Put on a helmet

We visited Israel for a month this summer. Yes, for that month. We spent more time in dark stairwells and dusty shelters than should be allowed by law in any country with a Mediterranean climate.

August 20, 2014 13:47
2 minute read.
Bicycling in Israel

A woman shops for a bicycle helmet. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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There is nothing inherently unusual about sitting at Café Hemda on Ibn Gvirol Street in Tel Aviv and spotting your teenage son zip by on a bicycle.

Unless your son does not know how to ride a bicycle.

And is not wearing his glasses.

We visited Israel for a month this summer. Yes, for that month. We spent more time in dark stairwells and dusty shelters than should be allowed by law in any country with a Mediterranean climate.

But there was drama before the war as well, before we even made plans to come to Israel.

If you are a Zionist living in small town in Virginia, on a street whose corner is crowned with a liquor store – or heck, even on a street without a liquor store – there are only so many Shabbat candles you can light, so many Jewish folktales you can toss at your children, so many jars of gefilte fish you can go through, before the whole family arrives at the same conclusion independently: Something is not working.

But what, exactly? It would be folly to claim (though fun to try) that because we reside in the Diaspora, my three boys don’t know how to ride a bicycle, swim, fry an egg or buy a loaf of bread. But if one’s inner life works in sync with one’s outer life, and the center of the former revolves not around a synagogue or clapping at a klezmer concert, but being hammered at the dinner table with an inverted appeal by Moses Mendelssohn from 200 years ago to “be a Jew at home and in the street,” how will one’s posture ever be primed for activities requiring you to stand up straight?

Of course, it could all be a coincidence that within a week of arriving in Israel, one of my sons learned how to ride a bicycle, another to swim and the third to make pancakes. And I am not naïve: just as, in Virginia, I instructed my kids not to accept any inebriated bear hugs while sitting on the front porch, so too did I inform them of a recent finding in Israel, locating a large number of assaults on children in the stairwells of apartments. Do not linger in those places, I stressed.

Of course, if a siren sounds and your friend’s apartment building is not equipped with a bomb shelter, that sinister space will become your savior, kids, and anyone who had hoped to catch you alone on your way to Emanuel’s or Eitan’s with a carton of eggs tucked under your arm will be deterred by the half dozen people greeting each other like newfound family.

Capisce? And Natan? Put on your glasses. Now.

So thank you, Hamas, for making Israel a little bit safer.

And thank you, Israel, for working your magic and making my and my husband’s job – if only for the summer – a whole lot easier.

The author is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. My work has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Agni (forthcoming), Moment Magazine, The Forward, Mississippi Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Bellingham Review, Jewcy, Zeek and Carve Magazine.

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