Saturday, August 05, 2006

The surrealistic scene

"You are doing what?!!", said a friend in New York, when I told him I am going to Israel on holiday in August. And, when I told him that my family has already been here for a few weeks, and we have a Bar Mitzvah planned for my son this month, he looked at me like I needed some therapy.
Maybe I do, but we have been coming back to Israel every summer for the last 7 years. And while this turns out to be the summer of missiles, we decided to keep the plans as they were. Just scaled back to accomodate the realities of life in a country at war.

We are in Herziliya, about 30 miles south of the longest shot fired by Hizbollah - a rocket which landed in Hadera over the weekend. We are well aware that over 1 million Israelis have had their lives dislocated by the war in Lebanon. Those who can, have left for the central and southern regions. Many others, particularly the elderly, poor and the stubborn, are staying in their homes along and well south of the Lebanese border, moving in and out of bomb shelters at the first sounding of the sirens, announcing the launching of rockets toward Israel.

The bomb shelters are cramped, dirty and hot, yet were it not for them, many more Israelis would have been killed or injured by the warheads fired into the northern towns and cities. As it is, they are not the answer, as witnessed by the horrendous attacks yesterday in Haifa and Kibbutz Kfar Giladi, killing at least 15 people.

Israelis are known for trying to maintain normalcy during abnormal times. The major broadcast media - TV and radio- are all Lebanon, all Galilee, all commentary all the time. Yet there is no shortage of entertainment on the air, Hebrew hip-hop, cooking lessons, late-night advice for the lovelorn. Lots of interesting tours on the travel channel to far-flung places. Scholarly programs about literature and the bible. And the 120- episode series, "Our Song", an Israeli soap opera very popular with the teenagers.

Theatre and concerts take place in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, in the spirit that the show must go on . (Unless, that is, you had tickets for the Depeche Mode concert,which was cancelled). Yet the war hangs over everything, and the summer events - those that have not been cancelled - play to restive audiences. Restaurants may be operating, but the decibel level seems a lot lower than usually the case in Tel Aviv.

On Shabbath, we went to visit friends nearby for lunch. They had moved back from Palo Alto, the magnet for many Israeli high-tech professionals. They had no sooner finished rennovating their basement, when the war broke out. They now have two families from Nahariya living downstairs. "How could we not," they shrugged, taking this voluntary gesture in stride.

We went to the Herziliya beach on Friday, usually crammed with sunbathers, volleyball matches, and "madkot", the Israeli version of paddle ball where the point is to keep the little hardball going while making a lot of noise smacking it. The scene was active, but far from the crowds normal at this time of year.

The paradox of Israeli life was never so glaring as viewed from the beaches. On the sands, Israelis and the few tourists who came, trying to enjoy themselves. In the air, the continous sight of helicopters heading north to Lebanon, carrying young soldiers into the warzone.

I said to Nadav, my son, "this is surrealistic". He asked what that meant. By now, he knew, even if he didn't have the definition.

Nadav's Bar Mitzvah is next week at Beit Daniel, the reform synagogue in Tel Aviv. We are keeping the date, but have cancelled the small party we planned. As it turns out, Beit Daniel will organize a summer camp for about 100 children from Safed. They arrive tomorrow. We look at each other and the rabbi and, without discussion, quickly agreed to ask that any Bar Mitzvah gifts be directed to Beit Daniel to organize and pay for the camp. (Checks should be made to Friends of Beit Daniel, 5630 Wisconsin Ave., Suite 1601, Chevy Chase, Md. 20815. Tax deductible in U.S. Earmark for "Keren K'vod - Summer Camp). Or directly to Beit Daniel, 62 B'nai Dan St., Tel Aviv. office@beit-daniel.org.il).