Yesterday, we had the type of day that reminded all of us why we love living in Israel. A day that was short in time and yet so jam-packed. Full of sight-seeing. Full of history. Full of emotion. Full of thought provoking images, conversations, and experiences. I saw today how much our children are learning, maturing, and thinking. I realized, once again, why we are on this family adventure.
As part of today’s tiyul (trip), we spent the afternoon in an ancient port city. We ate in a restaurant on the water overlooking Haifa. We walked through the city overlooking the sea, passing through residential neighborhoods and markets. We saw a city full of diversity–in religion, culture, languages, and even food.
There were few tourists beside us hearty New Englanders; today was a cold day by Israeli standards. We stood in line for a warm cup of sahlev and browsed the stalls at the shuk. There were small stalls overflowing with food, jewelry, clothing, and toys. In one shop, there was a pile of bright pink toys meant for girls displayed alongside toys meant for boys. Front and center was a display that made quite an impact on me: a pink plastic vacuum cleaner (which came with pink slippers and curlers, of course) displayed next to a huge toy machine gun. I said to my husband, “Can you imagine Toys R Us showing off this display back in the U.S?” We giggled at the prospect.
My oldest daughter was on a quest to find a bracelet she had seen last week at a different market. This week, she had brought her allowance and she was determined to spend it. “I cannot wait to buy myself a bracelet.” She was elated when she found the perfect bracelet, just as we were about to exit the shuk.
She fingered the bracelet and held it next to her wrist. “Doesn’t it look so pretty?”
“Yes, it is beautiful,” said her ever-loyal younger sister as she looked at the bracelet made of brightly colored string.
“It is only 10 shekels and I have 12. I am so excited.”
As she wandered over to pay the shopkeeper, I noticed something that made me gasp. I grabbed my daughter’s shoulders and said harshly under my breath, “You cannot buy this here. Put it back. We will find it somewhere else.” She read the urgency in my voice and obediently and silently dropped the bracelet of her dreams.
What made me pull her back and force her to return the bracelet to the pile? It was the table right next to her bracelet. A table full of pens, paper, banners, flags, bracelets, and earrings–all emblazoned with the word “Palestine” and the Palestinian flag. If they sold merchandise marketing on behalf of a group of people who do not want us here at all, then how could I endorse giving them my daughter’s hard-earned shekels?
I do not consider myself to be a political person, but the decision I made back at the shuk was a political one, no matter how much I try to convince myself otherwise. It was a decision that–for better or worse–has yet again opened my daughters’ eyes to what tensions lie in every aspect of daily life in our new country. Even buying a souvenir bracelet is laden with politics and emotions.
A day has passed since our visit to the shuk and I cannot stop replaying the scene in my mind. Should I have let her buy the bracelet? She’d have been so proud of her first purchase here in Israel. But she did not feel as I did.
As I tucked my daughter into bed last night, she said “I had such a fun day. I loved walking around that shuk.”
I asked her if she was upset with me and disappointed that she left empty-handed. “Nope, not at all. Besides, now I can look for a cheaper one somewhere else.”
I love that my daughters go to sleep smiling after day trips and family outings. Every day is a new and exciting adventure. Despite the plagues that have hit us so far (stabbings, soccer ball-sized hail, sandstorms, flooding, and even lice), they see the beauty and wonderment in all that surrounds us. They are becoming more resilient. Tough. True Israelis.
And, for the days when they are not feeling too Israeli, I will find solace in the fact that my oldest daughter has learned the art of bargain hunting. What could make a Jewish mother more proud?