Were I someone prone to superstition, I would have been extremely nervous last night.
It had been a lovely evening. I had spent Shabbat dinner with my upstairs neighbors, Roie and Sarit, and their two little boys, Nedav (4) and Nevo (4 months) and when the “witching hours” for tired children hit, I said my goodbye’s and went downstairs to the quiet of my apartment.
The past week had been one of tremendous stress for Sarit. Roie had been called down to Gaza to serve in the reserves. He is a medic, which means his services are always at the top of the “we need him” list. Of course, during the week that Roie was down in Gaza, both of their small children did tag-team time in the hospital, dealing with some sort of bronchial or viral infection. Sarit’s parents passed away and there are no other family members, save for Roie’s parents, to help. During this past week, with the news constantly blaring from the television and being the only real topic of discussion, Sarit had not slept or eaten much and it was beginning to take a toll on her. Getting stuck in our elevator for an hour, screaming in the darkness of that little cube as she waited for the Shindler repairmen to come (their contract states they have an hour to arrive, just like AAA), did her in. Fortunately, that day did bring some relief. Roie returned from Gaza and the family could begin to heal a bit. Although it you talk with Roie, he’ll tell you that Sarit bore the worst of the experience. Just one of the endless “Israel stories” that you are bound to hear.
We all talked and decided that we needed to have a pot-luck Shabbas supper. Without anyone to spot her for an extended period of time (although I did get to watch little Nevo while Sarit picked up Nadav from the gan (or “garden” as Sarit calls it), there was no time for her to do a major shopping before the stores closed for Shabbas. Thank heavens for eggs and pasta. Together we had a very secular Shabbas dinner of pasticha (like a frittata) and some ersatz lasagna, made with ziti and cottage cheese. Sliced bread on a plate was our challah. And a bottle of red wine made everything taste like gourmet food (even though we all knew it was just good old-fashioned comfort food), and a dark chocolate cake reminded our taste buds to simple pleasures. Say what you want about going out to a restaurant, nothing tastes as good as dark red wine with dark chocolate.
This was a very different kind of Shabbas. No candles (I had lit mine before coming up), no blessings. Young Israelis who are totally secular and deeply patriotic. I like this balance between the spiritual, religious, and observant Shabbats spent with Eva and Chaim downstairs, and this simple Friday evening dinner with Sarit and Roie.
This past week, I, like all other Israelis, stayed glued to the TV. I flipped between every news channel in English, Russian, and Hebrew, trying to piece together any news would give me as complete a picture as possible. CNN, the NYTimes, JPost.com, and the Times of Israel, were all my written English-language lifelines. I never considered myself a news junkie before. But I never was as present in anything like this before. Everyone I knew either had a child or spouse in the army. My friends in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were running for bomb shelters. I thought of all my friends back at Congregation Beth El in Fairfield who have children spread throughout Israel and the anxiety they must have felt. I thought about what my own children were hearing and processing, although they have both spend enough time in Israel to understand the proximity of the areas sited on the news. I spent the week answering emails and SKYPE messages from my friends assuring them that Afula was quiet and fine, although how could I possible describe the heaviness of heart that we all felt here. How could I convey the volumes of unsaid messages between me and my Arab neighbors, passing one another on the street or in the supermarket. The look in their eyes that inferred, “I’ll have to run into the same shelter as you should something happen. This isn’t between you and me.” Maybe that’s what they were trying to say. I think so. I hope so. I hope I don’t have cause to one day write a different interpretation.
But what about the red sky last night? Now, as I look outside the window of my study, as the bright light of early evening thrusts its last bright, harsh rays into my eyes, I find it hard to believe that just last night the atmosphere and sky looked as if it were right out of a David Cronenberg apocalyptic movie. By the time I made it down to my apartment after feasting on eggs, pasta, and chocolate, an eerie fog had descended on our neighborhood. It was so thick that I could not even see the apartment across the way, let alone the fields that lay all around me. The day and night before we were subjected to lightning storms of Biblical proportions. That is the only way I can describe them. Had I not actually seen the bolts of lightning constantly illuminating the afternoon and then night sky, I would have thought that the battle down south had moved up north. Jagged bolts that must have stretched for miles and with a color of such white, blazing intensity that I had to look away, incessantly bombarded the night sky. Once again, I could only imagine what the explanation for this atmospheric display would have been during the time of the prophets. Not being someone who by lightning, I enjoyed the display, but was less thrilled with the fog that graduated from a misty white to a rust-colored red. The moon, when I could see it, was 3/4 full, but yet it didn’t look like the moon over Connecticut. The moon here appears at a tilt, made more noticeable when it waxes and wanes. It’s bottom heavy. The crescent is at an odd tilt, and last night’s moon looked more like melting, oval ice-cube floating in a Bloody Mary than it did a 3/4 moon illuminating a November sky. Truth be told, it was a bit disturbing and my evening walk with Rocco was punctuated with my urgings for him to do his business as quickly as possible so I could return to the sanity of my apartment. For those of you who have read 1Q84 by Haruki Mirakami, you will understand my discomfort. In that book, the protagonist descends a spiral staircase exiting a busy Tokyo highway only to enter into a parallel world that so closely resembles the one she left, that only the presence of two moons in the night sky to alert her to the different reality. I must admit, I looked for the other moon.
Rocco sensed it too. Last night, he slept rather more closely to me than usual, making sure that a paw or a nose made contact with my leg as we slept. Today, the quiet of Shabbat seems eerie, as a few large, grey horizontal clouds still stubbornly linger in the afternoon sky. I’ve spent the day reading, a pleasure that I have been only able to indulge since my move to Israel. I think I’ve read four books since July. I’m not sure I read four books in total last year.
Tomorrow starts the new work week and the stability of the “usual”— Ulpan at 8:00, Emunah at 2:00. Rocco’s nudges or more forceful jumps of joy when he sees me (sometimes only after the lapse of only a few minutes, but we all know he’s not the smartest of all canines, hence his nickname, “Einstein”). The passing of neighbors in the lobby, my morning circuit with Rocco and subsequent daily exchanges of “Shalom, ma nishma?” with a neighbor who sits outside his building each morning, or with the Ethiopian street sweeper who looks for me each morning (probably not that many people bother to acknowledge his presence) to exchange just a few pleasantries. Maybe he remembers what it was like to be a new immigrant and have to learn a new language. Maybe it’s just that not that many people bother to say good morning to him. Whatever, it’s part of my very comforting routine.
Funny how much I crave usual and boring. I find it safe and comforting. And you know, that’s not such a bad thing.