I grew up to an Israeli father in the late sixties and early seventies. Although we lived in Chicago, we came to Israel often. My paternal grandparents and my entire father’s family still lived here. A twenty year old Israel was very much like a twenty year old person; rough around the edges, thinks they know everything, is still filling out and is impatient to be considered an adult.
My grandparents’ home was (still is) in the center of Tel Aviv. Since we usually came in the summers and Tel Aviv weather at least hasn’t changed since then, most days we went to the beach. I remember the walk, down Jabotinsky Street, which today is a major thoroughfare. Then it was sand, surrounded by three and four story apartment buildings. I remember the men selling artikim (popsicles) and corn on the cob and sabras on the street. Growing up in the States we had those little corn holders to put on the corn and butter. Here it was into a paper bag with the steam still rising and salt.
The sabras were peeled and juicy and red and smelled delicious. I can’t look at one now and not remember those days. The gorgeous men (at the time mostly straight) in Speedos with their cigarettes stuck into the back playing matkot, the women in mini bikinis, the smell of bain de soleil oozing from their skin, the salty air and the kids all running around naked splashing in the water. It was a wonderful time. Coming here was always a joy.
My father has two brothers and many cousins. To this day I can’t keep track of who is from which side of the family and which cousin is married to who and which kids belong to which parents, even though many of them have over the years become friends and in some cases, very close friends.
The one person I never was terribly fond of was my uncle Uri, my father’s youngest brother. My uncle was in the paratroopers, at a time when Zahal was at its pinnacle. He was the pride of the family and he represented the best of this fledgling country. Throughout my childhood he would come to the US for business trips and always bring my male cousins memorabilia from the army, model airplanes and…boy stuff. I was the only girl at the time. He didn’t bring me anything.
When I finished high school and came to Israel, he and I locked horns. He saw it as his role to continue fathering in place of my dad who was 7000 miles away. I, needless to say, had other ideas in mind. I thought he was a pain in the neck and rigid. He thought I was rebellious and spoiled. It stayed that way until the early 2000’s when I came to Israel in the middle of the Intifadah and volunteered. I think he was blown away and finally saw me. His reality about me changed.
While he has never said anything to me directly, it isn’t our way, having the kids on my own, was another reality check. I think he saw that I wasn’t a spoiled fluff; the daughter of the brother who went to the “goldene medina”, made yerida, had American children and had too much of everything. I think he saw my grit, my strength and my will. I think he appreciated that and me for surviving and for doing it here because Uri is a true Zionist and loves this country completely.
My uncle has never drank, smoked cigarettes, done drugs or put any other bad substances in his body although he had a penchant for wheat germ and alfalfa sprouts in the 70’s. He was running, eating healthy and living a clean life before most people had any idea about it here or in the US.
My uncle is dying. It is shaking my reality to the core. It is shaking my entire family’s reality and worst of all his own. He has always represented the classic Israeli soldier. Up there in the picture next to Yoni Netanyahu at the Kotel, in my mind, is the picture of Uncle Uri, in all his military glory. He hasn’t been in the military in many years but it is the reality we all remember and this new reality is unfathomable, cruel, ugly and degrading.
I only wish you comfort, ease and dignity in the coming days.http://wwwandbabymakes2.co.ilhttp://www.andbabymakes2.co.il