questioned him and treated him like a potential terrorist.

When I started getting angry with the Mandate powers-that-be Noam turned to me and said to me with disarming honesty: “When I was in the army and I was stationed at the Erez crossing point [into Gaza], and I was on the side of the checkers, I didn’t go easy on them, I really put them through the mill. I deserve everything I’m getting from the security people here, and how.”

“Are you sorry about that?” I asked him.

And the righteous man responded like a true penitent: “Very sorry.”

And thus said Rabbi Eliezer: “Respect others as you respect yourself”. And in the Book of Proverbs, it says: “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”

A Great Plane  

We got a great plane from England to Canada. For starters, the earplugs had only one socket. I used my own quality headphones. Then there was a really good entertainment computer with loads of movies, radio stations, whole albums to listen to and fantastic TV series. I think there was also more legroom, although I’m not exactly a big expert in that area. Here’s some of the cultural stuff I ingested on the plane:

Rock 30  

Rock 30 is a good series, and I plan on following it back in Israel too. It’s a series about life in an office pig pen, with a load of immoral charming sleaze heads who run a TV show. All of them are wildly funny and Alec Baldwin plays the lead role brilliantly.”

Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix  

I’ve liked this French band for a while. They do sort of innovative Eighties music with electronics and cool guitar solos. It’s a kind of album with leg warmers. I was delighted to find them in the album list of the designer plane.

Caesar and Cleopatra  

A great picture of a witty theater performance of George Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra, from the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Wonderful acting by that excellent veteran actor Christopher Plummer as Julius Caesar with Nicky James as the childish and manipulative Cleopatra, and all in juicy English, just the way it should be. I’d never seen a show shot like that before. I wasn’t bored for a minute. The camera team made the show eminently watchable on DVD too. Bravo to the Bravo channel! I’ll look for shots of their shows at the Third Ear store back in Tel Aviv – sacred cultural work.

The View from the Top  

You can see everything in a town from above. As we came in for landing I saw Toronto in its brown-greenish shades, with its houses arranged with generous spaces around them and wide streets. Everything was built in an understated manner, nothing showy – everything was in moderation and set out charmingly and modestly. The Canadians appear to be a people who do things in good taste. I noted that it is a culture of reserve that produces the wildest comedians. The Canadians have comics I really like: Dan Aykroyd, Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, Leslie Nielsen…

The Lebanese Driver  

I thought I could get away from the cliché of amiable Lebanese limo driver, but I couldn’t. There was a driver, he was Lebanese and he really was amiable. We, the people of the Middle East, enjoy a wonderful friendship – but only when we’re abroad.

Conclusion: Instead of only the leaders going abroad for peace talks the people themselves should be sent off for a vacation together, at hotels in Europe and the United States. Millions of Jews and Arabs will share romantic hotel suites with an option for talks at Camp David, Geneva and Oslo funded by UNWRA. After a vacation like that everyone will undoubtedly come home arm in arm, and with a great warm peace treaty all signed and sealed.

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