If anyone out there is ever with a group of American olim, and if you need something to get the conversation flowing – doubtful, but possible – try asking “What do you miss most from The States?” (We’re not talking about family and friends; that’s obvious.) If you ask for five things, or even three, you’d get some quirky answers. For instance I would include Tropicana orange juice. I once received an e-mail from a veteran olah here in MA that she misses snow. She assured me that when I lived here long enough, I would too. Fat chance!
But if you limited it to one thing, you’d get amazing uniformity: “Sundays!” Whether the respondent has been here twenty days or twenty years, that’s what you’d hear in a rare example of unanimity. Here, Sunday is simply “Yom Rishon,” the first day of the work week. Instead, the work week here starts coming to a halt after Yom Hamishi, Thursday evening, and people start preparing for Shabbat – whether they are “religious” or secular. Even though more Israelis are off from work on Yom Shishi, Fridays will never be the same as Sundays, but, as we say, “Mah l’assot?” what can you do?.
At least, we don’t have to get up at 5:30 to go to ulpan. We may sleep as late as 7AM! By 8AM, I’m ready for breakfast. I admit that I do miss being able to make a Sunday breakfast for the family (you can easily see where my priorities lie!): omelets, French toast, pancakes, or waffles. But even if I only have a bowl of cereal and a mug of tea, I can sit and browse through the newspapers before we get on with our business. We currently subscribe to both English language periodicals available here: The Jerusalem Post and the combined International Herald-Tribune/Haaretz. Now many people are familiar with The Jerusalem Post, a sort of centrist paper with a lot of local coverage.
The International Herald-Tribune/English language Haaretz is another kettle of fish, to mix metaphors on a grand scale. Once upon a time, there was a wonderful newspaper in NYC, The Herald-Tribune, now sadly defunct. Its world renowned international operation was long ago taken over by The New York Times, and it exists as a shell of its former self. Nothing, however, compares with the inspired lunacy of the Israeli left, which Haaretz represents. As an example: I am certain that The New York Times hates our President, but I don’t believe that its editorial board hates every American who voted for him -- scorns and derides, maybe, but hates, no. But I have no doubt that the editors of HaAretz hate me. Their editorials spew venom for any Jew who is the least bit religious, they despise any Jew who lives “Over The Green Line,” and if you’re religious and live where we live, then you’re the scum of the earth. The only columnist in their weekend magazine worth reading is Sayed Kashua, an Israeli Arab who writes about his life with wit and sensitivity. His current piece, “Requiem for a Dream,” is about taking his now reluctant young daughter for piano lessons in The German Colony (a fancy Jerusalem neighborhood.) I finish his article and my cup of tea, and it’s time to get moving.
Most Fridays, we take advantage of our free time and go on a trip or do something interesting, but on this particular day, we have nothing grand planned. My big adventure will be going up to the Canion, the shopping center, for some last minute purchases. I am nattily attired for my trek in a pair of shorts and my “Phat Fred” t-shirt, complete with a larger than life size picture of Fred Flintstone himself on the front. No sooner do I get to the street when I meet Tova, unloading groceries from her car. (She, her Israeli born husband, and their girls have recently returned to Israel from The States. When she saw the stack of Meyers Brothers cartons in front of our gate two months ago, she put two and two together and came down to introduce herself.) Tova admires my t-shirt and begins to reminisce about when Hurricane Wilma swept through Florida, and the local Miami paper printed a picture of Wilma Flintstone, with the headline “Bitch.” I leavet Tova to finish unpacking her groceries, and I proceed up the hill to the path that would take me to the town center. If my other namesake, the late Fred Rogers were here, he would definitely consider this “A beautiful day in the neighborhood.” The intense heat of the summer has gone, and the temperature has been hovering in the 70’s, (I will continue to gauge temperature in Fahrenheit, because I don’t do Celsius) a perfect day to be walking A Little Bit East of Yerushalayim. I am in no hurry. At a leisurely pace, my journey will take twenty minutes.
The path to the center of town begins at the top of the hill, and you can see the entire other side of Maale Adumim and the immense sand dunes beyond. The path continues past our Central Park, no match for the one in NYC, but for this part of the world a magnificent expanse of green. Finally, you pass the garden, an area given over to residents to plant shrubs, bushes, and flowers – which they have done with taste and exuberance. There is definitely the sense that we are living in an oasis, surrounded entirely by immense quantities of sand and rock.
On this Friday morning, there is no one in the park. It is too early for the Russians who usually sit at the picnic tables in the garden. There are a few people coming back from the mall, mostly Ethiopians carrying large quantities of groceries, and speaking Amharic to each other, a language I will tackle once I have mastered Hebrew, Arabic, and Russian, and reviewed my Spanish and French – which I estimate will take me into the 110th year of my next life.
The path ends at the modern Macabbi health care center and Kikar Yahalom, a series of about twenty small stores with apartments above -- I suspect the oldest part of the town, and once upon a time, state of the art shopping for our community. Still, it contains our bank, our pharmacist, Pizza Roni, Mimi’s vet, and a host of other stores. I stop at a hole-in-the-wall where a Russian oleh repairs watches. Natania has a watch with a metal band that needs two links removed. Barbara and I had conferred as to how I should make this request in Hebrew so I could memorize it. (After considering several alternative verbs, we arrive at “Efshar laredet shteim?” loosely translated as “Is it possible to take down two?”) This does not seem idiomatic in any language, but the Russian man understands; he removes the links and charges me a big five shekels ($1.25) for his services, and I am on my way to the canion.
Now let’s be clear about one thing: Canion Adumim would fit into one nook or cranny of The Garden State Mall in Paramus NJ. But there are “only” 40,000 people living here, about the same number of souls who would be crowding into the GSM the Saturday night before Xmas. Our canion contains a supermarket, Mister Zol, (“zol” means inexpensive, although it’s not) the now-famous Ace Hardware, Lior’s (a chain appliance store) an Aroma Coffee Bar, a food court, and a post office; but none of these is on my agenda just now. I need the first two stores as you enter: on your left, a place which sells fresh fish, olives, and a dozen or so salads, some of which, placed in large or small containers, will supplement our Shabbat menu. On the right is the small bakery where pita breads and lafahs are baked in situ seemingly ‘round the clock. It is here where I get my challahs. Here in The Holy Land, we have no use for the wimpy soft challahs replete with preservatives available from Tuesday on in The Great 48. Ours you have to chew! I purchase what I need and head to the other bakery, Maapah Ne’eman to pick up a cake.
Back through Kikar Yahalom. I meet Yoni, one of our many new friends, outside his store, a Judaica shop, half of which is now devoted to selling aronot and other pieces of wooden furniture. Yoni admires my t-shirt, we chit-chat, and I am on my way. Last stop is the plant store, where for twenty shekels I obtain a fairly respectable bouquet of flowers. I then retrace my steps through Kikar Yahalom, up the path past the garden, the park, the view of the town and the dunes, all the way to my block. As I walk down the last hill, a young woman with excellent English approaches me. “Great shirt,” she exclaims. I stop and turn to her. “My name is Fred,” I reply. My admirer bursts into laughter and continues past me up the hill. Now I know why I got up that Friday morning: to make someone’s day!
My shopping complete, I can get started with my cooking while Barbara and Natania get the house ready for Shabbat, which is fast approaching. Tina will be making an infrequent appearance, and she will be bringing a friend. We have also invited the Rogers’ for dinner, the first Shabbat guests we will be having in our new home. We are now also hosts. It is all good!
Do any of you remember Ed Sullivan? For those of you who are too young, or who were not in the U.S. from 1948 to somewhere in the ‘60’s, this very untelegenic man hosted a wildly popular variety show at 8PM Sunday night. Millions of schoolchildren would be watching his show, knowing full well that when it was over, so was the weekend. The TV would soon go off; it would then be time to get ready for bed because the next day was …… school.
So while Sundays are wonderful, they invariably signal “The End.” But Yom Shishi, Fridays, are always the beginning. Because what comes next? SHABBAT!!! Maybe there is a poetic justice after all.