Early evening on Nachalat Binyamin Mall, a popular Tel Aviv destination. The street is quiet. Israel is at war. A guy sits on a bench across from an ice cream shop. His wife calls out from the shop’s doorway.
She: What flavor would you like?
He: You asked me what I wanted.
The guy and I share looks. Trade nods. I laugh.
Not funny? Okay. Moving on.
We Israelis have been holding our breaths for more than a month. The Hamas October 7 terrorist attack came as such a gut punch that our stomach muscles have yet to relax enough to let our lungs function normally. Laughter hurts.
It’s hard sharing this feeling with people outside the country. As sad and enraged as they may be, even if they are Jews locked into the news as tightly as we are, they can’t feel what we feel living in the midst of it all. The only people whose guts probably feel like ours are the citizens of Gaza. And we can’t commiserate with them. Hamas bastards won’t let us. They make Blue Meanies look like cream puffs.
I know. Not funny. Moving on.
Since immigrating to Israel from the US four years ago, my wife and I have had quite the experience. First, there was the COVID-19 lockdown. Then there was the invasion of the US Capitol. (We thought we were lucky watching from Israel.) And now The Black Sabbath. We know what’s coming next. WORLD WAR III.
To meet people who survived the attack, or have loved ones who didn’t, is excruciating. To see posters plastered everywhere featuring the hostages’ faces makes me want to cry. To hear how those posters are being ripped down by students at my alma mater in Manhattan makes me want to howl. As for police officers pulling down posters in London to keep the streets quiet and safe… Doncha just love those bobbies?
Early morning. Four guys are driving down to the Gaza border. It’s a Saturday. The Sabbath. They don’t care. They’re going to do God’s work: Pick cabbage. Seriously. Take a look.
Two Passovers ago I met a guy from Gaza at the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station. He had a work permit to help the Chinese build our city’s light rail system and was heading back to visit his family in Gaza City. My wife and I were on our way to spend Pesach with our son and daughter-in-law-to-be’s family in Ashkelon.
The guy from Gaza and I became Facebook friends. When he returned to Tel Aviv we had a coffee at a quiet cafe. I remember him telling me how much he liked my city. The working conditions and pay were far better in Tel Aviv than he had in Gaza, and if he behaved himself no one bothered him. He could go where he pleased. He and I have lost touch…There’s a punchline here, but I’m still working on it.
Since war broke out, our relatives in Ashkelon have found refuge elsewhere. Ten of them are sharing an apartment in Tel Aviv. All of them came to visit us. We ate popcorn popped right on the cob. Wonderful stuff. Got the cobs from an organic farmer.
While we were noshing and kibbitzing, sirens screamed. The good news is that we didn’t have to rush down seven flights to a bomb shelter, because – drum roll – our bedroom is a bomb shelter. There we were, all together in the bedroom. It’s a small room. So, we were fifteen, maybe sixteen, people (including two bouncy kids) crammed together on the bed while the Iron Dome did its work outside. CRASH! That was not a rocket hitting our building.
Truth is, I made up the last part. That night, there was corn popping, but no air-raid sirens. No in-coming rockets. Nothing to worry about. Our conjugal bed is fine.
Let me explain.
Israel’s Ministry of Health has been running public service announcements encouraging people to breathe, lighten up, do their best to enjoy life. In a TV interview three stand-up comics talked about how much soldiers on the front lines want, need, to laugh. Most non-combatants do, too.
Some people, plunged into such deep states of grief, can’t laugh. Not now. If a member of my family was being held hostage by Hamas, I don’t know how I could breathe, let alone write this column.
My wife told me about an amazing bomb shelter in our hood. We went to visit. It was kind of a date. Wow. The shelter was more than amazing. Here’s hoping this video I made about it hits your funny bone. Feel free to laugh.