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.
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.
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?!
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?
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.