Watching the War from Across the World

I don’t want to sound dramatic. I used to hate when I was living in Tel Aviv and American friends and family would call me and act as though the world was coming to an end, due to the latest border skirmish between Israel and either the West Bank or Gaza. I remember being there during December of 2008, when Operation Cast Lead conducted 2 weeks of IDF air strikes into Gaza as a defense tactic against Hamas firing rockets into southern parts of Israel, going as far north as Ashkelon.

I remember feeling totally confused, and powerless, watching both domestic and international media reporting the situation. Tel Aviv is only 25 miles from Ashkelon, and 48 miles from Gaza. That’s nothing. That’s a 1 hour drive. Israel is a tiny country, surrounded by enemies. These are facts.

Now, Israel is once again at war with Gaza, in a very similar situation as for years ago. Only now, Tel Aviv was hit. And I feel just as if not more powerless than I did four years ago. Now I’m far, far away from people I love, in a city I miss every single day, that’s actually experiencing incoming attacks.

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I know of 3 reasons for a siren to go off in Tel Aviv:

1. The army conducts drills a couple times a year, to prepare citizens for what this morning was a reality.

2. Every spring, on the morning of Holocaust Remembrance Day. At around 10 or 11:00am, a 5-minute period of silence is observed by everyone on the street – in the city, on the highways, in buses, cars, bikes and on foot. Drivers stop their cars and get out and stand in the street in total silence. Traffic stops.

I remember my 1st time experiencing this, during my 1st spring in Israel in 2009. I was on a bus on the way to work. I didn’t hear the siren, but my bus stopped, the driver got out, and I had no idea what was going on. It took me a second, and then this feeling washes over you: everyone else is observing a ritual. They knew what day it was, and realized what that meant for their morning commute. From the perspective of an “outsider” (an American), it seems as though everyone is suddenly connected through a shared experience as Jewish Israelis. Yes, I’m Jewish, but as an American, I had never experienced a national observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

3. To announce a real attack.

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I never heard this third type; only the first two. I know that so far no one in Tel Aviv has been hurt. That 3 Israelis have been killed, and 12 Palestinians (or 19? I’m hearing conflicting reports). What’s so hard to digest is that a missile actually struck the city I lived in. Israel’s largest city. Four years ago, no matter how confused and emotional I was, I never truly feared for my safety. I was never afraid to be on the streets, to ride a bus. Once that war ended, and things went back to normal, I ventured all over Israel without much hesitation.

I hope that Israelis can return to their “version of normalcy” as soon as possible.

A Proper English Bath

girl in bath

This is not me. It is a body double I hired for this post in an experiment I’m conducting in which I place pictures of girls in baths at the top of my blog posts to increase my audience.

When you tell an American you’re taking a bath, they make an awkward face or sound. I don’t blame them; I’m American, too. You take baths when you’re a baby. In fact, you’re “given” a bath. You don’t “take” a bath as a decent adult human being unless you’re (a) getting over a breakup, (b) are a single mom unwinding after a long day of work, (c) are an actress in one of the following films: Helen Hunt in As Good As It Gets, Meryl Streep in The Bridges of Madison County, or Diane Lane in Unfaithful. (These are just the first 3 movie-baths that come to mind. All great films, coincidentally.)

I was reminded of this tonight as I tried to soothe my hamstrings that were sore from raking the lawn this weekend. (So far that’s been the extent of my Hurricane Sandy relief effort. Lots of people are volunteering to actually help people, but my parents both really wanted the lawn raked for some reason, and they were dropping casual complaints about backaches. We all do what we can.)

The English respect the taking of a good bath.

Last October I visited London and stayed with an older British couple I found on Airbnb. I could have chosen a flat with a hip, young host but I’m a homebody and I wanted an authentic British experience.

london room airbnb

My room for the week. A good book selection in a new place is so comforting it’s sick really.

They were the sweetest people and exceptional hosts who made me feel totally welcome in their cozy and comfortable Hammersmith home, a few tube stops outside central London.They made me fresh porridge every morning, along with this insanely heavy bread that tasted like a brick but I enjoyed its existence because it felt really “British”.

My “host mum” was this adorable lady named Alanna who at age 60 discovered a passion for the Alexander Technique and had recently completed instructor training. My first night there we sat at the kitchen table for hours chatting over tea about her studies, her 1st career as a piano teacher (I also used to play), the books we were then reading, our families and traveling. She said that she and her husband decided to become hosts as a way to experience “travel” inside their own home. Which is brilliant, and inspiring.

And their home had just one bathroom. And the bathroom had just a bath. No shower. Did I mention I was sharing the house with a couple in their late 60’s/70’s?

I tried to act normal (which is really, really hard for me) and not make my very gracious English hostess feel uncomfortable. My “host mum” was sensitive to this being out of the ordinary for an American and said, “This is really a traditional English house!” Then I noticed a grayish section in the middle of the otherwise white tub, where the enamel had been worn out. Evidence, of years and years of butts sitting on it.

I told myself: You wanted authentic? Go with it. 

And I did. I took baths in their bath tub. And yes, it was a little awkward, taking a bath while they’d be downstairs in the kitchen, at night when the house was quiet. I’d wonder if they were also thinking about me at the same time I was thinking about them. You know what? I like to think that I contributed a little bit to the butt spot.

So when I am mocked by my fellow Americans for enjoying baths, I say: not only are you missing out on some simple relaxation, you don’t have the experience of doing so in a relative stranger’s worn-out bathtub, and feeling comfortable enough to not really mind.