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How Judge Judy Helped Me Grow A Spine

When I was twenty-four, I decided to return to Israel for good. For a while, things seemed to be going fine: I was making the rounds among scores of relatives and going on lots of dates with guys who picked me up at bus stops, at the grocery store, at the post office. I’d never been this popular in the U.S. After a while, though, I’d visited every relative there was to visit and had dinner with all the single guys in my neighborhood. So I did what any self-respecting American in my position would do: I started watching TV. Lots of it. Because I’m a recovering TV addict, I didn’t have cable, which meant I could only get two channels. On a good day, I watched back-to-back episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger and Baywatch, although occasionally I also caught pilots of shows that never made it in the U.S., like the one where a hippie, an accountant, a soccer mom, and a token African-American end up being the sole survivors of a nuclear war; wacky hijinx ensue. My hands-down favorite, though, was Judge Judy. I liked the way Judge Judy always got worked up and ended up yelling at the litigants. “You’re a piece of garbage!” she’d shout. “You should be ashamed of yourself!” I come from a family where nobody shouts—we prefer guilt trips and silent treatments because, you know, we’re civilized. The transition to living in Israel, then, where people were forever yelling at each other, was a difficult one for me, and Judge Judy functioned as a kind of life coach. “What would Judge Judy do?” I’d ask myself during conflicts large and small. In the evening, I’d practice in front of the mirror: “Do you think I’m an idiot? Are you crazy??” During the day, I’d try out my new skills on cabbies: “Either turn on the meter or let me out!” “No can do, motek,” the cabbies would say. “The meter’s broken. Honest.” And then they’d charge me ten dollars for going two blocks. After a while, increasingly desperate, I went to see a cross-cultural counselor who’d successfully made aliyah from Canada twenty years earlier. And I swear to God that I’m telling the truth when I write that she looked exactly like Judge Judy. I sat in her office, surrounded by shelves of miniature plastic figurines. “What do I do?” I cried. “Teach me how to be a real Israeli!” “First of all,” she said, “you might consider wearing more makeup.” Then she said, “That’ll be seventy shekels.” Back to Judge Judy it was. A while later, I received a call from the cable company. “Do you want cable?” a man asked. “I can’t,” I told him. “I’m already watching too much TV.” Ten minutes later, the doorbell rang. “Cable company!” the man announced from the other side of the door. “Come on,” he said once I’d opened up. “You know you want it. I could tell on the phone, which is why I rushed over.” Come on, Judge Judy, I prayed. Help me be strong. “No thanks,” I said. “There are twenty-six apartments in this building,” he told me. “You’re the only one without cable. You can’t be serious.” We stared each other down, and then finally, two hours later, he turned around and left, defeated. Okay, maybe it wasn’t two hours, but it was a long time. Really. He hadn’t asked for my phone number, so it was only a moral victory, but it was a victory nonetheless. Now if only I could figure out how to use eyeliner…

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