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The Motherland January 14, 2011
On Monday, my husband and I began the journey to eating healthy and hopefully exercising. So I have been checking out different sites and trying to figure out what kinds of things I can cook that will be healthy and that we will also enjoy.
While at the acupuncturist’s office yesterday, I was on my phone looking for Israeli couscous recipes.
All of this has been a preamble explaining possibly why my thoughts took on the trajectory that they did.
After I had all my needles in and the warming lap was placed over my tummy, my head phones firmly in place playing mellow music like Jack Johnson and the like, I started drifting a little.
And all of a sudden, so vividly, I could taste a hard-boiled egg, encrusted with crunchy grains of sand. I could smell the sea air and I could remember the kind of joy and happiness you can only feel as a child.
I was somewhere between the age of 3 and 5, and I was in Israel. I will tell you, at least the way I remember it, that those were some of the happiest years of my life.
We went to the beach practically every sunday. And although I couldn’t appreciate the significance of it then, it was the mediteranean we were going to, not quite like Mentor Headlands Beach. It was a good 50 miles away and it was worth it. On the way home though, 50 miles is a long trip and by the time we all got back to my grandparents’ apartment every one of us had to use the facilities. However, being a child, I was most in danger of having an “accident” so I always got to go first.
The memories are all enmeshed in my head from when we actually lived there and when we went back and visited. My mom and I disagree on some of these. But they are my memories, so the validity, or veracity of them isn’t really up for debate. Besides, it doesn’t matter if the events occurred when we lived there or when we went back, the memories are of Israel, a place deep in my heart.
I remember playing in the courtyard between our apartment building and my grandparents’ apartment building. There were a bunch of us kids that all lived there and all played together and our parents had no problem just letting us play in the courtyard unsupervised. There weren’t pedophiles lurking around ready to snatch us up, no villians in the shadows wanting to do us harm. There was just playing until dinnertime, going in, racing through our meals, and then going back outside to play until the sun went down.
There was one strange woman though, and we called her “Banana”. No, I don’t know why. She always looked disheveled, and she would walk out of her apartment in a dirty housecoat, her hair was like straw, but grey and dirty, sticking out in all directions. She wore dirty slippers and shuffled to the garbage can, all the while muttering something incoherent under her breath. We all thought she was a witch.
In that same courtyard, I went down the slide, into the sandbox, and spun around in circles so many times that I fell down and bonked my head on the wood framing the sandbox. I had to go to the hospital, and my forehead still bears the scar from that day.
I remember my grandfather walking me to pre-school every day, and then picking me up and walking me home. There were a lot of slides and swings in between school and home and I would always beg him to stop and let me play on another one for just a little bit longer. My gramps was my best friend.
I remember when him and my grandmother bought their first car and I was jumping up and down cheering “we bought a car! We bought a car!” As if I had anything to do with it.
I remember my lunchbox. It wasn’t plastic like kids here had. I think it was vinyl or something and it was beautiful, white background with pink and purple swirls.
I remember celebrating my birthday at that pre-school. I wore a peach-colored jumper dress with a white t-shirt underneath. The teacher made me a crown with green streamers hanging down, and we sang songs and danced.
I remember my grandparents owning a small corner grocery store. I would go to work with them and sit on the ice cream cooler all day. I drank chocolate milk that came in plastic bags that you cut one corner off of to drink out of. And I would keep reaching into the ice cream cooler to have just one more ice cream treat. At the end of the day when it was time to lock up, I would beg my grandparents to take a box of bonbons home with us for dessert after dinner that night.
I remember lemon flavored gum. I LOVED that lemon-flavored gum.
When I was in fourth grade my dad flew to Israel to help my grandparents move here to the states, and they brought a whole case of that gum for me. Oh how I wished it could last forever.
In Israel we had ice cream trucks, just like here, that would come rolling into your neighborhood playing their little melody and enticing children everywhere. Every time I was in the courtyard playing and I heard that truck I would run upstairs and demand $.25 with such urgency that you would think they were delivering vital organs. In addition to the ice cream trucks, we had produce trucks that would come around. The drivers shouted their wares from the car so you knew if you were interested. “Tomatoes! Strawberries!”
I remember my mom and grandma taking me to an amusement park. At the end of the day, as we sat at the bus stop waiting, I ate a salami sandwich that my mom had packed for me. To this day, that was the most delicious sandwich I have ever eaten. It was so much more than bread and salami. It was love, sunshine, laughter and bliss, all between two pieces of bread.
I remember street vendors selling sunflower seeds served in rolled up newspaper cones. And falafel. Oh, the falafel!
I remember one evening playing with a bunch of kids in the courtyard and as dusk approached they told me we were building a campfire. I ran upstairs and told my mom I needed a potato and salt, that I didn’t know what, but that we were celebrating some holiday with a fire. Turns out that holiday was Tu Bishvat, Israel’s Arbor Day.
I remember all the kids in the neighborhood getting together and practicing and performing some kind of variety show for all the adults. I sang a song and I think it was something about a bar of soap crying…I don’t know.
Kids in the U.S. grew up having Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star sung to them by their parents. My lullabyes included Hava-Nagila.
When I think of Israel and my time there, I think of sun, and my browned skin. I think of happiness and joy. I think of my mom and how that time was the forming of the super tight bond we have now. I fill with pride and warm fuzzies.
My husband often pokes fun and tells me I am not really Jewish, although that is how I identify myself. I don’t go to temple, and I am certainly not orthodox. I always tell him that to me being Jewish is more of a cultural thing than a religious one. It’s a sense of tradition, of community, a tribe of people.
I may have been born in Moldova, and live in Cleveland, but Israel is my home.