I still remember the day when I was on the phone with someone from Israel and first heard that squawking call in the background. It sounded a bit like a muezzin or demonstrators proclaiming their demands.
“What was that?”, I asked, half concerned that there might be a looming threat at the other side of the phone call.
“Oh? That’s just the ‘Alte Sachen’ man,” I was told.
“The what? You do know that it literally means ‘old things’ in German, right? But why do they say it in German?” I asked. “Are those Jews from Germany?”
“Well, actually, they are Arabs,” came the answer and my perplexion was complete.
Since this first time I encountered the phenomenon of “Alte Sachen” I have been fascinated by it. The call originated in the 20s when one commonly shared language among immigrants in the country was German or Yiddish. The fact that this piece of history has been maintained in the work of Arab scrap dealers is somewhat ironic. It’s one of these infinite things about Israel/Palestine which is a slap in the face of oversimplification.
Recently, I published a short story whose hero is such an “Alte Sachen” man. Like my earlier story “Don’t Call Me Naomi” it’s not meant as an accurate description of Israel as a geographical and historical place but rather an exploration of its psychological implications.
If you haven’t done it yet, watch the above a little video clip by the ARD’s (first German television) Israel Video Blog. Even if you don’t speak German, you can still see the traditional horsecart and listen to the beautifully Arabic-accented Yiddish.