It has been more than a month since we arrived in Israel.
The date leaves a magical imprint on my mind. As if it happened yesterday, I remember every moment of that day with perfect precision. Almost. I may not recall all the faces of those working at the airport in Tel Aviv, but I have never been good with faces. I start to remember those I meet every day. There are a lot of of people, on the kibbutz, on the bus every morning and at the ulpan where we spend each day now for more than three weeks. The ulpan lasts for five month then we have to take an exam. Everybody from each ulpan, the same day all over Israel.
As if it were the day of the big SAT test. Though we are still very far from the finish line. Each day I sweat and grind, try to make my brain work. I can feel how hard it is. The system is sort of rusty. But I had expected it, expected that the ulpan would help me pull out of that intellectual mud I had got stuck in in the past years. Although this mud is not so much of the intellect but of the soul, of the heart, and I have no idea how long it would take to scrub off the pieces. But each and every moment helps, that constantly blowing wind that washes over me day by day.
The wind. I think that’s what the desert means to me, the wind blowing in the sunshine, the russet mountains that border the plain. They are very close, and still the desert is absolutely flat. The few scrawny trees, scrubs and brushes that cling to the dirt are scattered sparsely in the world of sand and stone. Elifaz has more trees, of course. Even grass in some places, though it must be watered like mad so that it remains, but still, it’s good to see some green.
We can’t exactly see the trees from our house as it stands at the very edge of the kibbutz, right next to the road that skirts the settlement. Then comes the barbed wire, then the rocky desert. Further off, the mountains. These are the mountains the sun sets behind. If I flatten myself against the window, I can see it sink behind the ridges. It is cool then already and the sky slowly starts to darken. The stars look different, too, as if Orion seemed more distant at home and now it looks to be tilted on the side? Or I may be mixing it up with an another constellation?
I don’t mind. Everything is good that surrounds me, every new thing. If I step out of the house and gaze up at the sky, I can see all the stars, the Moon, and on Friday evenings when we walk over to the dining hall, I watch the torn clouds of the darkening sky after sunset, the palm trees stretching tall into the yellow light of the Moon, it is as if I stole a glance into another, amazing world, an another story that I could somehow step into. I can be part of something I almost felt I could never be part of, I could never be there again.
It takes my breath away.
Then Eilat. Strangely enough, from my Eastern European point of view, Eilat reminds me of America, somehow so fresh, so half ready. I am used to cities and buildings to be hundreds of years old. Here it’s always as if some construction was under way, and if one is finished, another one springs up right next to it. The buildings are low, industrial and everything is new. You can see the town started to boom just some decades ago, as it is crawling up the hills. New roads, new roundabouts that organize vehicles, you won’t see traffic lights at all. Cars always stop for crossing pedestrians, it is difficult for me to get used to the fact that I can simply step on the crosswalk. I always wave, say thanks. Nobody else does that.
I have got to the sea once. Just for a short walk, but I was there on the beach walk, the most popular tourist route. The sandy beach is narrow, maybe 4-5 meters, then there are cafés, tiny shops and a fence that separates the beach from the walk. There is a line of stores, and the hotels are right behind. A number of colossal hotels loom over the beach but they had to be squeezed into such cramped space. The Israeli shore is so short and they had to fit in everything.
If we start walking east on the beach, after a couple hundred meters there is Jordan already. Aquaba is our neighbour. If we watch from a distance at night, the lights of Eilat and Aquaba blend together along the bay. Down to the south, it’s also just a few kilometers and we reach the border crossing to Egypt. But this tiny spot of sea, this itsy-bitsy sea is still more than no sea at all. I don’t look left or right I just stare at the blue water sunning under the blue sky, as it brushes the land between the desert peninsulas as the little finger of an enormous power spanning to infinity, though minuscule, it belongs to that immense power. It touches me and the tide opens my heart, takes me away.
Three green parrots flutter away above me chittering among the beach palm trees.