The Troll

By Yaron Kaver

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He considered the phrase “last meal” and the men it brought to mind—death row inmates on the eve of their execution and Jews on the eve of their Yom Kippur fast. And Jesus, he supposed, who embodied both groups, by far the most famous Jew to eat a holiday dinner and then march to his death. Sliding a chicken into the oven, he toyed with the parallel. Enjoy your “last meal” you dirty fucking Jews, he would write in the comments sections on this Yom Kippur Eve. Hope every last one of you dies by sundown! 

His apartment filled with the scents of cooking. Following advice his mother had emailed him five years ago under the subject line “Tips for an Easy Fast”, he did not overeat. He avoided salt. He drank plenty of water and abstained from caffeine or alcohol. He focused on protein and complex carbohydrates. And, finally, he left some time to brush his teeth and rinse his mouth before the first stars appeared in the sky. The festivities behind him, he was now ready to fast. 

He sat down at the computer. A single new email glowed at the top of the screen, his father imploring him to find a way to attend the prayer services, even if this meant driving his car to and from synagogue on the Holy Day. Word for word, this was the exact same message his father had sent him the year before, and the year before that, and the year before that. Already his tongue felt swollen dry in his mouth. All the while, the rumble of passing cars rose and fell outside his window, and TV sets mumbled through the walls.

He passed the first hours of his fast composing individual emails to each and every one of his friends back home—those he had known since elementary school, those he had met in high school, those who had shared his misery in the Israeli army, and the roommates he had lived with when he first set out on his own in Tel Aviv. The bulk of the letter remained the same, copied and pasted from one to the next, describing his homesickness on this of all days, when the entire nation came to a stop, every store shuttered, every car parked. While stoplights clicked green to yellow to red, people waded in the puddles of light on the asphalt, the intersections repurposed for public congregation. Families marched down the lanes in their best attire. Children raced their bicycles down the busiest street in town. The ethereal effect of Yom Kippur, the collective effort to suspend the traffic of life, could not be transposed onto foreign soil or recreated in the privacy of one’s home. It was the one day of the year when you could have no doubt that you were living in a Jewish State. 

He erased the last few lines from his emails, knowing that his friends would have cringed at the romanticized notion of the holiday and the country. They did not live in an idea; they were born to a home on a street in a neighborhood. They spoke its language and shuffled their feet to its history, and left the marvel and blame to foreign eyes. Quickly changing the subject, he personalized each letter with questions about girlfriends and wives, babies and toddlers, hobbies and jobs. After proofreading every draft and double-checking names and occupations, he sent the emails off in swift succession. 

He knew not to wait for replies. Israel turned seven hours deeper into the night, and his friends and family were all in bed by now, nestled in the holiday stillness. It would be hours before they checked their inboxes, and even then, there was no telling what the words would yield. In the first months after he moved halfway across the world, his writing drew consistent replies. A year or two later, only a fraction of the cast of his former life remained active participants in the correspondence. Recently his letters shot into space and drifted endlessly in black. 

He felt hunger creaking through him from his throat to his belly button. He typed the word “Israel” into Google and clicked and dragged his way down to the links that would satiate him.

His favorite prefix was “death to”, his favorite suffix “has no right to exist”. YouTube links offered the most fertile ground, though he enjoyed the thoughtful sites as well, where hate masqueraded as altruism in proper grammar and punctuation, and the comments appeared as blocks of text, imparting history lessons grown in greenhouses of desperation. He created new accounts where necessary, choosing FreeThePalPeople1967 as his handle when he found that FreeThePalPeople1948 was already taken. 

He typed fast, enamored with his own occasional mistakes, the “your” for “you’re”, the “were” for “we’re”. This was about quantity, not quality. It was a numbers game. He played the classics, such as Die Zionist scumbag. Fuck you and fuck Israel. He added his new holiday favorites, including The jews can never atone for their sins. They are worse then the nazis. He struck the right tone for the more reputable news outlets with Even the briefest of history lessons should disabuse you of your illusions about the legitimacy of the Zionist apartheid state, or No amount of obfuscating can erase the moral repugnance of the racist Zionist enterprise.  

His seeds all planted, he headed out for a stroll. Restaurant row was over an hour away at a brisk pace, but he could not drive, not on Yom Kippur. This was not a matter of religion but of decency; he would not add his engine to the road on this silent night. No one in Israel, not even the most militant of atheists, would do so. The cars in this country, however, gave him no such respite, following each other like beads on a string. He wished he could walk on the road. The sidewalk was covered in fallen leaves, slippery with dew and somehow alive. 

He arrived a sweaty, grimacing mess. Groomed men and women shoved food into their mouths on both sides of the street. Others chattered over plates half full, their uneaten food soon to be thrown in the trash. Pink and yellow lights glittered on their skin and jewelry. Little speakers bound to awnings blasted pop music into the night. Sections of the sidewalk were roped off, and big wooden barrels from a simpler, harder time were used as decoration. Not a single restaurant or café or bar had closed for the occasion. There was no occasion to honor. 

He was tired. Absentminded, he sat down at a table at a sidewalk café. The sun would soon rise in Israel and shine on the nation’s reverent pause. A waitress set a glass of water down before him without saying a word. He looked up to glare at the girl, but she was already gone. The cruelty of it, teasing him with this forbidden water. When the waitress returned for his order—yet another insult—he would cower and slink away. 

His phone beeped with new messages, not from his family, not from his friends, not from his long lost love, but passionate postings nonetheless. He thumbed at the touchscreen. The counterattacks made his heart swell. He scanned the replies for the telltale signs of an Israeli, the let-me-explain-to-you tone, the squared-off grammar, the Hebraicized English. It was early—or, rather, late—for the appearance of Israeli commenters, but there was always the chance he had fished one out, an insomniac or an expat like himself. An honest Israeli response this soon into the holiday would flood his throat with tears of joy.  

Many of his messages fell flat, of course, deleted by moderators or swiftly denounced by other users as provocations and summarily ignored. During his first year abroad he had taken offense at being called a Troll, but now he took it as instant intimacy; it was as if a complete stranger had divined his name by the color of his pain. As for those who reinforced his belligerency, they were but an unfortunate side effect, and he did not engage with them. He stood alone in his fight. After all, his battle was not with the existence of Israel, but with the fact that he could never get his distance from it just right. 

He wrote back to each and every one of his new cherished enemies, spurring them on with the black and white clichés of the decades-old debate. Usually he waited for Yom Kippur Day to make the switch to all caps, to bolster their love of country, but this year he felt famished, invigorated and raw, and aroused by the wealth of attention. Looking around, he put faces to the militant monikers—a chubby man was JewsForTruthNow; a tall blond woman was Xx_YahwehDestroyer_xX; an awkward teenager was IDFwinwinwin.

He marched back to his apartment building, fed and alive. He fell into his cold bed, where he lay until it warmed to him. He set his phone on the pillow beside him, hoping it might wake him in the night. This tradition of his own making was all that he had, and he pulled it over his body like a blanket and breathed it in. He could stare at a patch of ceiling and pretend he was elsewhere, he could press his pillow up to his ears and listen to his childhood like the ocean in a shell, but the air would never smell like home. 

Yom Kippur morning offered no new emails from his family or friends. The comments sections, however, were brimming with Israelis; his brothers and sisters, awakening to hatred on a lazy holiday, were compelled to stand their ground. How he loved them for this. Still in bed, he scrolled through their missives—compassionate, violent, enlightened, pessimistic, condescending and pleading. His mouth tasted like dirt and his jaw ached. Invisible scaffolding attached to his head at the points where it hurt the most.

He slipped into a submissive stupor. Though he ceased all activity, his mind depleted and his body exhausted, his comments spawned defenders and detractors around the world, creating chains within chains, pockets within pockets. Reading between the lines, he followed the story of a roomful of lonely users, their day ruined, their hearts poisoned with hatred for his tiny homeland. As the fast entered its final hour, their arguments faded along with him. 

Like every year, it was hard to believe the fast was over. Satisfied that the sun had indeed set, he sipped a glass of water and chewed a piece of pound cake slowly, followed by some crackers with sliced tomato, red onion and pickled herring. He showered and dressed and sat down at his computer. He revisited each and every site he had defiled the night before, and wrote

I’m sorry, one by one, comments section after comments section. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

– Yaron Kaver