Suddenly Sabra: One big family

Not everyone moves to Israel out of idealism. Some just want to secure family ties for their kids.

angry girl cartoon 88 248 (photo credit: Illustration by Pepe Fainberg)
angry girl cartoon 88 248
(photo credit: Illustration by Pepe Fainberg)
It's how I imagine a New York City hooker must feel. Or maybe a mistress. When he can get out of his Upper East Side apartment, he has me meet him on street corners. "42nd and Vanderbilt at noon," he tells me on his cellphone. When I arrive he gives me a quick hug and a tight-lipped peck on the cheek and leads me, hurriedly, through the blocks and avenues to a restaurant. At the end of our date, he hands me a wad of cash, fifties neatly stacked and folded so they fit in the palm in his hand, so he can slip me the pay off, unnoticed by those around us. "Good to see you. Take care of yourself," he says. And then we go our separate ways. Sometimes I call and ask if I can see him again. "Well, we're busy all day," he says. The "we" is him and his wife. What about Wednesday? I ask. "We'll see what I can do," he says. "I might be able to get out of the apartment for a cup of coffee tomorrow afternoon. I'll call you." Tomorrow afternoon comes and he doesn't call. The money he's handed me doesn't make me feel good. Instead of spending it on myself, I take one friend to lunch and then another to dinner. "Don't worry about it," I say, reaching for the check at the end of each meal. "It's on Grandpa." That's right. I'm not part of a seedy affair. And I'm definitely not a hooker. The man I'm talking about is my grandfather. I've traveled from Florida to my mom's native New York to visit him, my favorite aunt, and a few friends. The last time I'd seen my grandpa was over two years ago, about a month before I left for Israel. That summer I'd managed to score not only a lunch with him, but an afternoon at MoMA. That was progress - my annual trip to New York usually meant an annual afternoon with my grandpa - so I had high hopes for this visit. Two years away certainly would garner me at least two afternoons, I thought. Each morning, I leave my aunt's apartment in Brooklyn, pausing at the Bangladeshi restaurant that makes the best coffee in the neighborhood. I head underground, and check my make-up as I wait for the F to Manhattan. When the train arrives - coughing and sighing to a halt - I board, hope and coffee in hand. It's approaching noon and I'm sitting on the manicured lawn of Bryant Bark, waiting for a friend, and sipping the last dregs of the Bangladeshi coffee. The sugar has sunk to the bottom, leaving only the end sweet. My phone rings and I fish it out of my bag. It's my mom. "Say hello to my city," she says. "And say hi to grandpa." "I'm not sure I'll be seeing him again," I say and I tell her how inexplicably busy her retired father is. She sighs. "I know. He's the same way with me. I'm there a week and I see him for a few hours, the most. He's always busy. Don't take it personally, Tali," she says. I can tell from the echo that she's got me on speakerphone. She must be in the car. "Listen," she says. "I'm just getting to work, so I've got to go. I'll talk to you soon." "But isn't today your day off?" I ask. "It is, but I've got a ton of loose ends to tie up." We say our goodbyes. I'm still on speaker and our voices bounce around each other's. As I listen to the empty spaces in between our words, my mother feels very far away. My friend, Sarah, arrives. Sarah is another recent immigrant to Israel making a summer visit to the States. In Tel Aviv, we live around the corner from each other and have dinner together regularly. In the States, where everything and everyone is so far apart, this afternoon is a special occasion. "Is everything OK?" she asks me as she sits. "Oh, you know. Family stuff." Sarah sticks her tongue out. "Ugh. Don't get me started." She confides in me that she didn't move to Israel for some lofty Zionist ideal. "It was the families," she says. She looks down and picks at the grass. "Even though I don't have any family there, just seeing how Israeli families are with each other… I want my kids to have what I didn't." I look at Sarah's bowed head and I realize that, like her, I went to Israel for more than my Judaism. I went in search of that One Big Family. That night, I receive a short e-mail from Boaz. It's in Hebrew, as are all of his e-mails to me: "My brother and I just visited my grandparents. My grandmother made you a necklace. It's beautiful."