My mother, the Israel inspector

As difficult as making aliya can be at times, it may be hardest for the loved ones that I left

cry 88 248 (photo credit: Illustration by Pepe Fainberg)
cry 88 248
(photo credit: Illustration by Pepe Fainberg)
Though I'm an only child and I've been living in Israel for almost two years - my one-year aliya anniversary is about a month away - my mom just arrived for her first visit. In the past few days, I rushed around making preparations. I cleaned. I did laundry. I went to the shuk and returned laden with food. I bought a vase and filled it with flowers. I scrubbed the toaster, the microwave, and the tile walls of the kitchen until everything shone. But I forgot that my apartment and I weren't all that would come under scrutiny - my new country would, too. As I walked around in a haze of mom's-arriving-tomorrow-anxiety, I tried to see the city anew, through the eyes of someone who just landed. I tried to remember how the country looked to me on my first visit, but it was difficult. So I strolled along the tree-lined streets of the city center, scoping out the perfect café - the real froth of the cappuccino - to take my mom to. That was the Tel Aviv I wanted to show her. I slowed down to inspect a café and I noticed something I'd never seen before, though I'd walked by it hundreds of times - a memorial for victims of the 1994 suicide bombing on the No. 5 bus. I stood and read the plaque and I wondered if this, too, was the Israel I wanted to show my mom. I met my mom at the airport without incident - a minor feat for me, notorious bungler of schedules and anything time-related. She hugged me. I asked her if her bag was new. Yes, she said. Mine is, too, I told her. I held out the black purse I've taken to carrying recently. I found it on the street, I said. Oh, and my sweater, too, I added. She sighed. Yes, it looks like it, she said. Via a train, then a bus - the No. 5 - we made our way to my apartment in the city center. My mother, upon seeing my room and listening to me proudly point out the various pieces of furniture I'd found on the sidewalk, burst into tears. Are you jetlagged? I asked. Are you tired? What's wrong? Did I do something? Say something? "No, it's just that I hate to see you living like this." Like what? I said. So, I take things from the sidewalk? So, I don't have any money? I'm happy. I love my work. I love Tel Aviv. What's so bad about how I live? "This apartment, this city, is so run down." I was shocked. My mom was born and raised in one of the poorest areas of Queens and she raised me, in turn, on a shoestring budget. I looked around my spotless, tidy room. A comfortable bed. A desk I have grown very fond of from many hours of use. The small couch I like to read on. The porch that affords me a view of the birds - and a bird's eye view of my neighbors, a favorite pastime for Tel Avivans. What's run-down, I asked her? I just couldn't see it. We walked all over the city that day and I pointed out one beautiful building after another. See the windows on that one? The curved edge? The doorway here? The porch there? One of my favorite buildings is on Pinsker. I made my mom cross the street with me so we could get a better look at it. We stood in silence. I studied it and tried to put my finger on what exactly was so appealing about it to me. I couldn't quite figure it out. I am enchanted by this building, I said. "Look at it, she said. "It's falling apart. Those porches are about to crumble." I looked at the building as a whole. It's unpainted - a slab of drab concrete. Some of the bright blue shutters are hanging off. Yes, the porches have cracks and look like they could fall, but they're still standing. And it's the sum of the parts. But what about those windows? I asked her. As we headed toward my apartment that afternoon, we passed the memorial. I pointed it out to my mom. People died here, I said, in a suicide bombing. She didn't respond. We passed pigeons on the street and she raised her hand at them, a quick flip of the wrist, a command to fly. I realized then that that was part of what my mom's tears had probably been about… she wants me to leave Israel, she wants me close, she wants me somewhere that seems safer to her. She flicked her hand again, but those pigeons, they didn't budge. It's funny, she said. They're not flying away like American pigeons do. "Those pigeons are Israeli, Mom. They aren't going anywhere." The writer, who immigrated in April 2008, is writing a regular column on her wet-behind-the-ears experiences here.