(photo credit: Deborah Danan)
Tel Avivians battle the weather like it’s a mortal enemy. Of course,
there are those who opt for immediate surrender by leaving Tel Aviv for the
duration of the summer. But for those of us who are too stubborn – or too poor –
to admit defeat and get out of the kitchen, the wispy clouds now dotting the
skies are nothing short of a victory dance.
We warriors of Tel Aviv are trained to adapt to a cruel, daily routine in an effort to combat the summer onslaught. It begins in the morning, when you wake up with a crick in your neck from sleeping with the fan. You then step outside and are immediately accosted with slap-in-your-face heat that means that by the time you arrive at your place of work, you’re dripping in enough sweat to replenish the Kinneret. You walk into the sub-zero climate of your office, and for a few moments of sweet, sweet relief, you are thankful that you might actually live to see another day. But within minutes, the air conditioning has turned the rivulets of sweat running down your forehead into icy particles. You rapidly go from being in danger of heatstroke to being at risk of hypothermia. You then don the sweater you keep in your desk draw but it does little to stop the constant dripping from your nose. Summer snivels are a part of Tel Aviv life, you see. I can’t think of another place in the world where people sneeze as much despite the 35 degree weather.
You then finish your work day and if you’re so inclined, you head to the beach for sunset. If you’re lucky, you might even have the privilege of feeling something akin to a breeze dance lightly through your hair. Mad delirium tricks you into thinking that since the sun is leaving for the day, so is the heat. Of course, night creeps up and it only gets worse. The air is as thick and muggy as a monsoon morning before the rain. By the time you reach your place of residence, you are utterly spent but somehow you muster up the last of your energy reserves to stand in the shower as it pours down lukewarm water (the water is never actually cold) on your battle-scarred body.
And yet, somehow, in spite of
my incessant whining over the heat, I’m still annoyed that summer is
There’s something daunting about the onset of autumn. Perhaps it’s
something that still remains from teenage-dom, that dreaded feeling that comes
when a school term of interminable length is about to begin. Or maybe it’s the
advent of the High Holy Days and the knowledge that at some point soon I will
have to embark on the uneasy task of introspection and
Whichever it is, I can’t say I haven’t had a blast this
summer. It’s been jam-packed with activities and outings and the good fortune of
visiting many places in Israel that I’d never been to. Kicking off the list was
a local outing I took to Tel Aviv’s amusement park. I did not bring along
children with me to justify my presence there, but nonetheless a fun time was
had by all. Having said that, I’m not sure I’d recommend the Luna Park to
foreigners. For olim from Western countries, the Luna Park is nothing more than
a trumped-up funfair and the bumper-cars leave much to be desired. There are
only two decent rides, one of which is a rickety rollercoaster that is held
together by wires and miracles, while the other is a blinkand- you’ll-miss-it
plunge ride that you have to wait in line for over 45 minutes in the blazing
heat to get on. Still, at least now I can breathe a sigh of relief that I’m able
to cross the Luna Park off my summer bucket list.
Down the road in Jaffa,
I took part in a Segway tour of the area by the port.
Segways are an
absolutely fantastic way to tour around if you don’t mind looking like a bit of
a moron. The municipality has cleaned up what was a huge area of trash in Jaffa
and turned it into landscaped parks and children’s playgrounds.
stand on top of the hill on a clear day, you can see as far as Haifa and Ashdod
beaches on either end of the horizon.
Moving away from Tel Aviv-Jaffa, I
found myself on a hike to the Dead Sea. Notice I use the word “to” and not “in.”
That’s because the hike was from the Tekoa settlement, just south of Jerusalem,
all the way to Metzukei Dragot Beach, by the Dead Sea. It was a
spur-of-the-moment decision one boring Saturday night when a friend suggested I
join a group of 10 people for the moonlit trek.
At one point during the
trek, we found ourselves in a wadi with our path blocked by a cesspool of murky
water whose depth was indeterminable. The pool was filled with all manner of
dead creatures and many live ones too, feeding off the dead. The only way around
it would’ve been to climb up the wadi but in order to do that we would need
ropes (later on we came across a sign that warned hikers that rappelling
equipment was a requirement for this particular hike). I was with a bunch of
musicians who are rather a hardy lot and it wasn’t long before one of them
stepped into the water to test the depth. It only reached his waist so we all
followed suit and went in, trying to quell any anxieties regarding what sort of
diseases we might be prone to catch.
We were privy to witness a
spectacular sunrise over the barren landscape while the mandolin and sitar
players among us strummed some melodies. The ensuing five hours were tortuous as
the summer sun rose high in the sky and torched our aching bodies. But it was
all worth it when we reached the Dead Sea and dipped into the sweet-water pools,
played some music, sang kambayas and drank whatever was left of our now-boiling
Another excursion took me to a place that isn’t too far from the
aforementioned settlement of Tekoa, but for the drastic difference in
culture I might as well have been a foreign country. I went to have dinner one
evening in a Palestinian refugee camp called Al Arroub, 15 kilometers south of
Bethlehem. To be precise, the meal was for iftar (the evening meal at the end of
a fast) since it was during the last days of Ramadan. A friend of mine, who now
lives in Tel Aviv, grew up in Al Arroub and invited me to the home of his
parents. The camp is just 1 km. in length, yet it accommodates 12,000 souls.
Piles of trash line narrow alleyways that wind up and around dilapidated
My friend’s house, however, is almost palatial in comparison
with its surroundings.
It has a total of three living rooms, all decked
out with the glitzy furnishings that characterize Arab houses.
was laid out for us that included three different types of meat and chicken,
dozens of side dishes and the most delicious date juice to wash it all
Dates are eaten at iftar because according to Muslim tradition, the
prophet Muhammad ate them to break his fast.
After iftar, we retired to
the roof to digest the food and smoke a nargila. Our generous hosts kept coming
out with platters laden with delectable sweets, baklawa, sabras and home-grown
figs. A French tourist had joined us on the excursion and she was rather taken
aback with the opulence. In her mind, she had expected the refugee camp to be a
bunch of makeshift tents with children rummaging through garbage cans and eating
stolen scraps of potatoes.
A couple of weeks later, I went on another
trip with a group of Palestinians and Israelis to Haifa, Acre and Jerusalem. The
idea was to introduce the Palestinians to Jewish culture, heritage and history
and allow them to learn a little more about our narrative.
been exposed to the suffering of the Jews, many of them were shocked by what
they saw in Yad Vashem, where a tour in Arabic was arranged for them. I had the
chance to visit places in the Old City that I’d never been to, including the old
Christian Ethiopian quarter tucked away behind the Church of the Holy
Part of the reason that I chose to dedicate this column to my
summer activities was born out of a quandary that I’ve been struggling with for
some time. In case you hadn’t already gathered, I’m what you might call a
“collector of experiences.”
The problem with this, however, is that it’s
not always easy to turn these experiences into something everlasting – or more
accurately, into the written word. I’m constantly struggling with the dichotomy
of living life as opposed to writing about life. I often feel that you either
live life or you write about life, but doing both is nearly impossible.
suppose that with the advent of a new Jewish year, my task will be to try and
find the balance between the two.
With that in mind, all that’s left to
do is to wish everyone a happy, safe and sweet New Year, filled with fun and
adventure, and the will to make the world that little bit