Ein Gedi Botanic Garden

Ein Gedi Botanic Garden
Seek the serenity of a Judean Desert sky in Autumn at the Ein Gedi Botanic Garden

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

It Must Be Love

My kids were really to blame this time. They had left the front door unlocked. Repeated jerks to the doorknob in a mad dash for the morning bus left it in sad shape, unable to perform its function efficiently. This means that every time we close the door now, we must deliberately, thoughtfully, jerk the knob UP in order to make sure it is really closed.

That didn’t happen last night when the kids came home, so this time Becky didn’t need to knock. Uninvited, she strolled in and made a flying leap for her favorite spot on our couch.

Sussi, of course, was overjoyed. They mouthed each other eagerly, long sharp teeth happily juxtaposed as Becky soundlessly drooled all over Sussi.

We didn’t even bother to try to separate them. It was easier to wait until their initial energy was spent.

About a half hour later Becky had stopped panting and Sussi had stopped mouthing. Becky sprawled on the length of one sofa, her friend Sussi took over another. I made my move.

“Becky, SHOO!!!”

Sara, on the other hand, tried a more friendly approach. She stood by the door, calling invitingly in her more cordial voice. “Come, Becky! Come on…. Come on Becky…”

It was useless, of course. Becky had made up her mind. She was staying.

I fixed Sussi with a baleful eye. “It’s YOUR fault,” I told her. “She comes to play with YOU.”

Sussi looked sheepish. She knew the truth.

Finally I lost my patience, strode over to the couch and demanded that Becky leave. I spoke in an authoritative tone, like her owner Avi. “That’s it. OUT. NOW.”

She hopped off the couch, looking around uncertainly, probably seeking support from those standing around her. No dice.

“Let’s go. Out,” I repeated firmly. I chased her to the door, opened it and shooed her out. She went, compelled by my tone. I closed the door and locked it.

BAM. Scratch scratch claw scratch…… Becky was clearly going to batter down the door, or claw it down.

I opened it, glared at her, and chased her out of the yard. She waited on the sidewalk, sizing up the situation. It looked good from her point of view. All she had to do was wait ME out this time.

Uh uh. This time I was walking her home. It was a beautiful, crisp evening and Becky trotted ahead of me, looking behind her every few seconds to see if I was still there.

When we got to her house, I went to the front door and knocked politely. There had been no answer when I called, but I had left a message. The air was becoming chilly.

“Avi! Lili!” I peered in the window, which was slightly open so their cats could jump in and out. (This is Arad, after all.)

Sigh. I would have to do it myself.

“Come here Beckalush,” I called. It’s the nickname of their house, and she responded accordingly. I slowly reached for the chain while petting her. She stood still, obviously conditioned to obey – at least when she sees the leash. I hooked her up. She looked at me reproachfully, her liquid brown eyes pleading for release.

Yeah, right.

Waving goodbye, I walked away. She sat at the end of the driveway, watching like a rejected suitor. The fact that both she and Sussi are female was clearly irrelevant to both.

I know she’ll be back to drool all over my house and my dog. I know she’ll be greeted with open paws. I know Sussi’s head will be dripping again.

I am resigned, though. After all, it must be love.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Becky's Owner

This is Avi, our friend and neighbor, standing with our 7 year old son Zalmy. Avi is a jack-of-all-trades, having worked at a nuclear reactor site, run a grocery store, owned a bakery and worked as an independent contractor. Avi is the only person on this world whom Becky respects. His wife Lili, would make that, "fears". Avi says it's all the same, and it's all good.

Becky and Sussie

Becky is the one on the left, Sussie is on the right. They are standing on the stone wall that surrounds our front yard...... the same stone wall the both of them sail over every time they get together.


Claw claw claw claw claw scratch claw.
Rattle rattle rattle rattle.

We have a front door made of beautiful cherry wood, a precious comodity in Arad. At least, it was beautiful, before Becky.

BAM!!!! Something was slamming up against our door, and it finally gave way under the weight of a full-grown monster with teeth, tongue and drool.

"Can Sussie come out and play?"

Becky is our dog's best friend. A huge, slobbering, friendly, affectionate, insane and strong boxer and Amstaff mix, she is about three years old and a mother several times over. One might, in a fit of temper, be inspired to call her a bitch, but really she's not like that.

Becky looks like a huge baloney with four sausages to stand on. Her tail is a whip, not to put too fine a point on it. Her whole body wags with it, and when it wags it cuts down anything in its path. Trust me.

Her owners are good friends of ours, across the street and three houses up the road. Avi is Yemenite, with a bushy salt and pepper beard and the warmest eyes you have ever seen. His wife Lili is just that; a gorgeous Hungarian born in Latin America and raised here in Israel. They are a real team, but not when it comes to Becky.

"Behhhhhhhkkkkeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!" Lili tries her hardest to control Becky, who generally ignores her except at mealtimes or when she wants to be loved.

"Becky!" Avi is much firmer with her, and she respects him. Lili says Becky is afraid of him. Avi says that's good. "She is an idiot," he says. "And watch out for her tail. She can do real damage with that tail."

The last time Becky came to play with Sussie, she finally busted through the front door, flinging it open in her haste to enter our living room. Joyfully she rushed to the sofa and leaped onto it, overshooting the seat and landing on the back itself. She stood there, poised for action, waiting for Sussie to come and get her.

This could have been a challenging situation.

At the time, our three youngest were home, and Avi and Lili's youngest daughter, Lior, was with them. We were all there, amazed and slightly nonplussed, when Sussie made a leap at Becky. It was all in good fun, of course.

Except that the kids didn't see it that way. And that was when the shrieking began, with one of my very brave daughters standing on the back of the opposite sofa, another one planted directly in front of me (I was sitting on Becky's sofa, you understand) and my 7 year old son laughing his head off and dancing around with glee. Lior covered her mouth with her hands, holding her breath, not knowing whether to scream or laugh.

"Oh BECKY!!" She did both. "Come DOWN. Now!" Becky didn't even notice. She and Sussie began chasing each other around the house, periodically catching each other and wrestling with teeth and drool in abundance. The growls were fearsome, true, but if one looked closely (not too closely, mind) one could see that it was all play. The bites were never deep and the growls were too soft to be meant to scare anyone.

Nonetheless, I thought it best to at least send them OUTSIDE to play.

"Can you please tell Esty to stop screaming?" Lior requested politely. "It really won't help the situation and it will just take longer to calm them down and get Becky out of here." I agreed, but getting any of my kids to slow it down to a dull roar was simply not an option.

Instead, Lior and I chased the two girls around until I finally lost patience and yelled at Sussie. SHE, at least, had the grace to look chastened and paused. In that golden moment, Lior grabbed Becky and pulled, I potched, and we managed to force her out.

Or so we thought.

BAM!!! Another joyful leap back onto the couch, and Becky settled in for a comfortable visit.

"No, I don't think so." This time, I glared balefully at her and said, "GO!" Sussie meanwhile came to play -- and when I scolded her and chased her out, Becky galloped after her.

SLAM. This time, I locked it.

And then my husband called Avi and Lili.

"Hello, how was your day?"
"Ah, hi Sinai. How are you?"
"Terrific. Ah, Avi? We have a visitor that I think you might like to meet."
"Really? Who is it?"
"I think you should come and see. It would be a pity to spoil the surprise."
"Hm. Is it a relative?"
"Not exactly."

Knock knock.
This time I unlocked the door. It couldn't be Becky. The knock was too polite. And there stood Avi, who had figured out who it was because Becky was still romping around outside with Sussie. He had not, however, realized exactly WHAT it was we had called about, and my wonderful husband was laughing too hard to tell him.

When I finally broke the news, he just smiled gently and nodded. "Yes," he agreed, "she is an idiot. Loveable, but stupid. Lili spoils her. Don't let her in."

Thanksgiving in Arad

I love Thanksgiving. My husband thinks it is the "celebration of the genocide of the Indians", as he calls it, but I think he is just acting like a subversive Commie pinko. He doesn't even refer to them by their rightful name, "Native Americans," either.

He does humor me, though, and I have been able to raise my children with their American heritage more or less intact, even within the confines of a super-Orthodox culture.

So of course, I wanted turkey for Thanksgiving, even here in Arad. This being my first time in Arad for the occasion, I did not realize I would need a year's head start on gathering supplies for the annual event.

The week of Thanksgiving, I called the Chassidic butcher, who is the only one you can really order specific cuts from. The counter woman is the first to answer the phone.

"Hello. I would like to order a whole turkey."
"There is no such thing."
"That is not possible. I do see turkey meat available here."
"Correct. Which parts would you like? It comes in necks, breasts, and pulkes."
"I would like the whole bird."
"How would you like it cut up?"
"I don't want it cut up."
"It doesn't come that way."
"Please let me speak to the butcher."
"Hold on. (mouth away from the phone) "Shmuel!!!!"
"Hello. I would like to order a whole turkey."
"It doesn't come like that." (see, here at least I am getting somewhere, because at least he acknowledges that such a bird exists in the original)
"It does in Jerusalem."
"I doubt it."
"Wanna bet?"
"It's very unlikely."
"I am telling you that my friends in Jerusalem have no problem going to the butcher to order AND THEY GET a WHOLE turkey. It is no big deal, at least there. Can you explain to me why you, as a professional butcher, the one and only butcher in Arad, cannot manage to make a simple order for a whole turkey?"
"I can't imagine where they are getting it from."
"Well, obviously they are getting it from the same suppliers that you use, or at least I would ASSUME so..... there can't be that many poultry suppliers."
"Well, anyway do you realize that a whole bird is very large?"
(at this point i am laughing)
"Yes. Approximately 14-18 pounds, in your terms, 7 to 9 kilos."
"Hm. We really have no call for it here. No one ever orders it."
"Maybe that's because you never make it available. And it might also be that no one knows you even exist. There are a lot of Americans here, but very few call you, if any, because almost none of us know you are out there and none of us understand any of your advertising, if there is any, because it is all in Hebrew or Russian and most of us have trouble reading it. Maybe if you made yourself more well known, or if you made this item more available, you might find you have more demand as well. It is a little bit of a disgrace, you know?"
"Hm. Well, I will try to get one and if I succeed, you will have it by next Monday."
"No. I wanted it for tomorrow but I see that is not going to be. So what you need to do now is to call your supplier, find out how much lead time he needs from me in order to secure the item, how long it will take you to get it here, and how much it will cost per kilo. Okay?"
"Call me tomorrow. I'll see what I can do."

Total phone time: 20 minutes
Total talk time: 15 minutes
Total laugh time: unlimited

This is the gift that keeps on giving.
Welcome to Thanksgiving in Arad. May we all be blessed with happy memories......

Saturday, October 29, 2005

I just love Sukkot in Arad! Posted by Picasa

Here I am, learning how to bundle the palm branches for the schach on our sukkah..... the bottoms of the branches have already had their spikes trimmed off, thank G-d. Posted by Picasa

Meet Suleiman, the man who makes sure Arad stays beautiful. He's holding the dates he gave us. Don't be fooled, however; Suleiman is incredibly strong and those dates require the muscles of a weight-lifter. Posted by Picasa

This is David Avraham. He came straight to Arad from Ethiopia 20 years ago and two years later came to work at the job he still has today. Posted by Picasa

These are canary dates. When they are big and ripe, they are sweet as sugar. When they are small and unripe, they are beautiful but... Posted by Picasa

Trimming a canary date palm. Posted by Picasa

The Right Date

It’s that time of year again, when the southern Israeli city of Arad pulls out the cherry picker and makes the rounds of the palm trees.

There are more than 150 of them in this small Negev town (palm trees, not cherry pickers) and nearly all bear fruit each fall, just in time for Sukkot. Veteran residents in Arad know that the Hebrew month of Tishrei brings four different kinds of fresh dates and palm branch cuttings for the sukkot that dot the city.

Jews from every walk of life gather around the crews as they move from one palm to the next as they begin pruning in preparation for the winter months.

The fruit is free if you can catch the town crews while they work. The sweet fruit that Maimonides praised for its efficacy as a digestive aid (take two after your meal once a day) grows in huge bunches.

Palm branches, on the other hand, are for sale. It is best to wait until the crews have trimmed them for you before grabbing, because there are huge, sharp spikes at the base of the stem. The spikes carry a mild poison which causes swelling and irritation if you get stuck.
For 60 NIS (about $15.00 US) in Arad you can buy 10 palm branches, each approximately six feet long and three feet wide, enough to cover a modest sukkah. The crews carefully tie the bundled branches together for your convenience.

Of course, if you happen to know Suleiman Anami, it helps. Then you can get your schach for free. Suleiman, a Bedouin who lives in a small nearby village, is the Gardening Manager for the Parks and Landscaping Department in Arad. His - and actually, that of other people in his department - is the story of successful co-existence.

In 1989, as young 17 year old he found a job working with the landscaping department, doing general maintenance. He worked hard, was loyal and never slacked off. “If you take a job, you do it right,” he told me. “I love my work.” One wife and seven children later (including a pair of two-year old twins), Suleiman has now worked his way up to manager.

“Arad is one of the most beautiful cities in Israel,” he said with obvious pride. “I supervise 200 dunams of land here, all of it planted with flowers, shrubs and trees that can take your breath away, just from the color alone.” It took more than 350 hours to plan and plant the landscaping around the municipal swimming pool. Suleiman carries special certification in botanical fumigation as well. He said it takes an entire month to make one full maintenance round of Arad. That round keeps four of his workers and an irrigation specialist very busy.

The tall date palms, of course, are his special pride and joy, marching along each main road. “I remember when we planted them,” he said. “We had to sink them three or feet into the ground.”

It was Suleiman who told David Avraham to find an especially beautiful bunch of palm branches for us, and who also made sure we also got several huge bunches of fresh red and yellow dates to take home for the holiday.

David’s story is another jewel in the mosaic that is Arad, a special one in the Jewish world. He runs the cherry picker. David is another long-time worker for the department, the only person allowed to rise to the top of the 15-foot palms to trim the branches and gather the dates a difficult skill which he excels at.

A 20-year veteran of the department, David is proud of his responsibility to the city residents, but even prouder of his Ethiopian Jewish heritage. He remembers the 2 ½ year trek by foot across the Sudan as he and his wife made their way toward the site where they would finally be airlifted to the Promised Land.

David is now 58 years old, but he recounted the story of that 1983 journey as if it were yesterday. “We came from the village of Tikraii, near Adyavo,” he said. “Funny, how that village bore the name which in Hebrew means ‘he will yet come’…… I wonder if the village founders ever realized it.” He was already 36 years old when he made that journey, and he came straight to Arad when he got off the plane. A scant two years later, he took the job he has had ever since. “Come to our sukkah,” he invited. “I will tell you my story.”

“Put those dates in the freezer for about a week,” Suleiman advised, “and you will have the sweetest fruit G-d can provide”. David nodded sagely in agreement. “The red ones are the most flavorful,” he added. They are also the heaviest, with an average bunch of fresh red dates weighing in at about 20 lb or more. A natural weight training program, free of charge.

For Aradian date lovers, of course, they are worth their weight in gold.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

A Russian-American Coalition

It's almost 11:00 pm and for once, I am not wondering where my children are.
I am wondering where I am instead, as a returning American immigrant and as a Jew.

The post-Disengagement horror stories continue their steady march into our bruised landscape and those who care are simply numb. Those who did not care before, care even less by now, unmoved by the daily tales of tragedy after tragedy.

Three suicides committed by young soldiers at last count, with scores more admitted to psychiatric wards around the country, unable to cope with the trauma, the grief and the rage of having to perpetrate one of the worst military operations in Israel's history.

Homeless families of seven who used to live in five-bedroom houses are now scattered all over Israel, crammed into two-room apartments the size of their former kitchens. Residents of the much-touted "caravillas" are struggling with burst pipes, inadequate electrical wiring and a faulty infrastructure barely constructed for the thousands expelled from homes the government urged them to build decades ago.

And it's not even winter yet.

We once innocently referred to this place as The Holy Land. We know now that although this will forever be true, it doesn't mean the inhabitants have lived up to the same standards. We have indeed become "a nation like all other nations", to our eternal disgrace.

Filthy Israeli politics has sold us out – again. I wonder how many years it will take until the ethical among us learn that the only way to change the system is to shake off the disillusionment and depression and GET INVOLVED. It means teaching our children, as our predecessors did in the Sixties, that political activism – not only on the streets, but at political events and in actual political parties – is the most effective way to create a new reality.

Our generation has been too reluctant to get our hands dirty with politics, and we are now reaping that bitter harvest. It is not too late, however, to teach our children to be passionate about a commitment to politics as a venue for changing a corrupt and broken system. This country desperately needs it. We desperately need it.

The Russians, for once, are way ahead of us and wisely started their own political party years ago to protect their own interests and those they perceived to be Israel's.

It's time to form a North American immigrant party to bring this country back to the ethical Jewish standards we thought we were "moving up to" when we made aliyah.

And since some of our concerns are identical to those in Natan Sharansky's party (immigrant rights, for example) perhaps we could form a coalition together – who says miracles don't happen?

In the Middle East, even the Russians and Americans can team up for the same cause.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Social Workers and The Disengagement

My colleague at a therapeutic girls' dormitory, a social worker, has spent the last six months in and out of Gush Katif every week, bringing hope and support and supplies to those who built their homes in support of the religious zionist dream. She is deeply worried about what is happening to the families there as they face the final scenes of this mammoth nightmare, but even more concerned about "the day after". Her husband, who was at Yamit "back then", has told her that he cannot go with her to be with the families for the Shabbat prior to Tisha B'Av -- he "just can't face it again". Her children volunteer in the yishuvim wherever they are needed. She has been active in the movement to educate the Israeli public and raise awareness of the depth of what is happening and it has unnerved her.

"I gave out orange strips of cloth on the streets in Tel Aviv," she said, "and people were yelling at me from their cars. 'Go home to your yishuv!' they shouted. 'Go away! Leave us alone already! You people are destroying the country and making a lot of noise out of this issue. Get over it," they yelled. And then they were those who waved, and smiled, and turned their hands thumbs up while driving, who said 'Yasher koach!' and 'Keep the faith!' -- and it is just exhausting to live through it all." And that was only one day's activity, between the days she puts in helping frum teenage girls repair their broken lives after living with neglect and abuse in their homes.

Yes, we have that too here in the Holy Land, to my infinite sorrow.

Meanwhile, the directory of our dormitory, an outstanding senior clinical social worker, has a
mother and two brothers and their families who live in "the Gush". His mother is almost packed and he is planning to help her move; she is too old to deal with the stress of the coming days. His brothers are having bigger problems. They pack their things, knowing they can only fight so far. Their wives unpack every box, every day, as soon as the men have closed them. They refuse to leave their homes, to dismantle their lives for the political pleasure of others.

"Marriages are in trouble," he tells me. "Husbands and wives are arguing and crying and fighting with each other all through the yishuvim. These are some of the unspoken things that escape the notice of the media and the friends, for husbands and wives rarely air their dirty laundry in public, let alone convey their most intimate wounds resulting from this trauma. When I left work, my boss was planning to go to the Gush to help his family and was "unclear about how or when" he would return.

"My brother is selling all his furniture," he said. "There is nowhere to store it, not for the length of time it will take to rebuild his home elsewhere. He has to move into a caravan the government says it will provide -- and there are not enough of them -- and they are barely a quarter of the size of his home. His beautiful garden, which he spent so many hours and days and years tending, is a huge sacrifice for his children on the altar of this government's stupidity. And their promises are lies: the caravans are not yet ready, the new locations for the communities are not even chosen yet. The land is not prepared, the plots are not set, the community infrastructure is years away, as are the basic amenities providing services to their homes, such as piping for water, electricity, gas and phones. And once those things are done, it will still take months -- and possibly years -- until the homes themselves are built. By that time, storage fees will have cost more than the new home will be worth."

Some 10,000 people will be homeless by Elul, evicted by the government of Israel, their mothers and children traumatized along with husbands and fathers, brothers and sisters, parents, cousins, friends and soldiers who are forced to do the bidding of their commanders, who are equally distressed about their roles in this tragedy.

Then there are the social workers. We, as clinical and community professionals, are struggling with the trauma as well -- primary and secondary. We are traumatized by what we witness, what we read, what we hear and what we experience. We are traumatized by the trauma of our clients. We are trapped by our own deep and frightening knowledge of what we know is already happening and what yet awaits everyone. We are traumatized by events totally beyond our control, events that leave us with no option other than to set aside our own feelings and minister to others, to all of our brethren, and to watch the systematic destruction of their lives and the generations to follow, those children and grandchildren to whom the victims trauma will be passed on.

This is not the Holocaust. Jews are not being murdered by strangers, or even by our own. That is true. But in a real way it is having a similar effect on many of the families suffering through the annihilation of everything they have built, some for the second time after a relocation to Gaza from Yamit, the scene of another exile from their homes. The promise of a new life, building the Land and securing our borders to protect our People, has become a nightmare of unparallelled dimension.

We, the social workers of Israel, will be there to support and succor them, during the disaster and in the days after, in the years and decades to follow. That is our mandate: to comfort, to help rebuild, to offer and coordinate support and social services, to teach victims how to move on and reclaim their lives. That is what social workers do. "

But for us, we who must find a way to accomplish this task while setting aside our own grief and rage at the injustice and tragedy of it all, it is a trauma upon trauma, our own and that of all the others which we must bear.

I hereby honor all of my colleagues who have donated their time, their strength and their faith to this task, and who willingly face their own feelings while helping others to face and deal with their own. I honor their husbands and children and families, who bear the brunt of their silent pain, and not-so-silent suffering when it burst far from the eyes of their clients and the cameras.
May G-d grant us all strength in these coming days of insanity and may we someday merit to see the sense of it all, though it is hidden from us now. May our pain be the final birth pang that brings the coming of Moshiach Tzidkenu so this horrendous Diaspora may end once and for all. May G-d have mercy on all of us.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Bus Driver

The Egged bus from Beersheva to Arad is always packed and yesterday was no exception.
Young soldiers and hotshot teens from the Air Force Tech High School jostle the paying customers pushing their way ahead of everyone to grab seats where they can drift off to sleep on their way home from the bases in the Negev. Old Russian ladies grumble loudly and occasionally shove others aside, indignant that anyone would venture ahead of them. Dark-eyed Bedouin women, their faces framed by beautiful scarves, wait patiently till the others find their places, sometimes holding babies, sometimes gently holding an older child's hand; they never, ever scrabble or fight to find a place the way so many others do. So many different kinds of people packed into one coach-sized bus hand their money or their bus tickets to the driver as they move along. The driver was working as fast as he could to keep the traffic flowing smoothly -- until I climbed aboard.
As usual, I handed him my bus pass with a greeting. He smiled in reply, but did not let go of my ticket. There we were, connected by the small card, trapped together in the front of the bus. I had no idea why and he wasn't talking. I tugged. He held on. Perplexed, I tugged again. Preoccupied, he simply didn't let go.
"What's up?" I inquired. It didn't make sense.
He glanced at a young girl sitting in the front seat. "She doesn't have the money for the fare."
She colored. "I said I will bring it to you later. You know I am good for it."
He shook his head and looked straight at me. "She can't pay for the fare. You have a ticket."
Oh, right. I got it. "So what's the big deal? Just take it out of mine. " It didn't bother me.
"We'll split it," he corrected me. "Half from you and half from me. You pay with your ticket and I will give you change." He smiled. I smiled.
"No no no no NO!!!" the girl wailed. "I can PAY it, I said!! I will bring it to you tonight!"
Meanwhile, the driver punched my ticket and got the bus on the road. I sat next to her. "You don't understand," I said soothingly. "I have a discounted ticket, with two free rides anyway. I didn't pay anything. It was one of the freebies." The driver nodded his approval.
"If you are really worried about it, we can split it three ways, okay? He'll pay 5 shekels, I pay 5 shekels and you can put 5 shekels in the pushka when you get home."
She didn't like this compromise either, but at the end she was outvoted and finally gave up. The driver grinned at me. I grinned back. Anyway it comes out of the kitty," he added. "Big deal."
The girl moved to the back, murmuring her thanks and insistence that she would pay him back. He laughed. "Put it in the pushka," he told her.
I nodded my approval. That's what a Jewish State is all about.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Urban Thong

There is a new fashion flaunting flesh in Arad this summer -- a new version of The Thong. The way it works is this:
First, you have to wear a thong (you know, those underwear (panties) that really aren't and cover nothing but divide your tush so the cheeks are well defined and prominent to streetside viewers. (I believe this applies primarily to the ladies... then again, you can never tell....) It should be a colorful "garment", one that catches the eye, so to speak.
Then, you wear skin tight hip huggers with the "waistline" as low as possible -- this creates a casual but daring appearance. You really can wear looser hip huggers if you wish; the issue here is "how low can you go"...
Finally, the real crux of the matter: you hike up the thong and you schlep down the hip huggers, so that the top of the thong shows above the "waistline". This is a fashion that has clearly been stolen from American hip hop artists (no pun intended, really!) and rappers, who some ten years ago began to wear loose, low-slung pants with at least two inches of underwear showing above the pants, so that it looks like the pants are falling down but the underwear are still hanging in there (oh gee, that was REALLY terrible, but i just couldn't help it). It was that "come hither and let's pull our pants down together" kind of look. A little sloppy, a little ghetto.
The Urban Thong is the height of fashion here in Israel. Some girls even manage to hike the thong so high and schlep the pants so low that you can actually see not only the top of the thong, but the stringy part too.
In my day, this would have been referred to as "indecent exposure". Now it is "cool". Of course, there are limits as to what constitutes flaunting this fashion in good taste. (No comment.)
For example, a woman over a certain age of maturity looks, um, a little saggy in the back. And females with more than ample glutei maximi have given new meaning to the word plump. (Sigh.)
But the average lady sporting this look here in Arad generally falls into the 16 - 30 age range, Occasionally you get an old bag with a bod with dyed hair or a young wannabe complete with belly and brows pierced, trying to strut her stuff. But it makes me wonder why they bother -- let it all hang out!
Ah, summer in the city..........

Monday, May 30, 2005

The Garden

This past Shabbat, as the sun gently set over the hills of the Negev, I sat with my husband on the patio behind our house, gazing at the view and singing the 23rd psalm together. The blessing which thanks G-d for the fruit trees was recently said in its season, just before Pesach when the flowers have bloomed before giving way to their fruit.
"The fig tree is huge," I observed after the song ended. "What fig tree?" said my husband. He had not noticed it, hiding behind the blossoming honeysuckle against the fence. "The fig tree," I repeated patiently. "It's full of fruit." He went over to take a look. "So it is," he agreed. "We have to figure out a way to prevent the worms from getting in there. They come up from the ground and invade the fruit. It's gross."
The thought made me squirm. I had seen those little things last year at our previous residence. They looked like maggots.
"And the olive tree too," I reminded him. Last year's olives were gorgeous, but when I soaked them prior to pickling, hundreds of little white worms emerged. Gross. We have a very large olive tree in our yard across from Adam's first pair of underwear, and I could not bear the thought of another year of wasted olives.
"What is that bush?," I asked him, peering at a beautiful leafy little tree with bright orange-red flowers nearby. I had almost uprooted it a couple of months ago, thinking it was a dead shrub. When I saw the flowers, I had decided it might be honeysuckle, but the color was wrong.
"Pomegranates," he answered. I could not believe that I had missed that. Such a beautiful fruit, and sure enough when I went to look, the little tree was bursting with small green globes just starting the hint of a blush.
"The lemons are coming out," I commented. There were three of those, marching along the side of the house between our front and back yards. They were short but full, having somehow been cut down almost to destruction before we had moved in, and their leaves were curled, some with the scars of past disease. Careful nurturing has brought them back slowly, and I was surprised last week to see those tiny little green balls at the ends of some of the branches.
"Really?" Disbelief appeared in my husband's eyes. He knew the condition of those trees.
This beautiful garden, a real paradise, looked like real hell just three months ago, and I had been tempted to cut everything down and start over again.
And so it is with Israel.
There have been 500 anti-semitic incidents here in this country, the homeland of the Jewish people, within the past two years according to statistics gathered by Yad Vashem. In Arad, our own little town, there were ten such cases in the past year alone.
The State of Israel leads the world in annual incidence of anti-semitism, NOT BY ARABS, but rather by gentile immigrants claiming one Jewish grandparent in order to come in under the Law of Return. The last wave of Russians, in fact, included more such gentiles than Jews -- and many of them are outright anti-semites.
The representative of Misrad HaKlita (the Ministry of Absorption) here in Arad is herself a Russian Jew, one who looks like a "shikseh" as she describes her appearance. She has blond hair and beautiful blue eyes, the warmest manner you could possibly imagine and the sharpest glance I have ever seen. Several months ago, she warned my husband that many of the new Russian immigrants here in Arad were rabid anti-semites. How did she know?
It seems that she hears all kinds of interesting things from the new immigrants who come to her office for help with the benefits they are entitled to under the Law of Return. Like how they hate the Jews, how they managed to get out of Russia by faking the one Jewish grandparent that was their ticket to freedom in the Holy Land. Their eventual goal? A visa for entry to the United States of America, where they will live and work and spread their poison in Brooklyn, Queens and all the other meccas of Russian immigration.
Be warned, she said. This town is 45% Russian; of those, literally half do not meet halachic criteria to be defined as Jews -- nor do they want to be. This was their ticket out, and our naive Israeli government used Hitler's definition of who is a Jew to import this cancer into our midst.
The thought that Jewish tzedaka, Jewish taxes and Jewish blood has gone to support and protect the lives of this scum sickens my soul. In the one place a Jew should expect to be surrounded -- at least within our own borders -- by Jews and Gentiles who acknowledge our right to this Land and our existence, we have somehow managed to surround ourself with enemies from within. Not from Arabs, fighting for their own right to be here, having lived here themselves for hundreds of years -- from foreign anti-semites, goyim who would love nothing more than to see us dead while sucking our country dry of its scarce and precious resources.
"Should we leave?" asked my husband in despair. "It is so hard here; the salaries are slave wages and the expenses double what they were in the States. The bureacracy is a nightmare. The red tape is indescribable. Our kids are having such a hard time adjusting to school -- maybe this was a mistake. Maybe it's time to go."
"Go where?" I know from my own experiences as a child that there IS nowhere to go. You can't run from this. There is nowhere to hide. We brought this scourge upon ourselves -- not me, not my husband, but other Jews who were stupid and desperate to prove their righteousness to the world by its own vicious criteria. But it exists everywhere, and I was not raised by my parents to run. I was taught to stand my ground and fight for what is right.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, of blessed memory, was the only Jew in Crown Heights to stay during the "white flight" of the sixties that followed a huge influx of African-American and Carribean-American tenement dwellers. Six other Brooklyn neighborhoods had already fallen, four Jewish and two Italian. But the Rebbe would not run, nor would he allow his Chassidim to either. And Crown Heights today has been regentrified, with houses that sell at astronomical, ridiculous prices -- and they barely make it to the market, usually snatched up through word of mouth within days.
So too will it be with our beautiful garden here in Arad and in the Land of Israel. Stupid Jews, willing to cut their own throats to please those who will never be pleased with us, no matter what we do simply because we are Jews, have led their own people down the path of self-destruction. It was what the Lubavitcher Rebbe screamed about more than ten years ago, when the Who Is A Jew issue was raised in the discussion of the Law of Return. It was what the Satmar Rebbe, of blessed memory, predicted when he ordered his Chassidim never to acknowledge the establishment of this State, predicated as it was and is on goyische standards of living, and goyische threats as a result.
Some say the Jewish state does not exist. I sometimes wonder as well. But it has in fact been born, although it is still in the neonatal intensive care unit and needs all the prayers and fight it can muster.
Like my garden in the winter.
G-d willing, Israel will bloom once more in the spring.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Flowers, Felines and Dogs

I cannot find even one street in Arad that does not have flowers. My entire neighborhood is named for flowers, every street. And every yard has flowers too. It is incredible. Every traffic circle, every public place -- hundreds of them, in every possible color and shape combination. The air is intoxicating, in fact. I walk by and breathe in lavendar, rosemary, honeysuckle, dark red roses.... you name, it is there. The entire town is one big fragrant bouquet.
And then there are the dogs.
They are present, too. In every neighborhood, some more than others. Even I, a stalwart supporter of the feline experience (we have four to our credit), finally had to give in and get one, when as a little puppy covered in ticks my kids brought her home half dead. So of course I couldn't just let her die. A vet bill of over $500 later, tick free and spayed, Sussie joined the family. That was less than a year ago and she is now the size of a minature pony, one that my seven year son could easily ride.
Our youngest cat, Pippin, himself a maturing kitten almost the same age, is her best friend. They sleep together and she washes that cat every day, whether or not he needs it. It is too weird for words, but awfully cute to see.
At first, she did not realize that as a dog, she has certain responsibilities -- to be in our yard, to protect hearth and home, and bark like crazy when strangers appear. The other dogs in the neighborhood have tutored her assiduously, however. Today she is an official protector-in-training, barking like a maniac when anyone has the audacity to walk down our street, let alone near the house. The alarm goes out and every single dog in every yard (and on my street every yard but two has a dog) joins the chorus regardless of hour of day. It is amazing. And no one gets bitten, and no one cares about the noise. They see it as an inexpensive and much nicer burglar alarm.
Sussie is all bark and almost no bite. She does bite, however, when she plays with you, and also knocks you down in her enthusiasm. She scared the life out of the 5 year old spoiled brat across the street. The brat's older brother, on the other hand, loves Sussie and plays with her all the time. That is, when he is not throwing rocks at her or at my son, one of his best friends. (He has a problem with impulsivity and anger control.)
The dog has been impossible to train until lately, because it took this long to figure out what would entice her to listen. I finally found out, by accident, in the desert one day. I had brought a sandwich and some dry bread for the birds. I scattered the bread and she carefully picked it all up and trotted home with it, and proceed to bury every last piece in the yard. And now all I have to do to get her to come home with me is brandish a little bread. Amazing, given the money I have spent on "treats" which she ignored. Go figure.
Our cat Boo Boo is also a bread fanatic. I have to hide the bread I buy for the kids; if not, she will rip the bag to pieces to get to it. She was the one who came home as a kitten with my 14 year old, who felt bad because her thigh bone was broken and she looked so forlorn. Well, after $450 and a hospital stay, one month in my bedroom to convalesce from surgery and countless cuddles, she is here too.
Tuli, our oldest cat (12 until 120) is a gourmet; she prefers green olives in paprika hot sauce. For real.
Pippin eats chocolate cake.
Lucky, so named for having survived nine attempts on his life by the Fates thus far, will not eat cottage cheese but will eat almost anything else.
Thank G-d for the dog, who is not nearly as picky.
Flowers and animals and fruit trees and desert breezes, dust and moonlight -- Arad is a place of contradictions, of mavericks and sculpture, which can be seen at any major intersection or other busy area. Unreal. An artist's paradise.
A city person would die here.
For the rest of us, it is where we were meant to be.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Do Two Negatives Make One Positive?

The Jewish calendar has never been one for the faint of heart, and in true Jewish fashion, the schedule of Israeli holidays isn't much different.
In the past eight days, we marked the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Veterans Memorial Day and tonight, Independence Day.
When one considers the fact that the number eight in Jewish numerology (refer to the Cabala) signifies eternity, this comes as no surprise. From death in Europe, to death in the Middle East, ultimately came new life to a Jewish state, one that has taken more than two thousand years to bring forth anew in the Holy Land.
Yes, it is a lousy state in many ways. The legendary bureaucracy here puts a new spin on the word "insanity". The lack of compassion expressed in the inadequate social support system for the weak and infirm is stunningly cruel. Those who deal with families who are forced to rely on the government system can be cold and uncaring to the point of sadistic at times. Saddest of all, the laws that were established to ensure safety for Jews the world over have been twisted to allow vicious anti-semites to come and suck precious economic and other resources from a system barely able to handle the burden of feeding those it was really created for.
But when the siren sounded at 11:00 am this morning, to commemorate those who have fallen in the line of duty, I stood in silence together with the entire nation.
I heard later from another of my taxi driver buddies (I am beginning to realize that really I know quite a few) that in Jerusalem, many did NOT stand. Certain Chassidic groups, Arabs, far left-wingers.... who knows. It was a sad sign of the times; the unity with which this country won the Six Day War has long since passed as a shadow in the wind. Everything changes, however -- even that disrespect.
My daughters informed me this afternoon that in their classes, only half of the girls did not stand. The others (my daughters included, of course) stood proudly, quietly, giving honor to those who died protecting their right to live here. Perhaps it is a sign of new times coming.
Today, Independence Day, is the culmination of the tears that marked the flames of Europe and their journey to the battlefields of Israel. So many have died for our right to live.
Isn't it time for us to put the family feud aside for a while?
After all, we have the rest of eternity to beat our plowshares back into swords if we really have to.....

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Hate in Arad

Anti-semitic hate crime, once found only in the Diaspora, has come to Arad.

Staff members at the Or Menachem Chabad Elementary School were horrified to discover this past Sunday night that the small school had been severely damaged by anti-semitic vandals over the Pesach holiday.

According to eye witnesses, huge swathes of "gosh" paint covered walls, desks, and equipment, drenching "everything in sight". Files and other papers were ripped to pieces and thrown all over the classrooms and offices. Tables and chairs were broken, windows smashed and siddurim ripped up and strewn on the ground.

The scene was discovered when teachers arrived to prepare their classrooms for the resumption of lessons on Monday.

The graffiti was the most disturbing, said teachers, hatred spewing with every word spray-painted all over the walls. Epithets attacking the teachers and Jews in general were coupled with crosses and swastikas on the walls of the school and in the classrooms.

Huge swathes of different colored paints were flung at the walls and floors of the offices and classrooms. Tables and chairs were broken and scattered around the school which houses classrooms for girls in grades 1 through 8. Equipment was completely painted over so as to destroy it. The school's new computer was stolen, as was all the money from the tzedaka pushkas. Files, papers and siddurim were ripped to pieces and strewn on the floors of the classrooms and on the ground outside, according to eye witnesses.

Arad Mayor Moti Brill was called to the scene by police investigating the case, "because the scene was just that horrific. Almost every police officer was called out for this one," noted one source. However, neither police officials nor the Mayor could be reached for comment on the investigation.

Teachers and other staff spent most of the night and all day Monday trying to clean up the mess; the graffiti was so vicious and the damage so bad that school officials did not allow the children to approach the school for fear of further traumatizing them. Instead they were redirected to the nearby Community Center for the day. Several older boys from the yeshiva were also asked to paint over the obscenities, insults and filth "to prevent the children from being exposed to such language" as one teacher said.

The school, Or Menachem Chabad, is a small girls' elementary school located in the Halamish neighborhood, close to the center of town where many of the Russian immigrants have begun new lives in recent years. Some 45% of the total population in Arad is comprised of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Of those, say Jewish community members, at least half are not halachically Jewish. One long-term resident complained that "many came here using loopholes created by the Law of Return, claiming one Jewish grandparent, simply to escape the economic hardships in the former Soviet Union."

"Anti-semitism is alive and well in Arad," he noted. "Many of my Russian Jewish friends have warned me – and others -- about the hate-filled time bomb ticking away in our midst".

A new immigrant from North America commented, "My children have never been exposed to anti-semitism before. We had to come to Israel for them to learn what we believed we left in the Diaspora."

The school has been the scene of several such attacks in the past year, most recently a few weeks before Pesach, in addition to a number of break-ins and robberies. The language of the graffiti has changed, noted one staff member. "First it was in Russian. This time, everything was scrawled in Hebrew." Each time, the police were called and an investigation was promised.

No progress has been made to date and all sources for this story asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Pre-Passover at the Zol-Po

"Are we really going then?" Dan sipped his coffee and regarded me with mild interest. It was 8:15 am and we were sitting at our new coffee place in the little shopping center in Arad.
The past three days of Passover cleaning had really done me in. My 14 year old had almost finished the job. And now I had to go shopping for the last big push before the cooking ritual was to begin.
The preferred venue for those Orthodox shoppers who are "in the know" -- and who are willing to brave the bus or who have access to a car -- is the "Zol Po" (Cheap Here) supermarket in Beersheva. It is one of the few places here in the south where I can find meat with the proper kosher supervision, without it costing me the life of my last-born child. I dreaded the trip, knowing how much I had to buy and how little strength I had left to carry it, but I had no choice.
"Yes. I have to drop off my husband's dry cleaning and then we will catch the bus."
"Right. Then I will go to buy my newspaper and meet you at the station.
The trip to Beersheva went smoothly. Zol-Po was another matter.
"What IS this??? Is this a normal way to behave???? DON'T PUT YOUR HANDS ON ME!!"
Pre-Passover gets everyone, and the hareidi man in one of the checkout lines was no exception. We could hear him as we walked into the store, screaming, gesturing wildly, with two shorter, smaller men trying to calm him down. He didn't want to be calmed. I headed down the first aisle. Dan went down the next one.
One hour later with shopping cart piled high, it finally got to me too. The fibromyalgia I had been fighting off caught up with me and I sagged against the cart, feeling totally drained. I knew I had to find a place to sit down, fast.
"Where's Dan?" I muttered. I could not see him anywhere. "Look outside," I told myself. "He probably finished a long time ago and is hanging out reading the paper." Which he was. I congratulated myself for my acumen and asked him to come and help with the cart at the checkout counter. Just as we got there, my legs gave out.
"I need a chair," I told a worker. She pointed to an empty cashier's chair and I gratefully sank down, putting my head on the counter in front of me. The world was spinning and I could not move my body at all. Everything hurt.
"Drink some water," the worker urged. "Here, give her this," the cashier at the next counter said. Someone handed me a cold diet Sprite. "Drink, mamaleh," she urged. "Drink." I drank.
Dan had meanwhile taken control of the checkout situation.
I was miserable, feeling guilty for having dragged him all the way to Beersheva only to have to do my work for me. He ignored me, placidly packing the groceries into the bags. The woman behind him started nagging the cashier. "Can't you move it a little faster?" she demanded, baby carriage up against Dan's legs. "I'm in a hurry."
"This man is almost finished," the cashier soothed her.
"Well, can't you just ring up the rest of his things??"
The cashier gestured to the chaos on her counter. "There is no room to do that yet. These things need to be packed first." Israeli checkout counters are the smallest in the world, serving a population with large families and short tempers. It is not a good combination.
"Just push them over," the woman persisted. The baby gurgled happily.
Now the cashier ignored her, but finally Dan could not.
"I, too had to wait in line. Have some patience," he counseled her.
"Well I am in a VERY big hurry," she snapped back.
"So am I," he replied shortly. And turned his back, sliding me a glance. One corner of his mouth lifted ever so slightly.
I was amazed and, I confess, perversely pleased. Dan never loses it. I envy him that. But today he finally allowed his Israeli side to see the light of day and it was a pleasure to watch. Half the bottle gone, I straightened up slowly and handed it back to the cashier. "Take some more," she said. I shook my head. "Sure?" I nodded. She smiled.
My groceries came to exactly what I had left, minus the paper goods, plastic plates, bowls, "silverware", cups and shredded coconut. Now we had two full shopping carts -- and Dan's contention that he could carry everything vanished suddenly.
"We are never going to be able to get this to the bus," I groaned. "What are we going to do?"
"I wondered when this might occur to you," Dan said. "Other than the meat, we did not need to buy all this here. We could have gone to the Mega store in Arad." (That had been his first choice for this trip, which I had nixed because I could not get my meat, chicken and havdalah candle there.) I reminded him that the prices were 30% cheaper here, and I was buying for 14 people, not two. "Right," he agreed.
We headed to the door, me wondering what to do and Dan drifting ahead unconcerned. "Don't worry. We will just wheel the things over to the bus."
That stopped me in my tracks. "You can't do that." I was appalled. "The carts belong to the store. They will never let you do it."
"I don't think they can stop us," he said calmly.
"Of course they can!!" I could not believe we were having this conversation. "The security guard will stop you. They will kill us and we will not have our groceries." I was exhausted, in a lot of pain and frantic.
"Don't worry," he repeated with quiet confidence. (Dan does everything quietly. I have no idea how.) And he sailed on through the door and just pushed the carriage toward the bus station nearby. As I neared the sidewalk, a young man greeted me warmly. He is a nice guy who accepts spare change from people as they leave the store. For very little indeed, he had always helped me with my packages, unloading the cart and placing them carefully on my arms so I could walk to the bus station in relative comfort.
This time I was in trouble and I knew it. I also knew that perhaps he could help us out. "Can I ask you a favor?" I appealed. "I need to get these things to the bus station and there is no way I can carry it all, and neither can my friend. Can you perhaps come with us and then return the shopping carts for us?"
Big grin. "No problem!" He took the cart from me and started after Dan, who was already way ahead of us. "Why didn't you pack it into boxes?" he asked me. "That would have been easier to take on the bus." It had not occurred to me, of course. There was no way I could carry even one box, let alone four.
He could see I was a novice. "Look," he said patiently. "You pack the groceries into the boxes. You put the boxes into the cart. You take it to the bus station and you load it into the baggage compartment under the bus. (Oh, THAT was what those large doors were for!) Then either you take it back to the store, or someone else does it. That's what I do." He grinned again. "And sometimes I don't." He stopped at a kiosk and grabbed a few boxes. "Take more! Take as many as you want!" the girl at the counter laughed.
"You take the boxes and go to the bus," he ordered. "I will get the groceries and your friend and I will pack them. Then I will put them into the baggage compartment." I went to the bus, arms heaped with boxes. "Thank G-d," I murmured. The bus driver was our friend from the morning run. He leads trips to North America every year and enjoys telling me about them in English. He was the one who helped me carry my six-foot curtain rods onto his bus three days ago. I was relieved to see him hurrying over to me now.
"Do you need help?" He looked concerned.
I wasted no words. "Yes."
He opened the big heavy baggage doors and then emptied my hands. I love this guy.
Meanwhile our friend from Dimona was packing more boxes as Dan handed him the groceries. The friend handed off to our bus driver, who lifted them into the baggage compartment. What a team.
When we got to Arad, our driver wanted to know how we were getting to my house with all those groceries. I told him I would probably have to take a taxi. "Hm. Well, let's see. It's 1:45 now. I do the Number One route at 3:30.... it's a bit of a wait, but...."
I was touched. Here he was in the middle of a work day, worrying about how I would get my groceries home. This really happens only in Arad. I can remember a time when it would have happened almost anywhere in Israel, but in today's hustle-bustle world, only Arad has retained that intimate quality of everyone helping each other get by.
"Thanks," I said. "It'll be okay. My daughter is working as the dispatcher today. I will call her and tell her to send someone over." He looked relieved. He knows I have fibromyalgia and I could see that was on his mind.
Back in the taxi, I asked Dan how he had known we could just walk those shopping carts away from the store like that.
"I saw everyone else doing it," he replied. "No one gave it a thought."

Monday, April 18, 2005

Goldy and Zalmy, two of my kids, are here with one of the Raiton boys from Telz Stone in a shot from December 2004. They are examining a rotem tree (scrubby desert pine) which grows in the desert. Posted by Hello

This is a view from a Roman tollbooth guarding a Byzantine highway from Arad to the Dead Sea. This shot was taken in December 2004; who would think that barely two months later, it would be sprouting with greenery and a month after that, bursting with color from hundreds of different delicate flowers! The place is called Tzuk Tamrur, and it is located on the road that winds down to the Dead Sea from Arad. It's about fifteen minutes away from my house. Posted by Hello


Ah, Arad. Everyone has a story here.
"Did you forget about me?" asked a voice plaintively. My cell phone practically vibrated with pathos as I was riding home on the bus from Beersheva.
"Of course not!" I quickly replied, having NO idea who it was.
"This is (garble garble) from the curtain store. You need to pick up the curtain rods. I have no room for them here." The heavy Russian accent blurred his name, but I remembered him. Naftali had come with me to the little square of stores near the souk so I could get curtain rods. The house has been looking a little naked lately, and it is time to remedy that.
The man at the store was an old Russian man -- 80, to be exact -- a survivor of the Holocaust and some horrible family traumas as well, which he proceeded to share with us, tears in his eyes. He was angry at Naftali for praising men who learn Torah all day, rather than work at regular jobs. (Naftali recently survived an attempt on his life so he has been leaning toward the holy side of late.)
"My grandmother of blessed memory, worked till her nose dropped off." He pantomimed the action for us. "Her husband, my grandfather, sat there and learned Torah, never worked a day in his life, never earned a single piaster of his own, never ate even one crumb of bread he earned himself. My grandmother raised 14 children and worked till she died. Her husband sat there. And learned. And learned." The tears threatened to rush.
"G-d forgive me, but I do not forgive him. Not now, not ever. What he did to my grandmother was unforgiveable. And her son, my father, remembered it all. When he grew up, he worked very hard to support us all, my mother too. He was a great man."
Naftali tried to cut in, but fortunately, the man ignored him. I was relieved; I wanted to kick him to make him shut up. He had no idea what he was about to mess with here, and I had no way to explain it to him -- even if I could have gotten him to understand, which I wasn't sure I could.
"When I grew up and got married, I also worked. I started this store and worked all my life to support my family too. That is how it should be. A man should support his family, not make his wife work so hard%

Thursday, April 14, 2005


We could hear the shrill accusation across the furniture store where Dan and I were shopping for his new apartment.
"I SAID YOU ARE ALL PIGS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" The woman was in a rage, pointing her finger and screaming at the store manager as we sat together discussing the details of our transaction. "YOUR MOTHER WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO MARRY YOU OFF!!!"
Her voice sent scribbles up my spine. I wanted to get in her face. Only Jews curse like this. No, wait. That is not entirely true. Bedouin Arabs also do.
The manager ignored her as she continued to rant and rave, epithets flying as we walked toward the back of the store to examine another sofa. Rabbi Lipsker, the Chief Rabbi of Arad, was standing with another man, talking quietly throughout all the noise. I greeted him warmly – his brother Eli had been my adopted big brother when I was in college, my life in total chaos and my brain spinning with conflict. Eli had helped me straighten my life out.
"How are you, Rabbi Lipsker?" I said politely. "I want to push this woman’s face in."
He lifted his hands in a majestic gesture of tolerance. "What can you do? She is not well." The store manager nodded. Barely a minute before, he had told me the same. "We can’t lock her up, after all," he had said. "She is ill, poor woman. You are new to Arad. You will get to know her. She wanders around the town, stopping into our store, the banks, the supermarket."
I turned to Dan. "This is how you know we are living in a Jewish country. Consider this situation, and play it in New York. Or London if you like," I added, mindful of Dan’s loyalties.
"She would certainly have been put away in either city," he agreed.
We looked at another sofa and a children’s bedroom set.
The woman continued to spew curses at people in the store. She aimed a particularly nasty one at the Russian sales lady, who tried to shoo her out of the store quietly. No dice. And I got the feeling that if the manager had not been there, the sales lady would not have been nearly as gentle in her remonstrances. The Soviets did not teach tolerance.
We went back to the front of the store, Dan to get his checkbook and me to look at a catalogue of children’s bedroom sets. The woman had planted herself defiantly on an easy chair, glaring at everyone and daring the manager to throw her out.
It was that last that suddenly brought me to my senses. Something really was wrong, something so sad and terrible that this woman did not want to live. I felt bad for wanting to beat her up. "What kind of a social worker are you?" I berated myself. "Where is your compassion?" I promised myself to do better next time. I was hoping there would not be a next time.
By the time Dan got back, I was thoroughly chastened. He had no idea what had subdued me. The woman was still there, albeit somewhat quieter. Another couple of rounds, one more screaming match with the Russian sales lady, a final stern reminder from the manager, and at last she had enough. Tossing her head, she swept out of the store, threats trailing into the wind.
The manager smiled. The Russian sales lady went back to her customers. Dan and I looked at each other, then got up to go.
Just another day in the south of Israel.

Madame Model

It was the flash of color I caught in the corner of my eye.
She was just out of range and moving closer, like the East Coast hurricanes that come up the coast each autumn. As she came into view I gazed with the childish fascination that has always been my Achilles heel.
Long, smoothly muscled thighs blessed with no cellulite graced a six-foot frame that rivaled The Mod Squad itself, but it was the item below that had drawn my attention.
Tall, tall boots, shocking bubblegum pink patent leather delicately enslaved by two fake diamond ropes criss-crossing the top of her feet took my breath away. The boots went over the top of the knee cap, with big tin buckles locking the ankles and 4-inch silver spike heels that guarded her tinsel soles. They screamed at me.
The rest of the ensemble wasn’t much different. A white spandex version of the "little black dress" hugged her body. "At least her underwear is covered", I muttered, "but I definitely would NOT wear such a garment with that kind of an ass" – you know, the small-and-skinny-but-sort-of-droopy kind. A short jeans jacket at least partially hid the plunging neckline (why do they call it a NECK line when it so clearly isn’t?). A loud cotton-candy colored chiffon scarf hung over that.
"Makeup and hair courtesy of The Rocky Horror Picture Show", I muttered again.
Short, spiky black-dyed hair with its gel sparkling under the mall lights framed her face. Large hooded eyes were made larger with blue-black eyeshadow and heavy black eyeliner and mascara and the lines of her face were made almost gaunt thanks to muddy blush (rouge, my mother called it). It was clear that this young woman had never had the benefit of modern-day orthodontics in childhood; the narrow jaw did nothing to enhance her long white teeth, not quite contained in the black-lined lips stained purple.
Dan had not even noticed until I pointed her out to him. With restrained amusement, he asked politely if that was what I had been staring at. I could not believe that he had totally missed it.
"She looks like she is trying to be a model," I said. "Maybe she is? Or maybe just a wannabe," I added, a little crestfallen.
"More likely the latter," Dan commented. He is the master of understatement, an Israeli who spent his adolescence and adulthood in England. He was trained by the best. You can tell.
We were sitting at a café in the Negev Mall in Beersheva, sipping coffee and congratulating ourselves and each other on the salad and salmon we had chosen in deference to our new diet. I love people-watching and Thursday had been no exception. As we shared our pains and our pleasures while giving our agonized feet a break, I had been recounting with relish the deal I had just cut on a purchase in the Bedouin market. The vendor (a Bedouin, naturally) had started at 100 NIS on a feenjon that was definitely not worth the price, but one that I liked.
"So I started to walk away," I was telling Dan (who had gracefully excused himself when I began to haggle and silently drifted away from that embarrassing American woman), "and the guy called me back. He came down to 90, which was ridiculous. I told him 50. He refused and said I had no idea what a valuable article this was, a "real" Bedouin coffee pot. I laughed. And told him that I lived in Drijet (a so-far "unrecognized" Bedouin village in the south of Israel). Of course he did not believe me, but chuckled and said he knew a lot of people there. So I chuckled too, and asked him if he knew the Abu Hamad family and if so, which one. Suddenly his eyes changed in some imperceptible way and he brought the price much closer, to 65. Of course I still refused and insisted on the 50, and said so in Arabic. That must have been the clincher, because he immediately came down to 50. ("yahLAH! Because you are ONE OF US!") I had such fun!!"
Dan had just asked what my husband Sinai would say to my new purchase. "Oh, he won’t even know for a while," I said airily. "He will kill me for spending money when we are so broke, especially this close to Pesach. I will just ditch it in the closet and then put it in the kitchen when he is not around. He will never notice it, trust me."
Madame Model was giving her escort a run for his money, literally. A good six inches shorter, he was nonetheless broad-shouldered and muscular, the breadth of his chest emphasized by the heavy India cotton v-neck pullover. He feigned interest in every piece of jewelry she examined – and she examined them all, in each of the three stores ringing the cafe.
I could not for the life of me take my eyes off that scene, my gaze returning to the glitter every few minutes. Dan was vastly amused, pointing out mildly that there was nothing very special about this young woman; she certainly was not beautiful in any way, certainly not in face and not even in form.
Poor Dan. I was obsessed. "Are you STILL thinking about those boots?" he finally asked with some incredulity. He just did not understand my childish nature so I decided to explain it to him.
"Look," I told him, "I have always loved glitter, even as a little girl. This is just a more grown-up version of it. I know it is gaudy... " my voice trailed off at his expression, a funny mixture of amusement and disbelief.
"Tacky, more to the point," he murmured.
"Alright already." I was still involved in watching the jewelry expedition. A saleslady was giving it her all, miming her client fastening the necklace at her throat, gesturing with bracelet in hand and talking up a storm. Said client did not appear impressed, bending to pick up a pair of earrings with apparent disinterest. A few minutes later, they were out and heading for the next display case, this time checking out the fancy watches.
"You are REALLY very taken with this woman, aren’t you?" Dan said in distaste. It was palpable, in fact, and I did my best to rein it in. "Yes. But I will behave now." I smiled at him. It was time to go anyway. We still had to shop for a sofa for Dan’s new apartment and still had to be back in time to actually sign the lease.
We headed toward the mall entrance, droopy ass and bubblegum boots gone but not forgotten – at least by me.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Hey, that's me! Posted by Hello

My kids love Zarifi. They especially love her "khobez" -- Bedouin pita bread. I learned how to make it and bake that first week I stayed in the village, and throwing a twig on the coals was all I needed to do to make that fire mine. When my family came to Israel to live, we spent our first month living with Zarifi, her husband Younis (my first Bedouin friend), two of their kids (the others were already married) and various assorted grandchildren. Goldy and Zalmy, pictured here with Zarifi and breakfast on the move, learned how to get up at the crack of dawn to ensure they got their fair share. Posted by Hello

My Bedouin sister Zarifi in a moment of reflection. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Dust Storm

A couple of days ago the sky blocked the sun, transforming it into a faint white disk hanging weakly above the hills. The air was caramel-colored and the wind whipped around our yard, knocking over lawn chairs, children... anything unanchored, basically.
Our dog Sussi had enough sense to lay low, only her nose raised, eyes squinting with cautious curiosity.
"It's a summer wind," my ten year old explained, shouting above the roar of the dry gale. The boy from across the street nodded agreement with my 7 and 8 year olds following suit. "It means that this is the first day of summer," he added.
I have always thought of dust storms as transitory events that happen only in the Midwestern Plains in the U.S. An hour or two, no more -- but not here in the vortex of the universe.
Like everything else in Israel, this storm was more intense, lasted longer and felt like an ancient memory welling up from my soul, one that reminding me of the trek from Egypt to the thunder of the Ten Commandments.
The storm lasted all day long and into the night, covering leaves and flowers with a dusty, flour-like coat. Greenhorn that I am, I found it fascinating, its cool wind outweighing the bother of the sand. So like a fool I left my bedroom windows open, all of them, screens rattling, storm howling and the dog silent in the face of its fury. I fell asleep to its music, in fact -- only to awaken an hour later because it was difficult to breathe.
Belatedly I remembered Zarifi, my Bedouin sister, closing the metal shutters regardless of the temperature outside when the dust storms raged through the village. Too warm inside? Live with it, baby. The alternative was my current ability to breathe freely as she well knew, not to mention the film now gracing the walls, floor and furniture in our house.
I tend to learn the hard way and it sometimes takes a while till the lesson sinks in.
My husband, on the other hand, is smarter. He got up and closed the windows.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Running For The Bus

The Number 5 bus from the Central Bus Station to Ben Gurion University in Beersheva was at the bus stop and I was still 100 feet away. I made a run for it; in Arad, the driver would have seen me and STOPPED TO LET ME ON. Not so this time.
In Beersheva, where the local Metropol bus drivers have been on strike for months now, protesting their minimum wage salaries with no benefits, drivers who ARE working have become hardened to humanity.
It is an unusual behavior for Israeli bus drivers, who are known for their friendly and accommodating attitude. Or maybe it's just the Egged drivers who are that way, I don't know. I have never ridden with another company until I started working in Beersheva.
I really needed to catch that bus, and I was irritated that the driver was looking right at me and still planning to drive right by. So I stepped out in front of the bus. I figured, if I block him, he will be forced to stop. And if he has to stop, he has to let me on.
It was a power struggle, but he finally gave in because I behaved like an Israeli. I wouldn't give up and I didn't give in. At last the door opened. "Next time I might just run you over, no matter what you do," he greeted me sourly.
"I don't understand you," I replied with some asperity of my own. "I am RIGHT THERE, literally a few feet away, you have barely pulled away from the curb, and you can't even stop like a mentsch to let me on? What IS this??!!!"
He then explained that the bus is really run by a computer which effectively locks the doors once he has closed them after the last passenger boards. There is a seven-second delay programmed before it will reopen so the driver can't just stop to let anyone on...
Uh huh. Interesting buses this company uses, I said. But it still did not explain his hard-boiled attitude, and I told him so.
"Look," he said. "I am working 12 hour days just to make a minimal salary, one that any cleaning lady can make. (I could relate to that; my husband is in the same boat, but he travels almost an hour each way to and from work.) "The guys who are on strike, they haven't worked for months. I don't know how they are living. But I can't afford to do that. It has been almost two years since I have had a job. They hired me because the regular driver is on strike. My family is desperate."
I didn't want to point out that some people would call him a scab -- but a moment later, I didn't have to. "You wouldn't believe some of the things people say to me," he added sadly. "An old lady spit at me, another cursed me out. Even kids. Teens now are not what we were. I would never have dared to speak to an adult, much less a stranger, the way these kids so casually do today, without even a flicker of conscience." I agreed with him there. I had seen it for myself on the same bus the week before. The kids were absolute pigs, nasty too.
"After a while," he continued, "you don't trust anyone and you don't like anyone either. You just want to get through the day and go to sleep and forget it all. That is what this country has come to. That is what we have been driven to."
I was shocked and saddened. True, I had seen some of this myself; but I never expected to hear it so bluntly from a bus driver. Now I knew something was seriously, badly wrong here.
"This can't last," I said. "There is an anger, a sense of hopelessness and a loss of focus and ideals, that is killing this country. Something has got to give."
"Hope it's soon," he said. "Don't know where we will be if it doesn't." When we got to the university, I quietly wished him well. He smiled, the first one I had seen on the trip. "Have a nice day," he said.
I was glad to get home to Arad, where the bus driver still stops when he sees me running, regardless of where in the street I am -- where my kids can still get on the bus if they don't have the fare, and are told by the driver to have their mom drop by the bus station later to pay for the trip.
In Arad, the drivers are friendly and regardless of how bad things get, they can always find some kind of word of hope to tell you, to let you know that in the long run, it's all in G-d's Hands anyway. And He is big enough to handle it.
Nice to be back in Arad.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Spring in the Northern Negev

Winter rains are giving way to early morning sunshine, bringing forth a burst of color here in the northern Negev. The hills are carpeted with emerald grasses, munched daily by the flocks of sheep and goats who wander past our wadi with their young Bedouin shepherds. So many different kinds of flowers, all of them bright and beautiful, that I hardly know where to look first. It won't last long, however. In scarcely six more weeks, the spiky purple thistle will be dried up and brown -- just in time for the savvy desert dweller to pry it open and enjoy the edible kernel that rests within. Another secret taught to me by the children in the Bedouin village of Deragot.
A short green shrub is now out in full bloom as well; roll its small leaves between your fingers and the oily substance suddenly sends the scent of camphor into your lungs, clearing them of any congestion. It's a great remedy for colds, flu and bronchitis, especially if you make it into a tea (which I did as an experiment).
The wild chamomile is there too. In fact, you don't really need to be hungry in the desert; you just need to know where to find the food.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005