The joy of a Jerusalem playground

Gaby Bar Giora in front of the renovated Mifletzet playground. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Gaby Bar Giora in front of the renovated Mifletzet playground.
During my early schooling, I once heard these lines: “There are all types of people who shed their radiance upon the rest of us – we must never stop looking for them.”
A recent experience in a Jerusalem playground let me see the “radiance” of young and old in a most delightful way, which made me think about the New Year. While sitting and observing in a delightful area, a playground near the heart of the city, I saw a group of five young people enjoying the cool breezes.
I asked who they were, and they told me that they were in the IDF and on furlough, which is why they were in civilian clothes with backpacks traveling “somewhere.” He was from Kiryat Hayovel, in the infantry, and a paratrooper.
“I am 19,” he said to me in a kindly tone, “and I have been in for nine months.”
“What is it like to jump out of a plane?” I asked him.
“To jump you have to train for a specific period of time – practicing from different heights – being in the devices which hold you as you initially work with the parachute. Our instructors were mostly women soldiers. We did not want to be embarrassed, so we worked even harder to make certain we succeeded. When we were ready, we put on our parachutes carefully after checking that it was exactly the way we were taught it should be packed. We were a little nervous as we boarded the plane. Soon we reached the right height. Out we jumped and we soared through the skies until we pulled the cord opening our parachutes. Thankfully, all in my group landed safely. What a thrill to float in the blue of the heaven above our nation.”
I had not expected such a reply. That young man “radiated” for me.
With the New Year upon us, we should each have the opportunity not just to enjoy and achieve, but also to rise to heights which we never expected. Higher and higher each of us should climb, as has this soldier who is guarding each of us.
There were 18 four-year-old boys with black kippot from a local kindergarten who ran onto the playground with real enthusiasm.
One approached me and said, “I was told not to speak to strangers.”
I at least wanted to know this kindly youngster’s name. When I asked, he said “Micah,” and ran away.
The rest did not want to talk to me, but they kept walking by me, this stranger. Their beautiful eyes were wide open. They looked at my multicolored sneakers. A few even came very close, reached out and touched my sneakers. They laughed because they had felt the smooth rubber and even the dangling shoelaces. I did not mind – it was fun for this old guy.
Where I sat, there was a narrow space between my bench and the fence around the playground. Purposely, it seemed to me, three or four of them entered that “space” rubbing shoulders with me as they passed. Then they ran to another spot in the playground.
These little boys radiated special feelings even as they just passed by.
Touching in life has its own implications. We know how it feels to shake someone’s hand. At times a real squeeze, at times simply a meeting of flesh. We know how wonderful it is to hug a person whom we love and with whom we are friendly. That act has its own meaning, and we part satisfied that we took the initiative. I hope and pray that we are blessed in the coming year to reach out and touch in a multitude of positive ways. Also let us be touched by the happiness each new day can engender for a good, sweet year.
Then a surprise: a grandfather in a tall black hat and wearing a long black coat shepherded his grandson into the playground.
This gentleman had a long white beard, and his tzizit were hanging out as an adornment of his faith.
What love I saw in the elder’s eyes, as he placed his grandson at the top of a sliding board watching closely as his einakel slid to the bottom. Then they moved to the seesaw. The youngster sat on one end and shouted in delight as his grandfather pushed the other end up and down.
Then this very special grandfather picked up his grandson, whose long blond curls covered his head and parts of his face, carefully raised him and placed him on top of the circular device on which you can sit and make it turn around fast or slow. The grandfather’s hat bobbed on his head as he moved his joyous descendant around and around.
The grandson was in seventh heaven as his grandfather pushed the “device” while holding the child tightly so he would not fall off. Then again he climbed on the sliding board, and when the descent was completed, he ran over to the swings, was placed on one, and soared high as his grandfather pushed him.
I asked the grandfather his name.
He said Menachem.
And your grandson, what is he called? Shmuel, he answered.
So as the New Year begins, let us hope that we will each have comfort in all that we do, but most of all we should listen and hear the voices of all humankind, trying ourselves to make the world a better place.
Leshana tova tikatevu – may you be inscribed for a good year.