Sunday, April 29, 2012

When your sixty-four

Israel Independence Day
 Flags for Independence Day

We got back yesterday from a long weekend in northern Israel. It was Memorial Day on Thursday and Independence Day on Friday so Mr. Rosen and the kids had a few days off. Memorial Day here is very different than it is in America. There are no door-buster sales, for one. Nor does it mark the season for wearing white pants. It's kind of a serious day. None of the cable television stations broadcast and network TV is all either interviews with high up veterans or patriotic performances. There's even a nationwide moment of silence for two minutes in the morning. An air-raid siren goes off and everyone stops what they're doing. Even cars stop in the middle of traffic (though that's an everyday occurrence also). And then at sundown, the Independence Day fireworks begin and the country is happy once more.

Anyway, we headed up north and spent a few days based in Tiberius exploring the upper Galil and Golan Heights. We hiked up to the top of the Arbel, a beautiful cliff above the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). We had lunch in a banana grove above a cave with open tombs and bats (for real!). We found a great little restaurant at Yehudia junction that's open 24 hours, 365 days a year, even Yom Kipur and serves a tasty roast beef sandwich. We hiked up a stream to a very old water milling station and the kids got soaked. We visited a friend of the family and spent the day swimming at her community pool. The next day we drove home along the eastern border with Jordan and watched the green fields of the North fade to the crispy tan of arid land. We made one final stop for lunch in Abu Ghosh, an Arab town outside of Jerusalem, and enjoyed some grilled chicken skewers and middle eastern salads.

To be honest, when we got home I was wrecked. For the obvious reasons - kids fighting in the car, baby up at 5:00 am, packing and unpacking and daypacking and repacking. But also I think my brain is just completely saturated. It's so much to absorb! And more than just the sites. It's the constant juxtaposition of old and new. Glittery and gritty. Orchards and desert. New construction and demolition. Poverty and wealth. Sea and sand. It's one minute we're mourning and then next we're celebrating. It's our own brand of extremism and it's exhausting.

But never mind all that. Happy 64th birthday Israel, you crazy spring chicken. I hope I'm as feisty as you are when I'm your age. Something tells me you won't be retiring next year...

Memorial Day, Israel
 Memorial Day wreaths

The Arbel
 View of Lower Galilee from the Arbel

Banana blossom
 Banana blossom

Secret cave under banana grove with tombs and bats.
 Secret cave under banana grove with tombs and bats

Hike in the Golan
 Water mill hike in the Golan

Pretty weeds
 Pretty weeds in the Golan

Garden gnomes near the dead sea
 Garden gnomes near the Dead Sea

 Camel in finery

Abu Ghosh 
Graffiti in Abu Ghosh

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The kindness of strangers

Gefilte fish year round
The Gefilte Fish aisle at Rami Levy's

The other day I took the baby to a supermarket in a neighboring town. We'd never been there before. In fact, we'd been there the day before, with all three kids, and my daughter remembered as we were about to park that she wanted to go home and put on her tap shoes. She could not go on. Plus, even if she had agreed to go into the supermarket, her recent string of unpredictable lash outs make her a wild card in public places. I opted to cut my losses and head home.

So late morning the next day I take Stringbean McToothy Face to the very same supermarket, cautiously optimistic that we can get in and get out without too much disaster. You see, this is no ordinary supermarket. This is a Rami Levy supermarket in an ultra-religious city in the West Bank. But I am dressed modestly (though wearing pants which is frowned upon) and it is Wednesday (as opposed to Thursday which I know means a mad rush for sabbath prep). Turns out Wednesday is also a mad rush and I should have just turned around when I saw the parking lot. But then I'd have to admit defeat twice in two days which I just couldn't swallow. So I park and we charge ahead, the baby as my shield.

The allure of Rami Levy is that it's cheap. I'd say 30% cheaper than other supermarket chains, especially the one in our town, Mister Zol, which means Mr. Cheap. In fact it's Mr. Expensive, even more expensive than "Half Free Warehouse" in Beit Shemesh which should be called "Twice as Much Warehouse". Who comes up with these names?

We hustle our way through a sea of black hats and modestly dressed religious men and women and after a little less than an hour we are ready to check out. This is when I start to sweat. There are lines three and four people deep at every check-out and these folks are not here to pick up a carton of milk and a loaf of bread. These carts are meant to feed a family of ten for a week so they are spilling over into the aisles. That's when my copilot decides he'd had enough. Now I am caught with a screaming baby in a half hour check out line with a full cart of food. I am just about to abandon my groceries when a lovely Yemenite looking guy in front of me with a knitted kippah asks if I could use some help. He suggests I take the baby to my car and feed him and he would watch my cart and call me when it was time to come back. So without thinking twice we exchange phone numbers and I leave my cart including my diaper bag and my wallet, grab my keys and take Starving McChompers to the car for some lunch.

Twenty minutes later I come back and my friend is nearly finished checking out. Perfect timing. I strap the baby back on, thank him profusely and load up my groceries. Seeing that I am encumbered with a giant baby on my chest, the checker (religious Jew of Middle Eastern descent) calls over a bagger (likely Muslim Arab) to help me get on my way. They exchange a few friendly words in Arabic and have a few laughs (they're probably laughing at me come to think of it) and I'm left to wonder why it is again that we all hate each other? I mean if the Yemenite religious Zionist Jew can help out the American Ashkenazi Progressive New Immigrant Jew while the religious Moroccan Jew makes jokes with the Palestinian, then can't we just all be friends?*

* I realize just the fact that Arabs don't shop here though they work here points to a wider, more systemic segregation issue. But I can't ignore these brief, friendly interactions. They're happening all around me. Everyday. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

This year in Jerusalem

Staples of Passover
Religious Jews hoarding Passover staples

Psst. I'm still alive over here. We are coming off a nearly three week Passover school holiday break and I have been remiss about posting blog entries. I have however been posting lots of pics on Instagram and I invite you to follow my meanderings over there. I'll follow you right back. It's quite fun! A billion dollars worth of fun, so says Facebook.

I wasn't prepared for such a long break in the middle of the year. But we threw together a pretty fun itinerary packed with visits with friends, travels north, south, east  and west, a trip to some enchanted caves, a fantastic seder, a surprise and mysterious visit from Elijah the Prophet and camping in the desert. We even had lunch one day with Mr. Rosen at his work in Jerusalem.

I will say that spending Passover in Israel is a very rich experience. Between the meticulous nation-wide spring cleaning (removal of all bread and crumbs from the home), hoarding of eggs, potatoes, onions and matzah, and the throngs of Israelis hiking about the country, it's really a lot to absorb. Never mind that we personally experienced no less than five out of the ten plagues (blood, lice, boils, hail, and darkness). Let's just say it's enough blog material to last forty years wandering in the desert, if only I'd had the energy to write it all down. Dayenu. Maybe I'll be more on the (matzah) ball next year.

For now's here's a smattering of pics from those three weeks. Enjoy!

Dead Sea with view of Jordan
Dead sea and view of Jordan

Saba grating the bitter herb with traditional protective eyewear.

Seder table including rice cake "matzah" cover for our glutton free guests

Saba carrying his weight
Elder carrying small Israelite during the exodus.

Passover hike in the Negev
Obeying the voice of God, Moses and Miriam put their arms around each other.

Camel helping us reenact the exodus
Biblical ride

Stalactite/mite awesome
Enchanted stalactite cave

Not bear proof, but hyena proof.

I found an oompa loompa from the tv room up on this ridge! Doopadee do!
The oompa loompa I found on top of Tzin Wilderness

Descent to Nahal Gov
Descent to Gov River Valley

Escaping the burning sun
Respite from heat.

Desert in bloom

At Kibbutz Sde Boker

Monday, April 2, 2012

The New Normal

Five sparkly new gas masks
Five shiny new gas masks hanging off my stroller.

Some nights I'll be sitting on our couch watching reruns of Seinfeld and eating a bowl of Fruity Pebbles and it feels like I'm back in California. We live in a nice house. I drive a Mazda 5. My kids have playdates. Organic free range eggs are a fortune. It's all the same as it was. And then I remember that my daughter goes to ballet lessons in a bomb shelter. Someone checks my bag whenever I enter a large building, like the mall. My kids have lice. My housekeeper is a Jewish man. I buy my fruits and vegetables in the West Bank. My seven year old has a cell phone. And I pay $8 a gallon for gas.

Not normal.

Last week I met a friend and her three kids in Ramle, a town outside of Tel Aviv known for its poverty and excellent kabob restaurants, to exchange our old gas masks for new ones. It was the first day of Passover vacation so I packed all the kids in the car and we drove to an elementary school downtown where a squadron of adorable soldiers took my two outdated masks and issued five shiny new ones. Everyone was friendly and professional and efficient. Someone from the BBC even interviewed me. When asked how I felt as a newcomer getting gas masks for my children, I was honest. I told the guy I had no intention of using these things. They will go into a closet until the next recall, a decade from now. And then we hustled our six kids back into our cars, drove to a nearby playground, worked up an appetite and then drove downtown to Halil where we snarfed down two plates of kabobs, a plate of fries, hummus, pita, pickles and malabi for dessert. Mmmmmm.

And so it goes. I shift back and forth between there and here, feeling used to it all and feeling shocked by it all, letting go of what I knew as normal and embracing what is now the new normal.

Gas mask lesson
Gas mask tutorial

Playground in Ramle
Playground in Ramle

Parking lot near Halil restaurant, Ramle
My daughter stepped out into this parking lot and asked, are we in India?

Cutest ten month old ever