Evan D. Morris
Evan D. Morris

Can’t we all just get along? Courtesy Israeli-Style.

“Can’t we all just get along?” 

For our Tee-yul Shabbat (Sabbath trip), we drove to Ma-alot Tarshiha, a city borne of a confederation of two towns.  It is about 45 minutes north east of Haifa and — critically when traveling with young children — it boasts a large Israeli playground for aspiring daredevils and a fabulous handmade ice cream parlor, Boogia (“Ice cream” in Arabic), that serves their specialty “Creme Bougia” along with other to-die-for flavors like “White Angel” (coconut with coffee). Way beyond Ben and Jerry’s.  Beyond Steve’s Ice Cream in Somerville, MA (alas, defunct). Beyond Mouselline in Jerusalem. The ice cream parlor is a collaboration between an Arab (Israeli) and a Jew(ish Israeli) and they have a partnership with the local Kibbutz Sassa to make and market their delicious products to restaurants and stores.  http://buzaisrael.co.il/

The town and its prized “glee-da” (ice cream) are located east of Naharia in the north of Israel close to the Lebanon border.  The city is a mixed city of Arabs and Jews – both groups are represented on the city council. The Arab market takes place every Saturday and is frequented by both Arabs and Jews speaking a mix of Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, and English. (Speak English at your peril… prices are immediately inflated.) Most important for all Israelis of any stripe, there are two large fenced-in soccer fields, one in the Tarshiha area and one in the Ma-alot area. Anyone can play anywhere. But kids don’t have to travel far from their own neighborhood to get a game.

When we finally arrived home from our Tee-yul to the apartment of my cousins that afternoon, I struggled to keep up with L–, an energetic, fast-talking but engaging second grader.

“Evan, ata yo-day-ah aich lichtov et shaym ha-mispacha shelanoo?”  (Evan, Do you know how to spell our last name?), L- wasted no time in throwing down the gauntlet and testing my Hebrew skills.

“Aich?” (How?), I parried. (This wasn’t the first time I’d tangled with a precocious 7 year old.)

“Shin-taf-yud-nun-resh” (Sh-T-Y-N-R), she listed the letters.

“Yesh lanu ner b-sof ha-shaym.” (We have a candle at the end of our name.)  L- signed the shape of a candle flame with her hands.  I thought quickly.  N-R spells “ner”, candle in Hebrew.

L- ran ahead.  By the time I arrived at the normally locked front door to the apartment building, L- was already waiting, door open for me.

“At yo-da-at et ha-Sisma?” (You know the password?), I asked, wondering how L- had managed to gain entry for us to the locked lobby.

“Lo. Yesh Mispacha achat, da-tee-ya.” (No. There is one religious family [living in the building]).

Get it?

In other words, as a courtesy to that one religious family– who will not use a key or enter a computer code on Shabbat – the residents of the apartment agreed to leave the door unlocked.  The religious family also asked that the lights in the stairwell remain on all Shabbat so they could climb up to their apartment. The apartment association agreed.  The religious family was modest in its requests and did not ask that the one elevator in the building be run as a “Shabbat elevator” – a “local” train on automatic pilot – going up and down all Shabbat and stopping at all floors to accommodate those who are prohibited by their observance from pushing the buttons, and thus doing “work” or causing “work” to be done.  Shabbat elevators are a common phenomenon at most hotels in Israel, particularly in Jerusalem.

How Kosher is that Glee-da in the window?

Foodie alert! If you are lactose-intolerant, you can eat the ice cream in an Israeli hotel after a meat meal. Huh?  Yes. It is not real ice cream. Not made with milk or milk products.  It would not be Kosher to eat a dairy desert immediately after a meat meal. Eat up and enjoy.  It’s not Creme Boogia… but it’s pretty darn good. Israeli hotels generally accommodate the observant in the dining room and thus can accommodate everyone.  The only downside for secular coffee drinkers is they must lighten their after-dinner coffee with soy-milk.

The fake ice cream after dinner (served over super rich brownie-muffins with chocolate sauce) at Kfar Blum could actually score three stars in the Michelin Guide. Kfar Blum is a little paradise in the very north of Israel. A kibbutz, its product is not ice cream or ice cream equipment or watermelons or tanks. It is hospitality.  On the grounds of the kibbutz is a hotel and spa. Come to Kfar Blum and luxuriate!

I was there for two and a half days for the annual meeting of the Israeli Society of Biological Psychiatry. Many of the talks were in Hebrew. But most of the slides were in English (as were the posters at the poster sessions).  Many of the keynote speakers were from outside Israel (Marie-Claire King, from U Washington in Seattle, the discoverer of the BRCA genes for breast cancer was one) and they lectured in English. During the poster sessions that were held each evening before dinner, I approached each poster presenter with the same request,

“Eph-shar l’has-beer b’Anglit?”  Can you explain it [to me] in English”.

In impressive fashion, graduate students (secular and religious Jewish Israelis as well as Arab Israelis) from all over Israel, from all universities, readily complied – and answered my follow-up questions – despite the fact that English was probably their 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th language.

Be careful what you wish for

“Hay-vaita ofanayim b’shvelee?” (Did you bring a bicycle for me?) I asked an avid bicyclist and former colleague from Hadassah when I saw him at the conference at Kfar Blum.

“Hay-vaitee ofanayim b’shvelee” (I brought a bike for me) answered my colleague.

“lo b’shveel-cah” (Not for you), he clarified.

My main source of exercise is regular middle distance (20 miles at a time) biking… but I was secretly relieved.

I had just run 6 miles that morning. It was a few days after completing the Jerusalem 10K. (Yes. I beat last year’s time!) My legs were shot.  And the one time last year that I had ridden -off road- with this 60 year old psychiatrist (who smokes!), he wore black socks, carried 2 liter water bottles in a backpack, wore plain cut off shorts and sneakers… and kicked my butt.  At one point, he and his regular riding buddy – another psychiatrist with a few years on me – seemed to ride straight up a hill that looked like a wall (think Fred Astaire in “Royal Wedding”).  I had to dismount and push my bike… and even that was tough.

My gravity-defying and fashion-defying colleague was one of the gang of three who had invited me to speak in a special symposium on sex differences in psychiatry at the conference in Kfar Blum.  The wall-rider introduced the session and thanked me for coming from the United States.  He explained that as a courtesy to me, the session would be conducted in English.  He added that he hoped to keep to time so that he could go for a bike ride right afterwards.

The talk went well.  I didn’t need to think before I changed the slides. I knew what was coming and what to say.  I was in the zone. We were up against a parallel session with a headliner … but we still had a packed house. The audience was engaged. There were sure to be questions. I ended my presentation by showing some provocative preliminary data from a new study. I finished with a flourish by disclaiming any conclusions right now from the preliminary data, but promised, “Next year, when you invite me back, I’ll have enough data in this study to offer some real conclusions… and I’ll bring my bicycle with me so that I can ride with my friend, O-, the session chairman.” O- smiled the smile of someone who knows a bluffer. But what could he do?

As always happens at the end of my talk on smoking and sex differences, excited audience members impressed with our findings, rush the speaker’s table.  This time was no different.  One young man in a sport-coat and stylish glasses squeezed through the crowd and offered his hand.


“Yes” (I ran through the typical questions I receive from fawning students and post-docs.)

“You can ride my bike.”

“I’m sorry?”

“I brought my bicycle from Jerusalem. But I already rode this morning. So you can ride it with your friends now.”


Would this happen in NYC?

I wrapped up my visit to Israel with a lecture at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv and dinner with a friend.  We checked the train schedule to the airport and targeted the 9:15pm from the Ha-shalom station to Modi-in, which stops inside Ben Gurion airport. V- dropped me at the train station.  I approached the ticket booth.  It was 8:55pm so I had time but not much. Then I learned that the train I needed would arrive at 9:05 not 9:15.  In my rush, I could not summon the words for platform (R’-tseef ) in Hebrew, so I asked in English.  Not a good idea.  The lady in the glass booth told me there was only one – or that is what I thought she said.  I paid, slipped my ticket in the turnstile, and headed for the (one?) track.  When I got there, there were 2 choices. It was now 8:58 and a mistake would mean getting to the airport late or not at all.  I suppressed my male-brain and asked for directions. A man with a phone pointed me to track #1 (maybe that is what the ticket lady had meant?).  I thanked and rushed down the 2 flights of stairs with fully loaded suitcase in hand.  When I got to the platform (R’-tseef, R’tseef, R’tseef) I saw other people with suitcases.

“Sli-chah? Atem nos-im l-Ben Gurion?” (Excuse me, are you traveling to Ben Gurion) I asked, my blood pressure descending and my Hebrew returning.

“Anachnu choz-rim may-Ben Gurion” (We are returning from Ben Gurion), replied a traveler.

From Ben Gurion? Had I caught that? Then I must be on the wrong…

“Sorry”, someone tapped me on the shoulder.  It was the guy talking on his phone who had given me directions to track #1. He had run down the 2 flights of stairs after me when he realized his error.

“I told you the wrong track. Take this elevator. It will be quicker.”

It was 9:00.  I waited and then jumped in the elevator. It took me back to level 2 but left me off at the wrong end of the station. It was 9:01.  I ran. Thank goodness for suitcases with swivel wheels.

I descended the stairs, hoisting my suitcase full of rocks down the two flights.

I landed at the track.

A train barreled into the station.  It was 9:02.

This must be it.  What I thought was supposed to be a 9:15 was actually a 9:05. Maybe everything in Israel happens ahead of schedule? (Obviously brain-freeze had set in.)

I jumped on the train, heaving my suitcase loaded with a full set of Encyclopedia Britannica ahead of me.

“Sir”, again someone tapping me on the shoulder. This time a petite woman with a smile.

It was 9:03.

“Are you going to the airport”, she asked in English after jumping into the train after me.

“Yes”, I panted.

“You’re on the wrong train. You need the one going to Modi-in.”

I dragged my suitcase full of gold ingots out of the train and back onto the platform (R’-tseef, R’tseef, R’tseef, R’-tseef, R’tseef, R’tseef).

“How did you know?”

“I saw the suitcase and figured…”

“What do you do?”

“I’m a financial analyst.”

“But at night you save the lives of American travelers”

The train arrived at 9:05 as advertised.

“Usually I wear my cape.”

And she leapt onto the train.


Evan’s Hebrew, revealed.

Sabbath trip טיול שבת
ice cream גלידה
Do you know how to write our last name? האם אתה יודע איך לכתוב את שם המשפחה שלנו
How? אֵיך
We have a candle at the end of our name. יש לנו נר בסוף השם שלנו
Password סיסמה
No. There is one religious family לא. יש משפחה דתית אחת
[Is it] possible to explain in English?  אפשר להסביר באנגלית
Did you bring a bicycle for me? הבאת אופניים בשבילי
I brought a bicycle for me. הבאתי אופניים בשבילי
Not for you. לא בשבילך
Train platform רציף רכבת
Excuse me. Are ]you[ travelling to Ben Gurion? סליחה.

נוסעים לבן גוריון

We are returning from Ben Gurion. אנחנו חוזרים מבן גוריון
About the Author
Evan D. Morris is a Professor of Radiology, Psychiatry, Biomedical Engineering at Yale University in CT, USA. Like most Israelis, he has friends on the right, left, and center of the political spectrum, as well as those who are secular and religious. He speaks Hebrew... just enough to get into trouble. He was a Fulbright Scholar in the winter of 2015/16 at Hadassah Hospital, Ein Kerem and lived with his family in the German Colony. He maintains scientific contacts and collaborations with colleagues in Israel and tries to visit Israel regularly. His goal is to break 1:05:00 in the Jerusalem 10K.
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