Part one: We’ll start with the glass factory in Hebron. The glass itself predates our story, broken, sorted according to color, melted down and recycled into new glassware. The factory has been owned by the same family since the late 1800s, but the glass-making tradition in Hebron predates Roman times. The colorful glasses, goblets and pitchers are individually hand-blown, the secret to creating the characteristic dreamy style is closely guarded. All their work shimmers with colorful swirls; the darker glasswork seems to be carved of agate, until you pick one up. Only one main family is left making this glass, keeping the craft alive in the area.
Part two: We meet these particular glasses again on October 6, on a sunny day in Tel Aviv. In a small room above a local radio station and pub in a courtyard between two buildings in the southern part of the city, some young people, Jews and Arabs, have set up a crafts fair to support a peaceful cause. The room is called the Solidarity Room, and inside, it is crammed to capacity with tables and bodies trying to get themselves from table to table to inspect the wares. The glasses are arrayed along with some tote bags, T shirts and small bottles of olive oil, all of them labeled “made in Palestine.”
My husband and I are there with our daughter-in-law, who has invited us to meet her in Tel Aviv. She is working a table selling hand-embroidered goods created by Bedouin women and bright printed tote bags designed by her friend, who has labeled them “yiddishfeminist.”
We have been preparing for a trip to the US for a nephew’s wedding, and we’ve been thinking about gifts – do we need to buy the newlyweds something special from Israel; what kinds of gifts can we pack and carry; etc.
And when we arrive at the “made in Palestine” table, we know that we have found the perfect wedding gift. The seller seems surprised we want to buy four glasses. There are no sets; each glass is slightly different, and she has no bags. I run back to buy a Yiddishfeminist tote to carry them. When our daughter-in-law has a break, we lug the glasses down the street to the Gazoz stand to slurp down the cool fruity drink of the day, placing the bag gently on a nearby chair as we sit in the shade on a perfect early October day in Tel Aviv.
Part three: Our flight was less than a week away, but my husband never managed to plan how we would transport the four breakable glasses in our luggage. Because the next morning, Oct. 7, we all awoke to a new reality. Among other things, the airport was targeted by Hamas missiles, and airlines began cancelling flights.
War was declared the very next day, as we watched endless news clips of killing and abduction. The glasses sat wrapped in bubble wrap on a table in our back room, while we bit our nails. We drove into Tel Aviv one night to retrieve our daughter-in-law after a rocket hit too close to her shelter-less apartment in the south of the city.
My husband bought new tickets on one airline that seemed to still be flying in and out of Tel Aviv – Turkish Air. Our daughter-in-law, who needed to get back to France, snagged the last seat on an El Al flight to Berlin.
And then Turkish Air cancelled their flights as well. We might have paid extortionate prices to get on an El Al flight to Greece. We might have missed the wedding anyway, or arrived so exhausted we would have slept through the ceremony. We decided to send our regrets.
Part four: Our good friends – people we have shared our lives with on the kibbutz for over 40 years – lucked out. They had also planned a trip to the US, and they happened to have tickets to fly on El Al, the one airline that has kept flying, even from the beginning of the war. Those friends could not put us in their suitcases, but they could do the next-best thing. We never had to ask. They came over, took the glasses and the tote bag, as well, and packed them in between clothing, socks and scarves. The glasses flew in those friends’ luggage to LA, Albuquerque and San Francisco, until they were finally handed over to the parents of one of the grooms, in Oakland.
Part five: The newlyweds made it the parents’ house after a short honeymoon, retrieved and opened the present (which our friends had thoughtfully wrapped) and found four unbroken, hand-blown glasses all the way from Hebron. The glasses had been traveling for a month. The email came the next day. Of course, they loved the glasses and were touched by care we and our friends had taken to get their wedding present safely to them on the West Coast.
On the one hand, they were gifted some pieces of old glass, melted down and reshaped. On the other, they were given the gift a of finely-wrought, fragile thing that made a valiant journey and manage to arrive intact. It came from a factory that continues to produce delicate art from rubble inside a tense, conflict-ridden city.
In the midst of all the smoke, loud booms and destruction, we said a quick hurrah for the successful expedition of these pieces of glass, a silent thanks to the gods in charge of preserving the fragile-yet-resilient, for those who continue to practice their art, to love and to live, in the face of hatred and war.