September 18, 2018

While Seated by the Mediterranean Sea

It is Shabbat when a quietness settles over the whole country of Israel and Israelis take a deep breath.  I was sitting on a bench enjoying a view I have made sure to look out upon as frequently as I can.

A young man walking a baby carriage got closer and closer to a gorgeous overlook of the Mediterranean Sea.  He was talking excitedly to the baby inside the carriage.  He was saying in Hebrew, “We’re almost there, we’re almost there” while the baby gurgled back, reflecting her father’s excitement.  “We have arrived!  Look.”  He lifted a bundled baby up high so she could see the sea.  And then, with the baby cradled carefully in his arms, he walked on the path pointing out this and that for his daughter to see.

A Perfect Pair

There is a religious man who lives in the house behind my house in Netanya.  On Shabbat, I can hear snatches of loud sing song prayers he fills his home with after he returns from services at the nearby temple.   A bird on the roof is inspired by his song, and joyfully accompanies him.

On the Train

While I was seated on a train, I noticed a solider sitting opposite me.  All soldiers must keep their rifles with them.  His rifle was slung casually across his lap.  Like most people on the train, he was looking intently into his phone.  But, instead of reading what was there, he was looking carefully at his hair along his forehead.  And, ever so slightly, he was pushing it into the style he wanted.  He was, after all, only a young man who had to do a soldier’s job as do all young men and women in Israel.

You Look Like You Need Help

After 14 hours on a plane, I finally arrived in Israel.  But I then needed to take a train to Tel Aviv to switch to a train to Netanya where an Airbnb awaited me.

An animated young lady had helped me find the right train to Tel Aviv, but she wasn’t going to Netanya.  I was on my own as I struggled with lifting my suitcase onto another train before a kind young man offered to lift my suitcase onto the train.   With my backpack on, I stood by my suitcase and caught the eye of an elderly lady sitting in a row of seats some distance away.

She said in accented English, “You look like you need help.”  Gratefully, I told her I needed to get off at the correct stop for Netanya.  She located a young soldier who wasn’t getting off where I needed, but promised she would take me off the train at the appropriate place.  And she did.

I had been somewhat fluent in Hebrew 30 years earlier when I left Israel.  But, my Hebrew didn’t return with me.  So, I was again a foreigner who spoke a foreign language.  the old lady gently scolded me while reminding me, “If you need help in Israel, just ask.  People here will help you.”

And, in spite of being known for being rude and in a hurry, it is true that Israelis will genuinely try to help whenever they can.

I thought of some bus experiences of many years ago when getting on a bus was a difficult experience.  (It still is.)  One day, I had pushed and shoved my way onto a bus and found a seat.  Next to me sat an old lady who looked at me disapprovingly.  “Where is your sweater?  It’s cold out today.”

And then there was the day I had really struggled to get onto a bus and find a seat.  When I got up to exit the bus with my coat over my arm, the change I had forgotten in my coat pocket pinged noisily onto the floor of the bus.  The same people who had pushed and shoved me while getting onto the bus were now reaching down to pick up my change while shouting, “rayga, rayga” to the driver (which means wait a minute).

And best of all are the times that everyone on the bus joins in with his or her opinion as to which is the best stop to get off to reach a destination, sometimes overruling the advice of the bus driver.  I saw this again this visit when a Taiwanese tourist was trying to get to a new hotel and the bus driver directed him to get off at the wrong stop.  Fortunately, we bus riders got him to exactly where he needed to be.

Facebook Groups for Immigrants

One reality of living in Israel is that there are many difficulties immigrants face.  One big reason for that is that Israelis who grow up in Israel and do army service develop connections and support groups that soften the way.

With social media, Facebook has become a wider source of immigrants making contacts with other immigrants.  These are closed groups that you need to apply to be in.   I joined “Keep Olim (immigrants) in Israel,” and “Keep Olim 50 Plus in Israel.”

Although a lot of griping goes on its pages about hardships and inexplicable and infuriating quirks of life in Israel, there is also important information to be gleaned.  There is optimism to cling to as well from immigrants who persevered and are genuinely happy and content to be in Israel.

There are those immigrants who come from countries they cannot return to, and countries, like the U.S., that they can return to.  And especially considering the difficulties of learning Hebrew well, and a very high cost of living, life in many other countries is still easier than life in Israel.

And, although the right of return remains an option for every Jew, immigrants are no longer needed in the same way they were during the developing years of Israel.  But there is still meaning in “coming home to Israel.”

Cats All Around

I have no idea why the population of cats in Netanya, and probably other places in Israel is so high.  They are wild, good-looking, somehow well fed — and everywhere.  They don’t want to be picked up and petted, taken to live in a human’s home, or played with.  Cats are independent and these cats keep their distance.  If the cats gather near outdoor restaurants, the patrons talk about how healthy and fine looking they are.  I haven’t heard anyone complain about the cats everywhere.

Gourmet Ice Cream

There is one kind of ice cream store in the Arab Israeli city of Shefaram that has been known for its unique flavors the owners created.  It’s still really yummy.

But, now in every part of Israel, colorful sculpted mounds of gourmet ice ream are available.  It’s an artist’s delight, and ice cream lovers don’t even blink at the expense (just under $5 for the tiniest little cup).

There is a new hotel ice cream shop not far from where I live that I usually visit weekly on Saturday (Shabbat) to indulge.  On one Shabbat, there was an unusually large crowd of adults and children congregating in the ice cream shop.  The clerks behind the counter are very well trained to keep calm when being pressured by customers who gather closely and demand their ice cream.

Israelis are not fond of lines.  So, regardless of the age, it’s usually a group of impatient people exclaiming that they were there first.

I made my stand next to a boy about 9 years old who was there with his dad.  He looked at me suspiciously and said in Hebrew (which I understood), “I’m next.”  His face looked rather mean.  I said in Hebrew, “I know.  I’m just standing here waiting.”  Realizing he wasn’t going to have to fight me for his place, his face softened.  Both he and his father proceeded to get small tastes of several flavors before they made their big decisions. Other grown ups were demanding their right to be next.

I found it rather amusing because my very first roommate in Israel 35 years ago had taught me the words in Hebrew with the appropriate stern look, “There’s a line here.”

Purim in the Air, and Everywhere

It’s nice to be in a whole country that celebrates Jewish holidays.  In fact, Purim is one of the few happy Jewish holidays.  It is a time to masquerade as anyone or anything you wish to be.  There was definitely Purim in the air at the mostly Ethiopian grammar School where I was a volunteer teacher.

I went to our school’s party today and was impressed by the variety of costumes and made up faces of the students cavorting to the music blasting out of huge speakers in the playground.

All the teachers wore costumes too.  I wore a butterfly mask that I  decorated by scraping away black to reveal myriad colors and designs.

I sat my old body down to appreciate the ease with which the young children danced, jumped, fell down, and bounced back up.

And then a young Ethiopian Spiderman, who couldn’t quite figure out which teacher I was, came closer and closer to stare through the eyeholes of my mask.  But I had sunglasses on, so all he could see was his own reflection.

Afterward, I went to thank the principal for inviting me to the party.  She was very appropriately dressed as Superwoman.  Outside her office was a teacher I hadn’t met before.  As I came closer, she mimicked horror at the creature I was.  “No, no” I said.  “I’m a beautiful butterfly, not a scary creature.”  Whether or not she understood my English, I don’t know.  But she embraced me with a wonderful, warm hug.

Israel’s just that kind of place you don’t know what to expect next.



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