Summer roving had me a blast

In case you hadn’t already gathered, I’m what you might call a "collector of experiences."

Cartoon (photo credit: Deborah Danan)
(photo credit: Deborah Danan)
Tel Avivians battle the weather like it’s a mortal enemy. Of course, there are those who opt for immediate surrender by leaving Tel Aviv for the duration of the summer. But for those of us who are too stubborn – or too poor – to admit defeat and get out of the kitchen, the wispy clouds now dotting the skies are nothing short of a victory dance.
We warriors of Tel Aviv are trained to adapt to a cruel, daily routine in an effort to combat the summer onslaught. It begins in the morning, when you wake up with a crick in your neck from sleeping with the fan. You then step outside and are immediately accosted with slap-in-your-face heat that means that by the time you arrive at your place of work, you’re dripping in enough sweat to replenish the Kinneret. You walk into the sub-zero climate of your office, and for a few moments of sweet, sweet relief, you are thankful that you might actually live to see another day. But within minutes, the air conditioning has turned the rivulets of sweat running down your forehead into icy particles. You rapidly go from being in danger of heatstroke to being at risk of hypothermia. You then don the sweater you keep in your desk draw but it does little to stop the constant dripping from your nose. Summer snivels are a part of Tel Aviv life, you see. I can’t think of another place in the world where people sneeze as much despite the 35 degree weather.
You then finish your work day and if you’re so inclined, you head to the beach for sunset. If you’re lucky, you might even have the privilege of feeling something akin to a breeze dance lightly through your hair. Mad delirium tricks you into thinking that since the sun is leaving for the day, so is the heat. Of course, night creeps up and it only gets worse. The air is as thick and muggy as a monsoon morning before the rain. By the time you reach your place of residence, you are utterly spent but somehow you muster up the last of your energy reserves to stand in the shower as it pours down lukewarm water (the water is never actually cold) on your battle-scarred body.  
And yet, somehow, in spite of my incessant whining over the heat, I’m still annoyed that summer is over.
There’s something daunting about the onset of autumn. Perhaps it’s something that still remains from teenage-dom, that dreaded feeling that comes when a school term of interminable length is about to begin. Or maybe it’s the advent of the High Holy Days and the knowledge that at some point soon I will have to embark on the uneasy task of introspection and self-examination.
Whichever it is, I can’t say I haven’t had a blast this summer. It’s been jam-packed with activities and outings and the good fortune of visiting many places in Israel that I’d never been to. Kicking off the list was a local outing I took to Tel Aviv’s amusement park. I did not bring along children with me to justify my presence there, but nonetheless a fun time was had by all. Having said that, I’m not sure I’d recommend the Luna Park to foreigners. For olim from Western countries, the Luna Park is nothing more than a trumped-up funfair and the bumper-cars leave much to be desired. There are only two decent rides, one of which is a rickety rollercoaster that is held together by wires and miracles, while the other is a blinkand- you’ll-miss-it plunge ride that you have to wait in line for over 45 minutes in the blazing heat to get on. Still, at least now I can breathe a sigh of relief that I’m able to cross the Luna Park off my summer bucket list.
Down the road in Jaffa, I took part in a Segway tour of the area by the port.
Segways are an absolutely fantastic way to tour around if you don’t mind looking like a bit of a moron. The municipality has cleaned up what was a huge area of trash in Jaffa and turned it into landscaped parks and children’s playgrounds.
If you stand on top of the hill on a clear day, you can see as far as Haifa and Ashdod beaches on either end of the horizon.
Moving away from Tel Aviv-Jaffa, I found myself on a hike to the Dead Sea. Notice I use the word “to” and not “in.” That’s because the hike was from the Tekoa settlement, just south of Jerusalem, all the way to Metzukei Dragot Beach, by the Dead Sea. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision one boring Saturday night when a friend suggested I join a group of 10 people for the moonlit trek.
At one point during the trek, we found ourselves in a wadi with our path blocked by a cesspool of murky water whose depth was indeterminable. The pool was filled with all manner of dead creatures and many live ones too, feeding off the dead. The only way around it would’ve been to climb up the wadi but in order to do that we would need ropes (later on we came across a sign that warned hikers that rappelling equipment was a requirement for this particular hike). I was with a bunch of musicians who are rather a hardy lot and it wasn’t long before one of them stepped into the water to test the depth. It only reached his waist so we all followed suit and went in, trying to quell any anxieties regarding what sort of diseases we might be prone to catch.
We were privy to witness a spectacular sunrise over the barren landscape while the mandolin and sitar players among us strummed some melodies. The ensuing five hours were tortuous as the summer sun rose high in the sky and torched our aching bodies. But it was all worth it when we reached the Dead Sea and dipped into the sweet-water pools, played some music, sang kambayas and drank whatever was left of our now-boiling water.
Another excursion took me to a place that isn’t too far from the aforementioned settlement of Tekoa, but for the drastic difference in culture I might as well have been a foreign country. I went to have dinner one evening in a Palestinian refugee camp called Al Arroub, 15 kilometers south of Bethlehem. To be precise, the meal was for iftar (the evening meal at the end of a fast) since it was during the last days of Ramadan. A friend of mine, who now lives in Tel Aviv, grew up in Al Arroub and invited me to the home of his parents. The camp is just 1 km. in length, yet it accommodates 12,000 souls. Piles of trash line narrow alleyways that wind up and around dilapidated buildings.
My friend’s house, however, is almost palatial in comparison with its surroundings.
It has a total of three living rooms, all decked out with the glitzy furnishings that characterize Arab houses.
A feast was laid out for us that included three different types of meat and chicken, dozens of side dishes and the most delicious date juice to wash it all down.
Dates are eaten at iftar because according to Muslim tradition, the prophet Muhammad ate them to break his fast.
After iftar, we retired to the roof to digest the food and smoke a nargila. Our generous hosts kept coming out with platters laden with delectable sweets, baklawa, sabras and home-grown figs. A French tourist had joined us on the excursion and she was rather taken aback with the opulence. In her mind, she had expected the refugee camp to be a bunch of makeshift tents with children rummaging through garbage cans and eating stolen scraps of potatoes.
A couple of weeks later, I went on another trip with a group of Palestinians and Israelis to Haifa, Acre and Jerusalem. The idea was to introduce the Palestinians to Jewish culture, heritage and history and allow them to learn a little more about our narrative.
Having never been exposed to the suffering of the Jews, many of them were shocked by what they saw in Yad Vashem, where a tour in Arabic was arranged for them. I had the chance to visit places in the Old City that I’d never been to, including the old Christian Ethiopian quarter tucked away behind the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Part of the reason that I chose to dedicate this column to my summer activities was born out of a quandary that I’ve been struggling with for some time. In case you hadn’t already gathered, I’m what you might call a “collector of experiences.”
The problem with this, however, is that it’s not always easy to turn these experiences into something everlasting – or more accurately, into the written word. I’m constantly struggling with the dichotomy of living life as opposed to writing about life. I often feel that you either live life or you write about life, but doing both is nearly impossible.
I suppose that with the advent of a new Jewish year, my task will be to try and find the balance between the two.
With that in mind, all that’s left to do is to wish everyone a happy, safe and sweet New Year, filled with fun and adventure, and the will to make the world that little bit