The Dog Park Ritual as a Place of Belonging

Dog Park Ritual and Place of Belonging

כשהאדמה של הפארק
הייתה מכוסה בבוץ
דווקא לשם הלכתי לנקות את הראש

Though the ground was covered in mud,
This is where I cleared the mud from my head.

Meir Park. “Gan Meir” is its Hebrew name. Located in the center of Tel Aviv, it’s small compared to Park Hayarkon in the northern part of the city – but its central location makes Gan Meir a hub of activity, especially during the weekends and on Shabbat. Tel Aviv’s LGBT community has a center here. It’s also the annual starting point of Tel Aviv’s annual Gay Pride Parade. My favorite part of the parade is always the rainbow-colored version of the Israeli flag. The rest is just really crowded and loud, with not enough totally crazy-looking characters to justify being outside in 100 degree heat for hours on end. I love the gays – just not parades. But those rainbow-Israeli flags inspire me to become more parade-tolerant.

Back to the park. . . It’s not the best cared-for park, compared to parks in NY and other cities. It doesn’t even have that much grass, and kind of looks really crappy when you first see it. But you have to remember it’s a park in the Middle East. It’s technically in the desert. It’s not supposed to have grass. It does have a large lily-pad covered pond with a cute little spurt of a fountain in the center. And lots of benches. I think the benches are by far the highlight of Gan Meir.

There’s a fenced-in dog park inside, but it’s even crappier than the rest of the park. It’s all sand and is totally disgusting, always full of big dogs that only want to play with each other and has only 2 benches to sit on, neither of which are in the sun. Dogs are technically not supposed to be let out of this part unless they’re on a leash. But in typical Israeli fashion…people do what they want.

Once my dog learned of this possibility, she understandably lost all interest in the fenced-in dog park.

Our routine consisted of spending about 30 seconds inside the dog park, sort of just to humor me. Then she’d wait for me to let her out and into the main park, where she’d let loose. Here she could freely tear through the large oval-shaped sort-of-grassy section, doing figure-8’s without stopping. Other owners would play fetch with their dogs, but Betsy never understood that game. She just wanted to run by herself.

Here I didn’t have to explain where I was from, or what I was doing in Israel, or if I speak Hebrew. I remembered what it was like before I had a dog, when I’d wander around feeling like a pedofile. But once I had my own dog, I had a golden ticket to go as I please without having to make light conversation for fear of being discovered. I belonged there, because I had Betsy, so no one questioned my presence.

This all sounds like I adopted her in order to gain access to a sort of crappy-sounding dog park. But I assure you this is not the case. I adopted her one day when I passed by Gan Meir and saw her with an animal rescue organization, as part of their weekly showcase of dogs in need of homes. After just 1 week of having her home with me, we developed a trust in one another that allowed me to set her loose without fear of her running away. I knew Betsy would always come back to me: I was her home and she was mine.

A Slightly Less-Jewish Fall Feeling

Fall is here, and so is that “Fall feeling”. I keep thinking of this insightful line by blogger OriginalTitle:

“. . . it is now the very early beginning of September and Halloween decorations, sweaters and pumpkin paraphernalia already decorate all venues of mass consumption meant to make you think you discovered the season including Halloween and Thanksgiving on your own when really it is fully by design.”

Totally get that.

I started work last week for the first time in 9 months. My 1st day happened to fall on September 11th, which made the day feel particularly meaningful and in a very solemn way. My new office is not far from the Empire State Building, and walking by there at 9AM on 9/11, just weeks after the shooting that happened at that very spot, was surreal.

the exexpat - empire state building

Empire State Building, up close and personal

The Jewish High Holidays always usher in that Fall feeling – but it’s very different here than it was in Israel, obviously but for a number of reasons:

(1) I love this permanent Get-Out-of-Jail-Free-Card I’ve given myself. I figure: I lived in Israel for 4 years, therefore I don’t need to go to synagogue on the High Holidays. I never went while I was living there – so why should I go now? I never considered myself religious but I feel like living in Israel expunges me from any guilt I would otherwise feel for not going to temple.

(2) That said, I sort of miss hearing Shana Tova a million times during the weeks leading up to the Jewish New Year. A storekeeper wished me A-Happy-And-A-Healthy-New-Year today as I thanked him for popping the lens back into my sunglasses, and I sincerely welcomed the sentiment. I felt like I hadn’t received it enough.

(3) In Israel, it’s very common for companies to give their employees some sort of gift in recognition of the holidays: wine, gift cards, days off. The holidays are acknowledged and celebrated at work, with a company toast or small party. In America, with its separation-of-church-and-state, this would never fly.

(4) Israel shuts down from the High Holidays through the end of Succot. Everyone leaves for vacation, banks close, it’s impossible to rent an apartment since brokers and owners are completely out of touch. The whole country seems to adapt this freedom from accountability for like 3 weeks. It’s a bit ridiculous at first, but this is actually pretty awesome.

My last employer in Israel, a web start-up in Tel Aviv, gave us a few extra days off so we had a straight 11 days out of the office, even though technically the holidays consist of Rosh Hashana (2 days), Yom Kippur (1 day) and Succot (a holiday shortly following the first two, but not as important and requiring only 1-3 days depending on your personal observance).

My new job isn’t giving us any of this time off as paid vacation. I’m not complaining; it’s just such a stark difference from what it was like last year. It feels a little less Jewish and more American.

But the fact that I’m thinking about that and not sure I’m entirely happy with it sort of reverses it. I think I just did an inception on myself. Hate that. But also love it. 🙂

AFTER 6-MONTHS BACK: 7 Israeli Quirks I Want to Keep

I’ve been back for 6 months after living in Israel for almost 4 years.

I returned to the States in March.

This is probably not exciting to anyone but me (and my mom), but it feels weirdly huge to me. And even though this is my blog – I don’t want my mom to be the only person who reads this, so I’m going to try and make it applicable to something bigger than just me.

There’s certain cultural idiosyncrasies I was made aware of while living in Tel Aviv; I picked up on some of them, and I don’t want to see them go. Here’s a few:

My Tel Aviv Apartment

Michal Street was “home” for awhile…

1. The “wait” signal – holding up your hand, with all fingers touching each other on the tip, thumb included, facing upwards. The first few times you see someone do this, it looks rude or aggressive. It reminded me of an Italian gesture, which I’m not entirely sure of its meaning…(I recall Julia Roberts’ character in Eat, Pray, Love going through an absurd montage in which this and other Italian cultural quirks were explored. I cannot believe I just admitted to the internet that I saw Eat, Pray, Love. I swear I saw it as a joke.) The Israeli version literally is a perfect translation of the American holding up 1 finger to symbolize “just a minute”. Very useful if you’re on the phone or busy, and someone nearby starts talking to you.

2. The expression “Stam!” (סְתָם) – A slang word that’s hard to translate. Pronounced “stahm”, it can be used to mean “just kidding”, “just because”, or “no reason”. Or nothing really. It has this power to reverse the current of a conversation in a way. You can go on about one thing, and throw in a “stam” and totally change it up. For example: Say something silly . . . “Stam!” . . . take it to a serious place. Or: Make a deep statement about the world . . . “Stam!” . . . back to light-hearted banter.

3. The sound/expression “Pshhhhh!” – I HATED this at first. It’s a sound you make to signify you being impressed with something. If a friend tells you about something exciting they just bought (or a great deal they got), this noise comes out of the receiving party. It’s kinda like “Girrrrl! Look at YOU!” or “Oh no you DIDN’T!” It made me uncomfortable at first – I’m not sure why. But I like it a lot now.

4. The expression “B’tayavon” (בְּתֵאָבוֹן) Pronounced buh-TAY-ya-VONE, it means Bon appetite. Not really an English translation, but people say it to each other at the beginning of meals. Or even snacks sometimes. I remember eating at my desk in the first few months of me living in Israel, and a co-worker walked by my desk and said it to me. I recall feeling sorta violated, thinking “Why are you like congratulating me for eating?” It’s not a “congratulations” but it felt like it which made me feel super gross inside. And now a little voice inside my head utters it quietly before meals.

5. “Teetchadesh” (תתחדש)- Pronounced exactly how it looks. But an emphasis on the last syllable. It means “Enjoy!” in reference to something new you just bought. It’s really nice to say when someone makes a big purchase like signing a lease or getting an awesome new bag or something legitimate like that.

6. Not sweating the small/meaningless/irrelevant stuff – The amount of patience I gained while living in Israel is one of the most valuable things I got out of the entire experience. The culture is extremely “laid back” in many, many ways; arriving on time is virtually unheard of, as is dressing in formal attire to pretty much anything including job interviews and funerals; one of the most common expressions you hear on the street/at work/with friends is “y’hiyeh b’seder” meaning “it will be OK”. The service industry is a total joke compared to the customer-satisfaction orientation of corporate America. At first I hated this difference, but later grew to appreciate it and am still not sure which extreme I prefer: the lackadaisical, no-rush attitude of Mediterranean culture, or the American focus on fast-paced productivity.

7. Dressing casually…no matter what – The concept of “business casual” is sort of non-existent. You either work in a law firm, wear a uniform, or wear pretty much whatever you want to work. I never once wore my black pants in the almost 4 years I lived in Israel, and I went on job interviews, attended conferences, funerals, etc. You can wear a dress to a wedding (many brides go all-out), but if you want to wear pants as a woman – that’s OK too. Same goes for funerals. Jeans are not frowned upon at an Israeli funeral. It’s refreshing once you get used to it. I sort of took it to the next level, and sorta stopped wearing makeup and earrings regularly to the point of my Dad telling me I look like a lesbian. I think it was due to a combination of living in a hot climate, feeling like some sort of permanent back-packer, and being in a serious relationship…but I only “put my face on” once in awhile. I realized today that the women in my family always wear makeup and earrings, and that it’s just nice to feel attractive even if you might not have a reason to.

I’m constantly struggling to view the world not in black-and-white, but somewhere in between. Some of these quirks represent that struggle; I don’t want to choose between an overly-relaxed, casual lifestyle versus a race for achievement, efficiency and success. Somewhere in the middle sounds best. I’m trying to find a place like that, closer to “home” . . .