Gaza Rockets, Bomb Shelters and Rock Music

20 Jul

Events unfold so fast in the Middle East, you need to hit the “pause” button on the TV remote to slow down the action.  Just four weeks ago, three Israeli teenage boys were kidnapped and killed by Arab terrorists.  Just two weeks ago, a group of Jewish boys kidnapped an Arab boy and killed him in revenge.  In this part of the world that’s ancient history.  Today, we’re into day 13 of operation “Protective Edge,” an all out war between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza.

Don’t ask who started it.  If you’re Arab, the Israelis started it.  If you’re Israeli, the Arabs started it.

entrance to public bomb shelter

entrance to public bomb shelter

Hamas launches rockets into Israel, day and night.

Israel’s warplanes pound targets in Gaza.  A ground offensive of tanks and infantry went in.  Casualties, although disproportionate, are mounting on both sides.

A crane lowers a small public bomb shelter to the ground

Media coverage in Israel is round-the-clock.  Network television updates viewers minute-by-minute.  Commentators and experts abound.  Psychologists speak of ways to help children deal with anxiety. On the radio, songs are played occasionally, often interrupted by the military: “Red Alert!  Red Alert!”

That’s the signal to run for your life.

Israeli villages, towns, kibbutzim near Gaza have 15 to 30 second to run for cover before the Hamas-launched rockets fall.  Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are farther away.  People there have 60 to 90 seconds.  I live in Galilee – too far from Gaza.

There are bomb shelters of every kind, variety.  Israelis stranded outdoors can run for cover inside public bomb shelters made of reinforced concrete and steel.  In my house there’s a bomb shelter at the lower level.  Like most Israelis, during periods of quiet, the shelter is used up as an extra bedroom or storage room.

Huddled inside the restaurant bomb shelter

Huddled inside the restaurant bomb shelter

All single family homes must have them, at the least the newer homes.  Apartment buildings have them.  Theaters have them.  Restaurants have them.  Some can accommodate just a handful of people, others can accommodate hundreds.  It’s a way of life.  Security is all around you.

Earlier this week I went to visit my father and mother, and my sister, in Bat-Yam, a seaside town bordering Tel Aviv.  It felt strange to hear their stories of near-misses, stories of explosions, and sonic-booms.  They spoke of how “Iron Dome” — Israel’s missile defense shield, was able to knock out Hamas rockets out of the sky.  It was strange, because for once, my village in Galilee was in the clear – no longer the target of rockets coming in from Hezbollah in Lebanon.

But the rockets did not stop us from arranging to meet at Cafe Joe for breakfast the next morning.  Cafe Joe is on the beach, with views of the blue waters of the Mediterranean.  At that hour there were a few “crazies” like us who’d had enough of running and hiding.

Teenagers on Bat Yam beach after the bomb alert ended

Teenagers on Bat Yam beach after the bomb alert ended

We looked at th menus and ordered a sumptuous breakfast.  A faint siren sounded in the distance. The waitress rushed to our table.  “Alert!  Alert!” she said.  Within seconds we all assembled inside the restaurant’s bomb shelter.  Soft-drink bottles, jars, boxes, bags of coffee were all around us. Employees and diners spoke nervously. I stood next to my mother and sister, thinking this was mad.

The all-safe signal was given and we returned to our table, not before my brother-in-law took me outside and showed me the trail of smoke that the rocket had streaked across the sky.  The plume was white, puffy, like an innocent cloud.  Then it vanished. Blue skies again.

We went back in and finished our breakfast.

Israel’s “Home Front Command” is strict about its instructions on bomb-shelter maintenance. But during times of peace the shelters fall into neglect; they’re used to store mattresses, old bikes, unwanted furnishings.  But not today.  An extra-large bomb-shelter in Ashdod, Israel’s seaport town, and only 25 miles from Gaza, was converted into a live concert venue.   Residents of Ashdod, tired of being holed up in their homes and shelters came to watch and cheer Israeli rock bands.

Rockets might be flying.  Tanks might be rolling in the street of Gaza.

But the music must go on.

Welcome to the Middle East.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

 

 

Stop the Train – I want to get off!

6 Jul

The summer’s hot in Israel and I’m not talking about the weather.  Last month, three young Jewish boys in Judea and Samaria (West Bank) were kidnapped by Arab terrorists.  The terrorists murdered the boys and dumped them in a field.  Last week, an Arab teenage boy was kidnapped, his body burned.  Was it murder committed by Arabs?  Was an act of revenge committed by Jews for the three boys’ killing? The police is investigating.  Update: The Israeli police and secret service have made arrests; they believe it was a group of Jewish boys who’d killed the Arab boy.

Jerusalem Light Rail Map

Jerusalem Light Rail Map

Jews and Arabs relate to loss of life differently.  There’s no sugar-coating this difference.  The entire State of Israel was in mourning following the death of the three boys.  Whether you are on the left or on the right, every single Israeli felt as he had lost a son, a collective tragedy.  I don’t doubt the Arab boy’s mother is grieving.  But not the surrounding Arab community.

Jerusalem train during better days

Jerusalem train during better days

Instead, they took to the streets, hurled stones at Jews and security forces, burned tires, blocked streets, destroyed portions of the Jerusalem Light Rail that runs through their neighborhoods. To repair the trains will take months and cost millions.

Arab and Jewish passengers on train

Arab and Jewish passengers on train

To think that Arabs and Jews could live together; it’s naiveté that borders on stupidity.  Take the city of Jerusalem, for example.  Its eastern flank has been “united” with western Jerusalem since the Six Day War in 1967.  For decades, steps were taken to unite the city.  Israel’s tourist office, the city mayor, the media – they all speak of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city. Yet few advertise the fact that almost 40% of its population is Arab.

How would London, Paris, Washington, Tokyo be able to operate if 4 out of 10 of its residents were hostile or uncooperative?

Yet Jerusalem hides this fact.  It hopes against hope that “we can all get along.”  Arabs migrate from surrounding villages and towns to East Jerusalem.  There they intermarry, prosper and multiply.  Jews, in return, add more Jewish neighborhoods on hillsides in a game of one-upmanship.

Arabs vandalize Jerusalem train station

Arabs vandalize Jerusalem train station

The Jerusalem Light Rail, open for business since 2011, is the flagship of public transportation. It was to be the experiment to unite both sides of Jerusalem.  At 9 miles long, the slick, electric train makes its way through Arab and Jewish neighborhoods.  Each day, 130,000 passengers cross town.

Be careful of what you wish for.

Suddenly, for the past three years, Arabs who were confined to their homes could step out their front doors, hop on a modern train, and minutes later find themselves in fashionable shopping promenades, markets, city hall, university, and much more.  Now sitting inches apart on board the train, Muslim women wearing Hijabs to cover their faces stare at Orthodox Jewish men wearing shtreimel and tzitzit.

Arabs burn rubber and steel train tracks

Arabs burn rubber and steel train tracks

But if the Light Rail can be likened to an artery that meanders through the body, the blood cells (Jews and Arabs) are sick of each other.  They want to flow in separate bodies, in separate veins.

Poor Englishmen and poor Englishwomen board trains in East London to London’s West End and there’s no war at the end of the day.  The Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and there was no war.  There were Germans on both sides of the wall. During the Los Angeles Riots of  1992 Blacks burned down their own liquor stores, markets, gas stations to protest against years of neglect by the Whites on the Westside.  But at the end of the day, when the dust and smoke settled, there was a truce, rebuilding, hope.

Arabs demonstrating

Arabs demonstrating

Arabs and Jews share no common future.  The events of the last few weeks prove that.  The road to heaven is paved with good intentions, and although Jerusalem is in God’s backyard, heaven is a long way off.  The Arabs’ carnage of the Light Rail and other violent demonstrations are evidence that we’re different peoples.  We should disengage from each other.

My station is coming up.  I’m getting off.

What about you?

——————————————————————————————————————————————————

Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

 

 

 

 

 

 

Confessions of a World Cup Slob

21 Jun

Plates and cups clog the kitchen sink.  Empty beer bottles roll back and forth in the front yard.  Dirty, sweaty clothes pile up in the laundry room.  This is the life of a World Cup slob – me!

This is what the World Cup does to some men – turns them from Metrosexuals to Neanderthals.  The few times I looked at myself in the mirror the past 10 days, I don’t recognize the image.  The clean shave has been replaced by a prickly stubble; the eyes are bloodshot from staying up past 2 in the morning; the hair’s wild.Kitchen sink

What’s even better (worse?) is that I don’t have to report or answer to anyone.  Days before, my wife and daughters flew from Israel to  California for a summer vacation.

I have the entire house to myself!

During the World Cup, other than part-time work, I don’t do much.  Weeds sprout in the garden undisturbed.  The sun beats down on the uncovered lawn furniture.  My dog howls for attention.   The trash can in the kitchen smells.  Ants crawl on the countertop.  The toilet bowl has many colors;  white is not one of them.   The towels are crunchy.  The bed is unmade; the decorator pillows are on the floor.  The fridge releases an echo when open.

But I’m happy.

World Cup

World Cup

The Wold Cup – the celebration of football (soccer) – comes once every four years.  Over 160 nations compete to be in the Wold Cup.  Only 32 make it.  For me, it’s not just a celebration of the beautiful game; it’s a celebration of life.  Fans in the stadiums all over Brazil jump for joy, hug strangers, shed tears of victory or defeat.

For many fotballers, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.  They’re at the top of their game.  These superb athletes represent flag and country.  They fight with the skin of their teeth.  They defend, attack, score, pray, rejoice.  It’s the ultimate rush.

From the comfort of my armchair at home, I cheer and heckle, watch replays of goals in slow motion, somehow feel the unbearable Brazilian heat, the cold, the humidity, thirst, exhaustion.

pile of clothes

It’s great to hear old-timers speak of past World Cups: 1966 in London, 1970 in Mexico City, 1994 in the United States.

I AM such old-timer.  As a kid, I watched a Wold Cup game in 1966, on a black-and-white TV, in a crowded cafe in Rome, with my father.  I watched the 1970 Wold Cup on a giant screen at the Forum Sports Arena in Inglewood, California, again, with my father.  And I watched the 1994 World Cup in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl, live, with a friend.

On the radio recently some Israeli women complained that during the World Cup they had turned into “sports widows or girlfriends.”  The talk show host responded:  “Listen, women, once a month, you’re unavailable for a week.  Once every four years, men are unavailable.

Equal abuse for all.  Laundry

The Final is almost three weeks away, but already, the World Cup in Brazil is destined to be one of the best.

Come July 14, a day after the final, I promise to shave more often, to tak out the trash, to wash, to kill ants, to clear out the fridge.  But until then, I’ll remain a happy slob.

A final note from where I’m reporting: Israel did not qualify for the World Cup.  But no worry — if there’s ever an accountants World Cup, I’m sure Israel will win.

Until then, Israel can only dream of reaching this event, as shown in this YouTube clip.

 

——————————————————————————————————————————————————

Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beware, Lifeguard on Duty

8 Jun
Lifeguard Station in Bat-Yam closed for the evening

Lifeguard Station in Bat-Yam closed for the evening

Ask most people what’s their favorite vacation choice and most will say: the beach.  What is it about the beach that people love?  The powder-white sand, the salty air, the blue waters, the warm sun on your skin are all ingredients for a good, relaxing time.

But would you ever add a lifeguard to the mix?

I spent my young adult life 1/2 a mile from the Mediterranean.  I spent many years in my hometown Bat-Yam, literally translating into Daughter of the Sea, in Hebrew, or, more simply: Mermaid.

Growing up, the beach was part of our everyday lives.  It was just there, for the taking.  I could see the blue waters from the kitchen window, almost see sailboats near the horizon.

"Hasake" Life Boat

“Hasake” Life Boat

Some three decades later, I return to Bat Yam, to visit my aging parents, my sister, the beach.

And the lifeguards.

The lifeguards I knew as a child are long retired or they’re swimming with the fish in another universe.  The lifeguards in Bat Yam are a breed all of their own.  They hand over the whistle, the life vest and the hard-core training to the next generation.  They command the waters.  They rely on good eyesight, instinct, muscles, experience.   They rely on their “Hasake,” a giant, heavy surfboard with extra-long paddles to navigate the rough waters.

They’re perched like birds in their wooden lifeguard station at the water’s edge.  They peer into their binoculars to see who’s in trouble in the water.  They take turns eating.  And since they work long shifts, from early morning until evening, they take turns napping.

Bat Yam beach and skyline

Bat Yam beach and skyline

They’re family.

June is the kick-off month for summer in Israel.  Everyone’s itching to work on a bronze tan, to order coffee or a cold beer from the kiosk, to dig into a watermelon, to snooze to the sound of rushing waves.

But if you’re itching to get into the water, you’d better listen to the Bat Yam lifeguards, or else!

I’m lying on a lounge chair.  It’s almost 6 in the evening.  In a few minutes, the lifeguards will be off-duty.  This is what I hear on the LOUD-SPEAKER, much the same as I did more than 30 years ago:

ALLO!  ALLO!  Yes, you there in the red swim trunks – what do you think you’re doing?!

Sunset at Bat Yam Beach

Sunset at Bat Yam Beach

DUDE, yes, you, you, you, with the red swim trunks – What? you want to drown?

How many times have you heard me calling that the sea is very dangerous today?!

You, you, kid, KID, KID, – where’s your father?  Your mother?  What, you want to die?  Get out of the water. Now!

Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re closing shop.  We’re pulling the black flags from the water in five minutes.  No one’s going to watch over you.

ALLO!  Yes, yes, you with that funny green hat.  Didn’t you hear me?

Enjoying my childhood beach in Bat Yam

Enjoying my childhood beach in Bat Yam

Get out of the water.  Yes, yes.  What? You’re going deeper in the water as I’m talking to you?  YOU!  Don’t go macho on me.  I want to go home.  We all want to go home.  Come out of the water now.  After 6, when I’m home, you can go in all you want for all I care.  You, you – get out.

Lady, lady with the one-piece bathing suit with the polka dots, yes, yes you:  You found a great time to give swimming lessons to your boy.  Didn’t you hear?  The sea is rough.  D-A-N-G-E-R-O-U-S.  What don’t understand, lady with the polka dots?

Last warning, I’m going home.  I wanna go home.

OUT OF THE WATER.  THE SEA IS CLOSED!

The lifeguard’s “singing” is music to my ears.  I fold my towel, admire the setting sun.  Nothing’s changed.

Bat Yam lifeguards rule.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Price Tag” may prove costly for Israel

24 May

It’s long been said that extremists hijack the headlines.  Their message is raw, sexy, controversial.  Whatever they do and say is splashed in bold print in newspapers, on television, and online.  It’s true of fashion designers who shock us with vulgar clothes, with writers who punch us below the belt, with artists whose sole aim is to jolt rather than entertain.

Hate Slogans against Arabs

Hate Slogans against Arabs

Extremists in politics and religion are the most dangerous.  They might be few, they may not represent the majority, but their actions are deadly.  I’m talking about the right-winged men and women that live in the settlements of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria).  These men and women, typically orthodox Jews, get up in the dead of night, then cross into Arab villages.  Once there, they desecrate Moslem mosques, Arab homes and public buildings.   They spray-paint graffiti with the words: “PRICE TAG,” “DEATH TO ARABS,”  “ARABS ARE PIGS.”  The ‘price tag’ refers to taking revenge on Arabs’ terrorist acts against Jews.

It’s back to an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.

Burning an Arab's car

Burning an Arab’s car

Israel’s security forces is slow to react to these acts of violence.  This emboldens the Jewish settlers to venture even farther from their home and to widen their strikes.  Three month ago, Jewish men entered Gush Halab, a peaceful Arab village in Galilee, about an hour’s drive from my home.  At dawn, the settlers vandalized more than 50 cars, broke windows, punctured tires, sprayed messages of hate and escaped undetected.  Only this time the village security camera caught them in the act.  But since the men and women wore hoodies, they could not be identified.  And nothing became of it.

desecrated Christian tombstone

These extremists don’t tolerate anyone who’s not Jewish.  They hate Moslems and they hate Christians.  And they hate Jews who don’t think like them or support them.  They’ve gone as far as saying they’ll harm Israeli soldiers if they try to stop them.

Israel’s military is busy protecting its borders and people.  The police has its hands full with crime.  So, it seems, catching these Jewish terrorists is not a priority.  There’s fierce talk about it in the news.  Elite intelligence officers come on the show and condemn these acts.  They say they must catch these hoodlums before someone gets killed.  But little gets done.  I’m not saying that Israel’s security forces are looking the other way.  But it’s clear not enough manpower, resources, and urgency is spent on catching the attackers.

pope francis

Pope Francis

The attacks have crossed into the Green Line.  In other words, more and more assaults are committed in Israel proper: in Faradis, a Druze village near Haifa, an attack on a church in Beer-Sheba, cars smashed in Jaffa outside Tel-Aviv.

So far the Arabs are holding their fire.  They assembled protest marches through their villages.  They met with the Israeli media to show off the damage.  And their restraint.  They’re good at public relations.  It’s doubtful the Moslem elders and sheiks will be able to hold back the young for long.

I’m worried that if these men aren’t caught and brought to justice, and punished — the situation will escalate.

Pope Francis is due to arrive in Jerusalem tomorrow.  A lot will be on the agenda.  It is only 20 years ago that the Vatican recognized the State of Israel.  The Vatican has still to atone for the Christian atrocities upon Jews through the ages.  The Pope will want to continue to strengthen the bridge between Christianity and Judaism.  But I’m sure he will raise his concerns over attacks on churches in the Holy Land.

Jerusalem is welcoming the Pope.  Flags of peace are everywhere.  White doves will be released into the sky.

Extremists of any persuasion: Arabs, Jews, Christians, atheists  – they all belong in the extreme corner of jail.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Independence Day Up in Smoke

10 May

“Beef!  It’s what’s for dinner.”  This famous American slogan  played out on TV for many years would do very well in Israel.  If it were up to most Israelis, they’d eat beef for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Somehow, beef is all the rage.

Independence Day BBQ

Independence Day BBQ

Earlier this week, the State of Israel celebrated its 66th birthday.  During this Independence Day, stores are closed.  Banks are closed.  Malls are closed.  But mouths are open wide.

For Meat.  Beef.  Turkey.  Chicken.  Liver.  Sausage.

It wasn’t always like this.  When I was growing up, beef was a luxury, consumed in small portions, and on special occasions.  On Independence Day, I watched the military parade on a black-and-white TV set, felt proud to hear the Israeli fighter jets streak overhead.  At night we watched fireworks ignite the black sky.  And then, using our precious allowance, my friends and I would splurge on a falafel.  And if we really wanted to go to town, we ate corn on the husk, and washed it all down with raspberry soda.  That’s as “independent” as we got during Independence Day.BBQ1

The Israel I knew changed.  A recent newspaper article showed Israel’s population as little as 4 million just 30 years ago.  Today, it’s double that, at 8 million.  The average annual salary then was $7,000.  Today it’s $35,000.

And with money comes an appetite for meat.

Israel’s version of Master Chef on TV, along with other reality shows, are fanning the flames on the BBQ pit.  Everyone can tell you about the latest roast beef recipe.  Many know the parts of the cow much too intimately; professionals will tell you which is best for grilling, stewing, frying.  “Medium rare, Medium, Well Done,” are words that get thrown around in English, not Hebrew.BBQ

Supermarkets and butchers stock up for the Independence Day rush.  The grilling takes place on every available spot in this small land.  Parks are overrun with crowds.  Families sit on top of each other.  Animals in Nature Reserves run for cover.  Grilling smoke might make your eyes water, but, hey, you’ve got a piece of steak hanging from your mouth.

Supply can’t keep up with demand, even at high prices.  So recently Israel is lowering the import tax on cattle.  Calves under 400 pounds (200 kilo) will be imported tax-free.  I’m sure the cows and bulls are not happy.  I doubt they can complain.  Thousands are put on ships in Australia, kept at sea for weeks at a time, and unloaded in Israel.  Here, the cows are released on to pastures, fattened up, and slaughtered as adults.  New Zealand, wanting to break away from Australia’s inhumane policy, does not export live cattle.BBQ3

We’re invited to a friend’s house for Independence Day party.  It’s early afternoon, and telling by everyone’s excitement, many had skipped breakfast.  Beef steaks,chicken skewers, spiced-up kebab, and chorizo sausages are on the menu.  A few vegetable skewers are on display for the weak-at-heart.  Several come to the grill, as if to let the smoke soak their clothes, their faces, their nostrils.

“Where’s the salad?” I ask.

“What?”  “What!”

“Just kidding, really.”

————————————————————————————————————————————-

Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

 

 

My bed is your bed for $100

27 Apr

It’s Passover.  Every year we celebrate the Jewish holiday as hosts or guests.  Now into our third year in Israel, my wife and I, and my twin teenage daughters, decided to celebrate the Passover dinner in Jerusalem.  Hotels hike the prices to the max during the holiday season; typically they double the nightly rate.  And since there’s four of us (2 hotel rooms), it means that we would not be “free” but rather “slaves” once again, to our credit card.

The other option is to book an apartment in Jerusalem.  From strangers.  For 2 nights.  So that’s how the travel website AIRBNB came to the rescue.  Since I booked the apartment two months ahead of time, and since the owners wanted to rent their place, we were able to secure a daily rate of about $100.

Our Jerusalem apartment hosts

Our Jerusalem apartment hosts

What a deal!

This is not the first time we stay at other people’s home for a fee.  We routinely travel from Galilee to Tel Aviv, see the town, catch a show, stroll the beach, dine at cafes, and a night or two later, we trek back home.  The apartments come fully furnished, the kitchen comes fully stocked with utensils, dishes, coffee maker, fridge, stove top.  The bed linens are clean, the towels are a little rough and worn.  The “artwork” on the walls is mostly posters of young couples holding umbrellas in the rain, or wild horses grazing in green meadows.  But for $150 a night in Tel Aviv, it’s considered a bargain.   The Tel Aviv apartments are devoid of the owners’ personal belongings.  You get a stripped-down apartment, much like a time-share.

But not in Jerusalem.

During Passover we stayed at Beit Kerem, a secular neighborhood in the center of Jerusalem, quaint, quiet, and close to the Light Rail that takes you to the Old City.  The hosts, a young man and woman, greet us at the curb.  We introduce ourselves and a minute later we climb up the stairwell to the second level.  From behind each door there’s the smell of matzo-ball soup, roasted chicken, and whatever your imagination can conjure up.   The front door opens to a living room with modular furniture, a reclining chair, rug on the floor,big stereo speakers attached to the wall.  The couple gives us the tour: “Here’s the kitchen.  One of your daughters can sleep on the couch, the second daughter on a roll-away bed over here.  And here’s the bedroom for both of you.”  We nod and follow them in.  Folded towels sit on an IKEA-type double-bed.  The one bathroom is full with their stuff: toothpaste, mouthwash, make-up, deodorants.   They then show us the kitchen, how to operate the small appliances.  “And as we stated on our website,” they continue, “we have a cat that strolls in and out.  Just fill the bowls with cat food and water.”  They write their phone numbers with a whiteboard marker on thekitchen tile, hand us the keys, and close the door behind them.

We stand there, in the middle of the living room, with our suitcases, in someone else’s house.  For a $100.

For someone who’d spent decades in the U.S., personal space is almost a God-given right.  Here, in Israel, in God’s country, and in God’s town – Jerusalem – personal space is much less personal.  Typical Israelis don’t give personal space and they don’t expect personal space, either.  They don’t seem bothered with limited space.  They aren’t bothered much when their opinion is cut short, interrupted.  They just return the favor.   If you don’t speak out, if you don’t speak loud enough, your voice will be drowned by someone else’s words, music, noise.

View of Jerusalem's Old City

View of Jerusalem’s Old City

Speak up, or be silenced.

Grab the beach chair, the restaurant chair, or remain standing.

Take up space, or have it taken away from you.

Park your car in impossible spaces, or circle the parking lot until sundown.

Tailgate the car ahead of you, or have some other driver sit on your bumper.

It’s a small country, buddy.

It’s midnight.  We just returned from Passover Seder.  Our heads are full of wine, and our stomachs are full of matzahs and chicken.  My wife and I floss our teeth in our hosts’ Jerusalem bathroom, shower in their tub, use their conditioner and shampoo, use their towels.  We climb into bed.  Their bed.  Their pillows.

In the morning, we use their skillet to make eggs, use their coffee-maker.  A cat meows in the yard below.  I lounge on the living room sofa, sort through their LP collection from the sixties: Beatles, The Who.

Such memories the songs bring.

I take a seat on a padded-chair in their small, flower-potted balcony.

It’s my personal space.

At least until check-out time.

 

 

 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 84 other followers