I can’t physically juggle — seriously, one item, max. But since moving to Israel, I now have to juggle my life. Should I take a six-hour round-trip (two buses, or a bus and train — plus walking dusty sidewalks in sweltering heat) to check out what might be the country’s only affordable rental? A teensy studio that shares a communal mud hut (impeccable hippie cred) with blue, green, red, and real sunlight streaming in through glass bottles set into thick walls. It’s a distance from the Pardes Hanna beach, but when you arrive you find tiny shells, fragments of water-worn glass and ancient pottery, and a Roman aqueduct. I’m sure I’d write a novel about some Roman-Jewish conflict if I lived in that town. Try to recreate in words that ancient time (which reminds me so much of our own).
But I can’t juggle, so I’m not seeing the rental. The next two weeks I’ll plow to the end of a small paying job with an urgent deadline. Ignoring my “to do” list that’s about to implode. And haunted by the voice of a sex-trafficked young woman in Berkeley, California. She’s fictional, she’s the protagonist of the new novel I’m writing. But she’s real to me.
At least I’ve been in Israel long enough to start understanding the buses. It’s been hard for me to understand a place in which buses head in every direction from both sides of the street. A while ago, I got on the last bus of the night, which I thought was headed toward my home. I ended up at a deserted bus depot. I try to keep track of where I am, but there’re places in Israel where your GPS goes beserk — befuddled by rooftops that bristle with cell phone towers, radars, and defensive systems of every kind.
Once you make it onto a bus, you’re in for a rough but possibly exhilarating ride. The first time an Israeli bus driver
lurched away with a crazy swerve at the equivalent of sixty mph, I banged into a yellow and blue metal pole. I still occasionally end up on bus floors because of the local roller coaster-meets-rollerblades driving style.
Israelis don’t often end up on that floor. Most won’t even admit that they’re scared. The only thing I know, for sure, is that Israelis aren’t whiners. They might raise a bushy eyebrow at some particularly heinous attack perpetuated anywhere by anyone. Conscience-less acts are uniformly frowned upon. But, it seems to me, most people here just want to survive. And they want others to survive. The “Code of the Desert” is that a stranger should give you water if you’re dehydrated, food if you’re hungry. Sidewalk benches in Israel are covered with charitable donations to bypassing strangers: baby clothes, sneakers, shoes, plants, books written in a range of languages.
And everywhere: on streets, in buses, guarding train stations… there’re the sensitive, sober faces of Israel’s young adults, charged with putting their lives on the line to defend against attacks that can, and do, lurch from every direction.