Sometimes I think this is the best of all possible worlds.
For example, I get daily phone calls from my sister. She’s not down the street here in West Orange NJ. Nope! She’s on Rehov David Roi in Herzliya. Yet, we speak daily, although 6,000 miles separate us. We even see each other. That wouldn’t be remarkable except that it’s free. Don’t even try to explain to me how WhatsApp does this. It’s well beyond my powers!
But it brings me back in time to when my sister first moved to Israel, in 1967. My mother was glued to the mailbox downstairs on Aldine Street in Newark’s Weequahic Section. She would gaze up the block in the direction that our mailman, Joe, would be proceeding by foot, and often greet him in person, searching for an aerogramme from Janet. In those early phone-less days in Tel Aviv, and then, after she married Zeev and they moved to Ramat Gan, still phone-less, only aerogrammes filled the communication gap.
If the aerogramme appeared, which it did about twice weekly, Mom would treat it gingerly, never trusting its fragility not to smudge a treasured word, and cautiously open it. She would save each and every missive, and memorize its contents. Each one, in other words, was a big deal.
Pragmatically, I would never remind her that the letter which always told Mom that all was well over there, was already two weeks old. And we all know that life can change in a single instant, so knowing that all was well was pretty insignificant. Of course she knew this on her own but the thrill of receiving those aerogrammes was constant and would override her doubts and fears.
With financial resources, could my sister have phoned Mom? Not easily! Her early years in Israel were marked by never having a home phone. In Tel Aviv, no phone. In Ramat Gan, no phone. In Herzliya, her first home in Givat Hachalomot, no phone, but at least a number, for emergencies only, of a nearby neighbor who was a colonel in the IDF and did have a phone. Sof, sof (finally) she got a phone and then moved shortly thereafter to Ussishkin, the Herzliya home where they raised their sabra kids. Again, no phone for several more years. And, let it be known, the colonel didn’t move with them.
Zeev was called up during the Yom Kippur War, leaving Janet home with the two little kids, phone-less, with her husband at the front. Those were painful days. His return home was a joyous event.
Making a phone call from a public pay phone was nigh unto impossible. One would have to stand in an endless line and eventually speak to an operator who would usually indicate that the circuits were busy. It was the old hang up and try your call again. On many visits with their family I tried to call New Jersey and didn’t succeed. Frustrating is an understatement.
I don’t know why I should have expected more in the way of phone service. When I was growing up in Newark we had one phone for our family and it was a party line. Ask kids, and by that I mean anyone under 60, what a party line is and they’re totally clueless. Ask them how well they’d get along with Mr. Musto, our party line partner across Aldine Street, a man of few words, never a smile or friendly gesture, living alone, but always on that phone! We did have a phone but making a call often depended on Mr. Musto’s beneficence ! I still cannot reckon how much that old man spoke on our shared phone line. And I was too fearful to listen in on his calls to figure it out.
And then there was the price difference between local calls and long-distance calls. Thus a certain amount of local calls were pretty much unlimited but if one decided to call Uncle Dave in Queens or Uncle Charlie’s dental office in Brooklyn, those were considered long-distance and my mother, always careful with money, never called her brothers casually just to chat. Nonetheless, we did have a phone and, theoretically, access to the world. But, if a family member were living, say, in Herzliya, they would need to partner with your call on their own phone. No phone meant no call.
We also had a summer phone in Parksville. That was of less use than the Newark phone. Our number Liberty 726J was a payphone and only operator assisted calls could be made from it. It was also the single phone for about 30 families at The Bauman House alone, hung on an inaccessible wall. And, finally, it was also a party line phone shared with quite a few Liberty 726es accompanied by other letters. Making a call on a phone used by literally hundreds of people was basically impossible so the phone was an emergency phone only. Hence, when my cousin Bobby, who had polished my nails the day before, was diagnosed with polio, my Aunt Edna called to share the grim news. That call went through. My mother would have done better with an aerogramme! But I did not get polio.
Today, when little kids wander about with their own phones, using skills that I have yet to master, the world is a different place. Practically no one is without a phone. And gratification is instant. Compare a WhatsApp international call to an aerogramme. It’s most dramatic to me in Israel where the transition was so abrupt. From no phones to a phone for every member of the family. A single generation went from phone-less to constant contact.
Does this mean that we live in the best of all possible worlds? Well, yes, unless you think about refugees, anti-vaxxers, COVID epidemics, global warming, wars, AOC wanting to deny Israel funds for iron domes, Donald Trump, the US Supreme Court, southern governors, and a few other items including missing New York Super Fudge Chunk!
But, at least our phones are hard at work. I’m typing this on a phone you know!