In these ‘times of the pandemic,’ many of us are restocking and re-examining parts of our lives and our homes and ourselves more than we took the time to do for many years. We’ve been literally ‘restocking our pantries’ hoping we have enough food and necessities for a long haul as we remain as safe as we can as we quarantine indoors, and we are looking inward as well. Many of us are becoming reacquainted with beloved items in our homes we may have forgotten about, treasures we ritually dust and walk past, remembering only in passing how they became part of our lives in a meaningful way. Now, we see them more as we spend more indoor time with them, rushing around less, being with very few people, spending more time with ourselves.
Meet my Shabbes Lady!
She stands guard on our buffet close to our Shabbat candlesticks but not too-close. She’s also near our Havdalah spice box and our kiddush cups. Like those museum rooms you can enter in which the walls and floors are distorted and normal size people appear to be giants, the candle sticks, the spice box, the kiddush cups, and indeed the Shabbes lady stand at equal heights like sentinels. So although my Shabbes lady is short, she is powerful; she’s a reminder that my candles are burning on Friday night. She’s a bit worn and slightly dusty and too fragile for any close hygienic care.
I acquired her in 1968 on my first trip to Israel, a summer that was filled with wonder at meeting both Israel and my Israeli cousins for the first time; until then, these cousins, and their parents were only names to me, and some faded photos -names my grandmother mentioned when I was a child. That summer of ’68 was one I can never forget, though the square Polaroid photos that yet remain hardly tell the tales. How much better would it have been had I had today’s iPhone camera capabilities, or any modern camera for that matter.
The airport then in 1968 was Lod, not yet remodeled or
renamed Ben Gurion Airport until 1973. My friends and I, three newly minted teachers, each of us on our first time in Israel, were more than ready for all Israel could offer. Upon landing, the first thing each El Al passenger did, was kiss the ground at the airport after our 17 hour flight from JFK.
We were not on a tour, and had created our own itinerary. ‘$5 a day pensions’ were all we could afford… safe and sparse; those were adventures of their own. I remember that first Tel Aviv pension quite well! The guy at the front desk asked if we wanted a ‘wake up call.’ We agreed, sure! Exhausted from the flight, and confused by the time zone changes and jet lag, we collapsed onto our three cots, in a room so small and narrow, we had to step over each other to get to the bathroom. And the bathroom- well, it was only a sink and a toilet in a cut out section at the corner of the room. Shower? Down the hall. All three of us had practically passed out on our cots, fully dressed, vowing to unpack early the next morning. No air conditioning of course, with only a slight breeze coming from a small open window. We were on our vacations and it was July in Israel after all. I’d fallen into my stupor in the cot closest to the door. Suddenly, in my deep sweaty comatose sleep, I felt something shaking me! On my shoulder! Something? Someone? Nothing personal here, just unexpected room service. In strongly Hebrew accented English the message was delivered: “Get up! Get up! Zis iz your vake up call!”
So the trip continued magnificently. We saw so many sights, the same things new tourists to Israel visited then and visit to this day! We went to the Kotel a few times, climbed Masada at 4 am, took buses to various kibbutzim, lazed on the Tel Aviv beaches, bought the requisite gifts for family members, rode on a camel, visited the Biblical zoo, swam in the Dead Sea, visited Banyas, even visited Jericho and Hebron; no big deal then.
At some point my two friends and I separated, each of us checking our own Israeli family’s address a thousand times, so that when we’d go our separate ways on different buses at the ‘old Tel Aviv Bus Station,’ we’d board the correct buses. One of us went on to Haifa, one to a kibbutz in the north and me, to Herzliyah. We’d each brought along small gifts from home for our families but on the way to the bus staton we’d also stopped into a bakery and bought a ‘little something’ too. I waved to my friends, boarded my bus to Herzliyah, carrying my little blue El Al overnight bag and my bakery box. My high school and college Hebrew was OK, but I was a little antsy. I knew the ride should take about 30 minutes but about 20 minutes into the ride I got up to ask the driver how much time I still had left- just checking of course. Calmed by his response that I was fine, and had not passed my stop, I returned to my seat only to find that I now had a seat mate! He was at the window, and my El AL overnight bag was on my seat. But where was my bakery box? “Ah! slichah, סליחה!!” he said. [Excuse me!] He hadn’t noticed it! It was under his tachat. His tuchis, his rear end; he’d sat on it! So I got off the bus at the right corner, walked cake-less to my cousins. We shared a wonderful couple of days, and we still stay in touch, these 50 years later.
One of the gifts my friends and I each bought for ourselves in Jerusalem was a ‘Shabbes lady,’ the little doll in the photo. She’s been mine all these years, and moved out with me when I got married. My two friends and I? We’ve stayed in touch as well. But I can’t ask them about their Shabbes ladies any more. One friend died three months ago from Covid, and the other friend has spent the past several years in an Alzheimer’s facility. I guess I’ll just have to remember this trip’s details for myself. Maybe the Shabbes lady remembers them too.
Looking back and being close to home at a slow pace is fulfilling in its own way. Waking up, to smell the roses.