My Iftar Dinner With Shimon Peres

A Surreal Ramadan Visit With the Israeli President

Rubbing Shoulders: The author (right) meets Israeli president Shimon Peres.
Isi Tenenbom
Rubbing Shoulders: The author (right) meets Israeli president Shimon Peres.

By Tuvia Tenenbom

Published August 31, 2013, issue of September 06, 2013.
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Shamefully enough, I couldn’t recognize the important leaders here, and I asked people to point out to me the leading Muslims and the ambassadors. They couldn’t. If there were any “leading Muslim figures” there, they must have been the Circassians at my table.

I mingled with the crowd a bit more, just to make sure I didn’t get this wrong.

I approached a young man wearing a suit; he looked really important.

“What’s your name, if I may ask?”

“Obama.”

“Excuse me?”

“I came to make peace,” he said, admonishing me, “but got stopped at a checkpoint.”

I figured this guy must be either a self-deluded man or a stand-up comedian, though he might be both. When I asked him, he told me he is “the only Arab comedian.”

I walked back to my table and talked again with the computer specialist.

“Is life really so bad here?”

“I don’t want to talk, but yes.”

“Would you like to leave this country?”

“No way! They [the Jews] want to force me out, but I won’t!”

“What would you do if I proved to you that they wanted you to stay?”

“Leave this country on the first plane going out!”

Some of the tables remained empty. Apparently the president couldn’t find enough people to come. I feel bad for Shimon Peres, who must have tried hard to make this an important evening, and so I walked over to him and told him that he spoke well. A kind word never killed anybody, my teachers once taught me.

The reality, sad to say, is this: No Arab worth his name is willing to have a public dinner with Peres, and no Jew worth his name is willing to admit it. Who is the bigger idiot of the two? This I don’t know.

What I do know is this: Tomorrow I’m going to Ramallah again.

Sorry to say it, but the food here is not as good as in Ramallah.

Tuvia Tenenbom is the founding artistic director of the Jewish Theater of New York and the author of “I Sleep in Hitler’s Room: An American Jew Visits Germany” (Jewish theater of New York, 2011). He is currently working on his follow-up book in Israel, where he files occasional reports for the Forward.


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