Tag Archives: sand

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.


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

Bat Yam lifeguards rule.







Dust to Dust – Walk Like an Egyptian

11 Apr

We’re celebrating the week of Passover, a holiday filled with stories of our delivery from slavery in Egypt, a holiday filled with crunchy matzas.  It’s also the season of dust.  The 2011/2012 season was one of the wettest and coldest on record in Israel.  The Kinneret sea level is at an all-time high, the meadows are green and the hills of Galilee are lush with vegetation.  That’s assuming you can see them through clouds of dust.

Hamsin winds from North Africa

Yearly, during this time of year, April and May, Israel is subjected to sand storms.  They originate in Egypt (Pharoah’s revenge?), the Sahara and in Jordan.  These easterly winds pick up sand particles hundreds of miles away, lift them into the air and carry them across Israel.  The result is an orange-brown-gray haze that blankets the land.  You don’t have to pack a suitcase and visit Egypt.  Egypt comes to visit your nose in the form of a sand booger.

The sand storms, the dry winds, the heat waves are referred to as “Hamsin.”  Hamsin means “50” in Arabic, the number of days these winds prevail around here, from Passover to the Holiday of Shavuot.  The number of dusty days rarely reaches fifty, but once you’re in one, you hope it will be the last.  Some wrongly interpret Hamsin to mean the temperature — 50 degrees celsius (122 Fahrenheit).  They’re not far off the mark.  During Hamsin there’s no mild or warm weather.  It’s like the choices available in a Thai restaurant: Hot and Extra Hot.  And then cold.  One day you’re bundled in a coat, the next day you’re running barefoot.

Sand Storm

Hamsin covers the land and the pages of history.  During Napoleon’s advance on Egypt, the French did not heed the warning about the advancing red cloud.  Many of the soldiers suffocated to death while the Egyptians stayed indoors.  During World War II the Allies battled the sands as much as the Germans.  Grains of sand whirled by the wind blinded the soldiers and created electrical disturbances that rendered compasses useless.

The dust cover invades every pore of your skin; it’s unrelenting.  The airborne sand sometimes picks up moisture, makes a brown paste in the atmosphere and hails down as giant blotches.  All cars, windows, clothes hanging on the line are afflicted with brown measles.  Inside the house, tables, chairs, computer monitors are covered with the filmy dust.   (I’m thinking of importing Lemon Pledge).

Farmers fear Hamsin.  The dust shrivels the crops and shrinks their pocketbook.   They gladly mark off each passing day on the calendar, wishing the 50 days will soon be over.  Prayers are heard.  Once Shavuot arrives, there’s a collective sigh of relief.  But not for long.

Then summer arrives and the “real” heat begins.  Alaska anyone?

Hamsin fatigue