. . . But Who’s Counting?

I’ve just returned from walking Rocco and realized that in about the 18 minute walk, just as many jets flew overhead leaving from Nir Dawid, the nearby airbase (halfway between where I live and the kibbutz where Zoe is).  But who’s counting? What’s so interesting, or a bit jarring, actually, is that it’s 9:30 in the evening. There’s not an exceptionally  bright moon and only a few stars managing to break the dark evening haze. As we walked, I could hear and then feel the trembling sound and  fading whistle of the jet engines, amplified in the still, night air. The are unmistakably heading east, and if you know your geography of the Middle East, you can posit any number of scenarios as to where their destinations are.

There go another two, seemingly right above my apartment.

The situation was the same last night, except I was too engrossed in watching re-runs of American Horror Story Asylum as I lay in bed with my computer propped up on my lap. I’ve always enjoyed a good horror movie (not the “slash-and-gore” variety, but something that gives me a good start), like the monster that you know just has to be lurking around the corner as you shout at the movie’s protagonist, “Don’t go down that dark hall way! Don’t go! You just gotta KNOW there’s a monster there!”

Oops! There go another two.

As these planes fly overhead, I look up to see if I can figure out just where they are. There are always far past me by the time I can find the plane’s blinking red tail lights. But as the flight path is pretty much the same, I can spot them when they’re already past me. I can barely make out the outline of the plane (during the day these “training exercises” as they have been called in the newspapers were also active, just not as active as they seem to be in the night sky). I  look up at the plane. And I imagine the face of the young pilot, sitting in his flight suit and helmet, calmly, with practiced assurance of his duty, speaking into his helmet’s microphone, making course corrections or following orders for the set of scenarios that necessitate today’s practice. In my mind’s eye I see the handsome, intelligent, young pilot, his cockiness put on hold while he focuses all his energy and attention to his role in the tiny cockpit of his plane. His build is slight and lean. Hair cropped closely to his head, his sharp eyes and chiseled face look even more handsome as they are set off by his regulation uniform. Yet he is a kid, flying a million dollar gadget, replete with dials, switches, buttons, levers, and colorful computer screens. He’s been playing computer games on his laptop or smart phone since he was old enough to hold them. He is so used to holding a joy stick that his thumbs seem to move even before his brain tells them what do to. Who knows how this feels to him? Like when he would play a war game with his friends, only a little bouncier?

Another two.

I picture his mother, also looking up at the night sky. I can even picture her face. Passive, yet a certain tightness around her eyes and mouth. Wondering if her son is in one of those planes. Keeping her emotions, the tangle of pride, fear, resignation, and faith playing out their own tug of war within her mind. Does she read the myriad of newspapers on-line every day trying to forecast the future or does she avoid the temptation?

And what am I feeling right now? It’s been more than a year since I’ve made Aliyah. For the first few months, every time there were fireworks in the sky, the culmination of a wedding celebration, I would jump, trying to hide my embarrassment as I looked at the faces of everyone else in the room or on the street who seemed totally unphased by the noise. Now I don’t jump. I don’t make up scenarios in my head. I know they are just the sounds of celebration. And I realize that if there were a God-forbid I would have heard the Iron Dome warning sirens first. But they are absent. No sirens. No worries. Just drills.

And another two.

Like today at the Center. At 4:30 p.m. we had a drill on campus. A young man with a megaphone and a button that, when pressed, emitted a piercing siren, alerting the kids to head to the shelters. They were told about the drill in advance and by 4:30 they were all gathered near the doors of the various shelters. Of course 4:30 was scheduled on purpose. It was just when afternoon prayers were over, allowing the boys to finish,  put away their prayer books, and walk out of our little schul, laughing and joking as they headed off toward the doors of the shelters. In an instant, I was back in Roosevelt Grammar School on Hopper Avenue in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. I was eight years old and standing in my little dress with its starched crinoline and big bow tied neatly in the back as I quietly walked outside to the clang, clang, clang of the fire bell, a drill that surprised no one. It was, after all, a beautiful day outside. No principal ever scheduled a fire drill on a rainy day. It occurred to me that the faces on the children today were the same as those of my classmates 49 years ago. Boredom at yet another “safety” drill, yet a hint of pleasure in having their daily routine put on hold for a few minutes.

Another one. Followed by its mate.

I wish to God that I didn’t think of Janusz Korszak every time a plane flew over head. Korszak, the Polish  pediatrician and educator who ran a small orphanage in Warsaw during the Shoah, and who refused to be parted from the 196 children in his charge when they were shipped off execution at Treblinka. I don’t have a pessimist’s mentality. I’m not frightened. I don’t think the worst will happen, although somewhere, locked in my gut is the knowledge that eventually something will happen. But it will not be doomsday. It will just be shared by every person who walks around this tiny country with their Teudat Zehut (identification card) tucked in their pocket.  Every mother living here, whether Jew, Arab, Christian, or Druze, will be a “Jewish mother” and worry for the safety of their child and family. We would all have to step into the nearest shelter and everyone would just be “people” caught in the jagged results of fanatics and their plots to bring anyone not like themselves to heel.

Ah. Quiet. No more rumblings except for the sound of the planes returning from the east back to the tarmac of Nir Dawid. To cool down, get their bolts checked, and their tanks refueled. Ready for the next “training” mission so that, should the drill become a reality, the mental, psychological, and physical repetition will drive the body to its height of concentration and efficiency.

Yup. I think it’s time for me to return to thrills and chills of American Horror Story. There’s nothing like a good scare to make you glad to be alive.

An American in Afula—I Wish You Could Have Been There.

Yesterday I spent 2 1/2 hours in the waiting room of an ENT (that’s the doctor who specializes in problems of the ear, nose, and throat —not the ancient, forest-dwelling walking tree that lives in Tolkien’s Middle Earth). That in and of itself was interesting, because I’ve never waited more than 20 minutes for an appointment at the doctor’s office. Usually you make an appointment, go to the office, check that your name is on the list outside the doctor’s door, ask who has the appointment 15 minutes before yours (so you can spot them when they walk into the doctor’s office) and then wait for them to exit so you can pounce at the door before someone tries to cut in front of you.). I suppose I had to wait so long because he was a specialist and regular appointments weren’t available until more than a month from now. I’ve been dealing with the flu and sinusitis for over a month now, and finally my regular doctor agreed it was time to see someone else (3 doses of antibiotics and I’m still sick).

But that’s not the point. The point is that during the 2 1/2 hours, I had the opportunity to have several discussions with many different people who came and went while I waited. Those 2 1/2 hours represented a microcosm of Israeli society, and I wish I could have filmed and shared them with you. But this blog is the best I can do.

I had conversations with the woman who spoke Russian (but she spoke Hebrew to me). She asked if I was the English teacher with the big black dog. I guess I have a bit of a reputation here in Afula. She and I had the same appointment (6:30). I had been there since 5:30 in case there were any earlier openings. No such luck. Anyway, we had a lovely conversation, that was soon joined by the Hebrew-speaking Parisian who was sitting across from me. He was sitting in between an old Arab gentleman (who I had seen earlier at my primary care physician’s office) and another Arab couple with 3 little boys. A handsome Ethiopian man, who turned out to be a policeman in Afula, completed the group.

Of course, the ever-present question: “What made you leave the US and come to Afula,” is the first on the list. More interesting questions ensue. Isn’t life better in the US? What do you think of Obama? Is he good? Is he better than Bush? Obama doesn’t want war, right? It’s cheaper to live in the US, isn’t it? Are you happier here in Israel? Did you come alone? Where do you work? Do they pay you?  (I love this last question.) But perhaps the best question came from the mother of the 3 little boys. When we discussed that the economy in the US is having trouble now, she asked, wisely, “What does the US give so much money to other countries when there are still problems with its own people?” I had to think before I answered that. Not just because of the lack of sufficient words. But because I needed to find the right answer in my head first. I could only think to answer that the situation is like a scale that is trying to find its balance. But try saying that with limited Hebrew! I attempted to mime a scale with my hands as I spoke. If you would have tied my hands during this conversation, it would have been totally impossible to communicate, regardless of how many languages we were all trying to use.

What I want to stress is that it wasn’t just the atmosphere in the waiting room. It was the sense of community. The Russian woman was religious, as was the elder Arab man and the wife of the three little boys. The rest were secular.  We cobbled together words in French, Hebrew, Russian (and sometimes the Arabs talked within themselves to see if they could come up with the word in Hebrew, then translate to English), and other than the fact that it was such a long wait, I rather enjoyed the conversations. All that was missing was some tea and cookies.

This is really what goes on in Israel. At least in Afula and the area around it. It’s just daily life. It’s mothers and fathers being indulgent with their kids while they make too much noise in a crowded waiting room. It’s letting you kids lay on the dirty floor and pile upon each other, occasionally coming to me and grabbing my foot to see if I’d smile at them. It’s being hot so you turn on the A/C and then having another come in and shiver from the cold so you shut it off and swelter for a few minutes before someone gets up and begins the routine all over again. Within that 5 x 8-foot space, crowded with chairs and mangled newspapers, posters of smiling white-haired, European-looking male doctors reminding you to get your free flu shot, that a slice of Israeli life was acted out. And it was probably one of the most interesting 2 1/2 hours I’ve spent in quite a while.

Oh, and the doctor? Dr. Mushkovitz (how’s that for a name?)” He tried to create an atmosphere of calm in his over-crowded little office—a big candle burning in the corner, classical music playing on his CD player, and a warm smile and strong handshake at the ready. I’ll be seeing him tomorrow again as we Xray and delve into the space (or lack of) that defines my sinuses and is most probably the cause of a month-long distress. If I may borrow from Gene Rodenberry, I hope that this will be the “final frontier” and we will discover which alien community is wrecking havoc. At its conclusion, I hope to “boldly go” back to my lovely, quiet life here in Afula, where people get along together, regardless, or in spite of, their obvious differences.

Oh, what I wouldn’t do for a bowl of my mom’s chicken soup and kneidlach, regardless of the fact that I’m a vegetarian. That’s really the medicine I crave.