The cackle of the loud-speaker system momentarily drowns out the noise of bustle.
"Attention," a woman's voice is heard throughout the shopping center, where Ela and Eitan have come to spend their Pessah gift certificates before they expire. "Buy two books, get a third free on the first floor; minha [evening prayer] is about to begin on the second floor."
Ela pauses from her rummaging through a stack of flags and other Independence Day decorations to consider the curious announcement. She doesn't remember ever having seen a shul on the upper level. She tries to imagine where it might be. Next to McDonald's or the lingerie shop? Between the Chinese take-away and sporting goods?
She turns around to ask Eitan if he knows. But he is no longer standing in the same spot. She assumes he has already made his way to the electronics store - his holiday bonus's being a lot higher than hers. One among many benefits of working for an American-style start-up. Or so both Ela and Eitan like to stress when challenged. Or when in doubt themselves.
Like at the seder, when Eitan's mother and Ela's father took turns clucking tongues to express "concern" about the wisdom of Eitan's having left a pension-guaranteed civil service job to join a firm with an uncertain future at best.
"On the contrary," Eitan defended his choice. "It's the dollar that's taking a nose dive; the shekel is strengthening by the hour."
Still, both he and Ela share an unspoken sense that her steady - albeit low-end - income is the couple's safety net. A fallback, if their fantasies of getting rich - from stock options when the company goes public, or if it's sold to a major conglomerate for millions - do not mature to fruition.
ELA SELECTS a particularly large satin flag for the pole Eitan welded to the railing of their balcony. This year, she has decided not to waste her time or money on the smaller, less permanent symbols of patriotism. She's sick of having to throw away the junky ones - which inevitably get rained on immediately after a dust storm and before she gets around to taking them down.
The same goes for the mini-flags for her car. She almost bought two of these earlier today from a boy selling them at an intersection - as she usually does during the week before Yom Ha'atzmaut. But the siren for Holocaust Remembrance Day sounded just as she was about to take out her wallet. So instead, she pulled the emergency break and got out to stand with her head lowered for the two minutes of silence set aside for solemnity.
Which is just as well, she thought, since no sooner does she attach the flags to her back windows, then they end up either flying away while she's driving, or getting ripped off after she parks.
"WE'D BETTER get a move on," Eitan says, slightly out of breath, as he returns with his purchases. "The kids are probably hungry and tired after a long day of Shoah commemoration."
"Which reminds me," Ela says, snapping her fingers. "I have to wash and iron their white shirts for next week's Memorial Day ceremonies."
"Yeah," Eitan grunts, as he shifts his parcels from one hand to the other. "If the school strike is over by then."
"Well," Ela says, slipping the flag and yartzeit candles she has just bought into one of Eitan's shopping bags, "the teachers put their sanctions on hold for the Holocaust, so I don't see why they wouldn't do the same for fallen soldiers."
"Let's just pray an agreement is reached before tomorrow," Eitan says, taking a cigarette out of his pocket and putting it to his lips as they reach the exit door. "Otherwise we're in for another all-nighter."
Ela nods at her husband's reference to the endless "vacation" - beginning with Pessah break and continuing with the strike - that has turned her household into a kind of party haven for wayward high-school pupils in pursuit of refrigerators to raid, while supposedly studying for their matriculation exams. That Ela and Eitan do not have the luxury to sleep in after being kept awake by adolescent comings and goings does not trouble the teenagers who have taken over their home. The only solution in sight, other than their children graduating and going into the army, seems to be in the hands of the state whose 59th birthday everyone is busy getting ready to celebrate. And good cheer is kind of hard to muster with Hebrew rap blasting your eardrums into oblivion at 2 a.m.
"Yes," Ela seconds his motion, while popping the trunk. "Let's pray indeed."
"WHERE WAS God when six million Jews were led to the slaughter?" a radio host asks his guests - a rabbi, a survivor and an academic - the minute Eitan puts the key in the ignition.
Ela presses the "search" button until she finds a music station. The best songs, she knows, are always aired on memorial days, after a terrorist attack or when a leading figure dies or is killed.
"You don't have to listen to the words in this country," she says, fastening her seat belt when they pass a billboard promoting the new scare-tactic campaign to crack down on road carnage. "It's enough to hear the music to know whether something bad has happened."
"Anyway, what good does repeatedly hauling out that pointless debate about where God was? Can't the media come up with something different, for a change?"
"Oh, speaking of God," Ela says, lowering the volume. "Did you know there was a synagogue in the mall?"
"If you can call it that," Eitan answers, shrugging as he pulls up to the curb in front of their apartment building. "Why? Are you thinking about trading in your check book for a prayer book?"
Ela laughs. "It would be one way of cutting down on our expenses."
Eitan flinches at the reference to the financial risk he is taking. "Or else a way to ensure our success."
"If God didn't come to the rescue of all those people," Ela says, following Eitan up the steps, "I wouldn't count on his venture-capital support."
"You're right," Eitan says, greeted at the door by a deafening din emanating from the kitchen. "But I haven't given up hope of his intervening to get the kids back to school."