Tuesday, May 09, 2006

(I wrote this two days ago but was unable to post because I couldn't get on the internet)

We landed at Ben Gurion Friday about 4pm. A. went to get the rental car and his mom worried that his father who'd insisted that he was coming to get her had not shown up. She made a phone call and was told that Yigal would not be coming because Yinon, the third son, could not drive him. It was only when we arrived at her house in Jersalem that we learned that Yinon had had a motorcycle accident and had to go to the hopspital.

Shabbat dinner was to be at Yinon's house and A. left early to go see his brother in the hospital, leaving me alone at his parents house to shower and come later. His parents, who had not seen each other for six weeks alternately screamed in what sounded like an intense spat and then laughed and kissed. Behira had left him for six weeks to come to be with A. when he had surgery. She had thought that she would help him get his house in order after the remodeling was completed but it got held up and was weeks behind so she stayed at my house the entire six weeks of her visit.

This was frustrating for her and I surrendered my kitchen to her so that she could vent her frustration by cooking. The night before we left she stayed up all night cooking tons of food to put in the freezer. I made A. plug the refrigerator in at his house even though it sits in the middle of his living room, because I have no more room in mine. My plan to lose 10 pounds in the six weeks before we left went up in sizzling oil as Behira cooks everything in that sacred sauce. I was raised in home where a teaspoon of butter was used for browning and everything else was steamed or baked. Thus I was enfattened by the oil soaked chickens and various other delicacies.

To turn down her food would have been to turn down her love and she was already disappointed in the way her trip was going. I liked her so much that I couldn't bring myself to compound it. Despite our language barrier we understood each other perfectly and developed a fast friendship, which is a good thing considering that she and I were roommates for a month and a half.

And now I am a guest in her home and she continues to care for me like a baby. Although she promised that after two days I would be allowed to do things for myself. It's amazing to me that A. knows how to do his own laundry and cook his own food. I understand him better through knowing his mother and watching their dynamic. He adores her and loves being loved by her but even he feels smothered sometimes.

She lives for her family and they adore her completely. When we arrived to his brother's house on Friday there were signs of welcome home and singing when she walked through the door. A. had left early to make a movie which they will present to her next weekend when we are at the Sea of Galillee to celebrate her 70th birthday which happened while she was in California. Yinon's wife Dorit, had worked all day to make a feast which brought to mind those celebratory meals described in historical novels from biblical times.

I had sated myself thoroughly on fish and bread with babganoush and various other kinds of middle eastern dips that I usually buy at Erewhon when they informed me that I had only eaten the first course and there was more to come. I thought they were kidding, but they weren't. There were three kinds of chicken, a beef dish with Indian spices and two kinds of salad. The platters kept coming but I was too full to keep eating.

The children chanted my name over and over and the only boy, Eyal who will be nine in August and is just learning English made a deal with me that he will help me with my Hebrew if I help him with his English. He's already doing much better than I am. His little sister knows how to say, "What time is it?" and she danced around me singing the phrase over and over until I told her it was time to party. She repeated after me although she had no idea what she was saying. It will serve her well one day if she ever comes to America.

I was jet lagged and disoriented but very comfortable with A.'s family who knew all about me from Behira's reports and what they'd glimpsed of me on Skype. I knew of them from his stories and pictures and so it was more like a reunion than a first meeting which was good because I was still not all the way arrived and they forgave my disconnection the way strangers might not. We were the last to leave and I slept like a log. Waking yesterday at 11am, only to go back to sleep.

We had breakfast at about 1pm which conisisted of the entire contents of the refrigerator and featured no less than three types of fish in oil. The kind of fish that smells like fish. This was consumed with about two loaves of bread and eggs and salad made from tomatoes, cucumbers and onions, dressed in lemon juice, salt and pepper and of course, oil. I love this salad and would happily consume it at every meal. I could live off the good bread, babaganoush and this salad with a little liverwurst spread, but they expect me to eat much more to indicate that I am happy.

And I am, but I am also full. Really, really full.

In the afternoon we went to drop off the energy drinks and body cream that we carted from the states to a friend's mother. She has been ill and lives in a senior citizen home that is located in a tower not unlike the one's you'd find in the states, except here all the helpers are Thai as opposed to Latino. Devorah is a very interesting woman, born in London and raised by a Zionist father she came to Israel in 1948, six months after Independence and she met nad married her husband and raised her family here. Her British accent is still so precise I could have been sitting in London visiting with her rather than perched on a hill in Jerusalem.

Driving home from the visit I got to see more of Jerusalem which is so big. The city has grown exponentially in the last 15 years, flowing out from the old city toward the territories where the conflict never dies down. Yigal took me out to the back garden last night and showed me the hill across the valley, maybe one half mile from where I stood, called Mount Gilo where Inbar, A's oldest brother had rented a house at one time. I could see a line of bright lights which shown out from the perimeter marking the border of this place where Jews live under threat of violence daily. It was only six months ago that the Palestinians were firing missiles toward the south side of A's parents neighborhood and the helicoptors hovered over their backyard returning missile fire.

My anxiety level went up as he pointed out that Arabs live in the valley between Mount Gilo and their neighborhood of Gilo, surrounding the Christian monastary which I could identify by the one white light that shown in the darkness. The Arabs here have a history of randomly shooting at Jews much like the drivebys that occur in south central. Only here the randomness is much scarier. People are always aware of the danger and the middle east conflict has become very real for me, as opposed to some abstract concept that happens "over there." In this reality A's parents live on the edge of the West Bank and the conflict happens in their backyard.

The whole city of Jerfusalem is built of a light colored stone and most of the housing is high rise although when you drive through it, you can see where the Arabs live and how haphazard it appears in comparison to the Jewish neighborhoods. They are right next to each other and the people mix despite their differences, but you don't ever forget the differences. A and I went out last night and he took me to Cinemateque, a theater complex where they host film festivals, and where there is a cafe from which you can see the wall of the old city and the Tower of David. The cigarette smoke was stifling so we went to the Begin Center and sat on the open balconey which was even higher with a better view.

The night was warm and as we relaxed I marveled that people had lived here thousands of years ago and he said the he would blow it all up for a chance to live here in peace. "You can't fight over everything new," he said and it was only then that he revealed some of the level of anxiety that he has over the fact that his family lives here and the risk that is inherent in that. This is a beautiful country and so many of the people who are here were affected by the holocaust so the opportunity to live here is something that is cherished and worth the risk, but still....

Before we could get too heavy the waitress arrived with snacks and my wine and promptly dumped it all over me. I was drenched from head to toe in red wine and my pristine white sweater was splotched with purple. Thankfully I had on a couple layers, but unfortunately that was one of the only warm things I brought with me. It's soaking right now, but I'm thinking I'm going to have to go shopping while we're here.

Despite my dampness we went out to a nightclub and met his brother. I marvel at how attractive Israeli's are in general and how, there are no fat people here. The women are not anorexically thin like they are at home, but have normal bodies and except for the fact that it seems like everyone smokes there's abundant health here. It reminds me a lot of California in 1975 before it became fashionable to have inflated breasts and to wear a size zero. Back in the days when kids hung out at night in the parks in groups and couples and there was an innocent anticipation of longer days and warmer nights.

Tomorrow we are going to see his oldest brother Inbar at Hadassah hospital where he works as a doctor (making about $3000 a month) and then we will go to the Ahravat in the Negev where his little brother Amit works as an enginner, and then to the Dead Sea and Masada. A. doesn't care so much about going but will take me as these the things I am most interested in. I know that most people come to Jerusalem to see the Holy sites, but I am more interested in seeing the country as it is today.

On Wednesday I will go to the wailing wall with Rabbi Mimi and hopefully I can get to the flea market to do a little shopping. Thursday we leave for the north and the Sea of Galillee and I will write as much as I can between now and then.

Right now it's time to go eat.