People Watching On The Sidewalks of Israel

Herzliya actually.

Yesterday I found myself sitting in a nice cool car waiting for my husband. Of course I engaged in an entertaining activity:  people watching.

I’m assuming you’ve all seen Rear Window, Hitchcock’s old blockbuster film about observing other people.  While Jimmy Stewart was a real male yenta, with all the accoutrements, I am just like you.  I find people to be fascinating but I am no peeping Tom.  When we travel people watching is always high on my list, even higher than many must do attractions.  People are interesting and the variation is uncanny.  We all usually start with the same body parts and isn’t it remarkable that we look and are so different.

So, there I was yesterday with a half hour of inactivity, looking out at my fellow Herzliyans.

The first two people who passed by my car, which was parked near my barber, Shai, on Rehov Ben Gurion, made me very sad.  Their story was so obvious and so devastating.  They were a pair of women, a mother and her middle aged daughter..  The mother’s face was the face of a woman facing tragedy.  She was a beaten woman, literally destroyed.  The daughter was dying.  She was walking in profound pain, clinging to her mother.  How did I know all this in the seconds that they were in my view?  Anyone would have known.  The mother’s face was the window into her soul.  I could hear her prayer:  God, please take me instead.  Please God.  I am afraid her prayer will not be answered.  And I pray that I am wrong!

I often notice the similarities between old age and infancy, especially when I am outdoors in Herzliya.  Where we live in New Jersey we see very few infants and very few real ancients.  People there are more tucked away I guess.  Here, the most obvious optic is the baby stroller and the wheelchair.  The composite of life is right there for all to see. In the beginning.  And at the end.  The baby in the stroller is usually pushed by the mother (not always, but almost always)   The wheelchair is usually pushed by a metapelet, a caretaker, often a woman from the Phillipines, known here as a filipina.  One could reflect on why infant care is more likely to be familial than eldercare.  It might be that the baby is cuter.  I can think of other reasons as well. But, I saw lots of strollers and lots of wheelchairs and that’s how it was.  And it was duly noted that in just about every case the babies were protected against the rays of the sun  The elders not.  I guess if one doesn’t expect a long future one is less careful about the searing sun.

In Israel there are lots of people in the streets driving something akin to golf carts  These brave people, however, are no golfers.  These are drivers who need something motorized to get around to do their daily errands.  I never noticed how many of them there are until yesterday when I did my watching.  I wouldn’t call these devices exactly safe, competing for road space with cars, trucks and buses; and not to forget the two wheeled menaces:  motorcycles and electric bikes.  Electric bikes have become a real problem around town.  Teenagers are zipping around, usually on sidewalks, sharing the same space as the wheelchairs, strollers, and everyone else.

Another very prevalent pedestrian item is the accompanying shopping cart, the agala. Although the markets do deliver some find it more convenient to bring their purchases home.  A panopoly of patterns decorate the sidewalks, all usually with the same functional design. A handle to pull, a storage area covered against rain and, of course, the wheels to make it all possible.    A very useful and ubiquitous item here in Herzliya. I have my own, bought many years ago in Zabars.  See how chic I am!

It’s interesting that people watchers like me can usually tell where the pedestrians have come from. I refer to their places of origin of course. This land is such a mixture of races and traces.  Some are very easy. Filipinos for example.  Very black skinned are Africans, usually not Jewish.  Lighter skinned blacks are Ethiopian Jews who have, I think, Israel’s most beautifully crafted faces with delicate noses and graceful bodies. Immigrants from the United States are so obvious.  While I don’t think I look American (three generations out of Poland) invariably when I walk into a store, the clerk will address me in English.  And the Russians.  Herzliya had a huge influx of Russians who’ve brought their culture with them.  Even after quite a few years they are still looking Russian and speaking it as well.  And I am still speaking English! I can spot the Brits and the French and the South Africans.  And on it goes. But unlike in America, we here are a real melting pot.  In a few decades all the Jews will have become a rich blend, combined with those who came before them.  Israelis.

I like to notice what people are wearing when they are outside on a profoundly hot day.  Some  are somewhat silly.  High heels. Sweaters! (I actually saw a couple of sweaters. Believe me, sweaters were not needed yesterday or today).  Revealing and sexy galore!  Sandals mostly but shoes and socks aplenty.  Lots of shirts with logos.  Mostly in English.  Much harder to buy Hebrew writing on shirts in Israel than in English.

Hair color is often very local to Israel  There’s a shade of red (actually a deep, glaring, clashing orange) that seems popular only amongst Israeli women of a certain age.  I don’t think it makes them look younger but that’s a personal opinion.  And who am I to talk with my pure gray?  That certainly doesn’t make me look younger. Dyed blonde is very prevalent in the under 60’s and lower  Since blonde is not a dominant natural color in the Jewish gene pool,  it seems like a substantial amount of money is spent on hair coloring agents.  I’m going out on a limb here but I’m guessing that in poorer countries women spend less to color their hair than here.  Hence:  we must be a rich country!  That’s good news!

I also noted a very nice whimsical work of wall art facing my passenger window.  No message and most likely the work of kids in a gan.  Carefully colored shapes and designs on the back fence of a building, right there decorating Rehov Ben Gurion.  It made me smile. Someone wanted the street to look pretty. That’s nice. Todah Someone!

About the Author
Rosanne Skopp is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of fourteen, and great-grandmother of two. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and travels back and forth between homes in New Jersey and Israel. She is currently writing a family history.