My favorite Hebrew word is melafefon. It means cucumber. An exotic-sounding, complicated, delicious mouthful of a word for such a plain and greenly simple vegetable. I try to say it as often as I can when I’m in Israel – my kids love cucumbers, so that helps. Where are the melafefonim? at the supermarket. Do you have melafefonim? at the restaurant. And today, we were supposed to pick melafefonim at the fields near Rehovot.
But there are no bomb shelters in open fields. No protected rooms, or walls to crouch against. The best you can do is lie down flat and cover your head with your hands. That way if the shrapnel falls it’ll hurt your hands and not your head.
Too risky. So we didn’t go.
Actually, I’m not sure if it was cucumbers we were going to pick. Perhaps it was bright tomatoes. Or green peas. Or plumply purple eggplants. We were going to pick vegetables in the hot Israeli sun as part of my son’s bar mitzvah. To give back. To do a mitzvah. We wanted to be outside, together, kids and grown-ups, littles and bigs, and harvest x number of pounds of veggies to be distributed to families in need in Israel.
But I couldn’t do it.
And I’ve been doing it all: camel riding in the desert, kayaking on the Jordan, the markets in Jaffa and Jerusalem. Not knowing if the sirens would wail in Tel Aviv or further north. They are relentless in the south. Some mornings have found us in the bomb shelter in various states of dress (or undress), and some have been eerily quiet – or maybe we just don’t hear the sirens when we’re in the sea. A week has become 20 days and 43 fallen soldiers. Terrifying cries of anti-Semitism and the most blatant anti-Israel rhetoric I thought I’d never read or watch from countries I feel scared to call home.
I’ve seen the smoke trail from Iron Dome interceptions, heard the booms as rockets hit the ground, cried for the beautifully brave soldiers we’ve lost. I’ve dragged my children to the beach – where there are no shelters, and even when they’ve had enough sun and sand, because there are too many children stuck all day in bomb shelters in areas near Gaza, where the rockets fly too frequently and the risks are not just possible, they are likely.
I’ve learnt Hebrew words I didn’t even know existed: azakah (alert), mamad (protected room), Kipat Barzel (Iron Dome).
I’ve noticed a change – subtle but definite – in the very air around me. On the beach. In the restaurants. Walking outside. The usually noisy, argumentative, full-of-life-and-love Israelis are quiet, preoccupied. Their smiles are tense and their eyes are sad. But determined. They are resolute. Strong.
I’ve been hanging on to that strength. That resolve. So happy to be here – any time and with anyone, but especially now and with my children. I’ve been determined to show them the country I love, no matter what. Determined to celebrate my son’s bar mitzvah mostly the way we imagined. I’ve been hugged in an aura of love and appreciation and even slight bewilderment by Israeli family and friends who can’t believe we’re still here, but are so delighted we are. As if we’d be anywhere else.
I’ve been determined that nothing will stop us. Life continues. This is how it is here. We will celebrate, and be together, and pick cucumbers.
But I couldn’t do it.
I couldn’t ask 23 people to meet us in an open field, with no shelter nearby. I couldn’t take my own four children into a situation so obviously unsafe, where the best they could do if they heard a siren would be to lie on the earth with their hands on their heads. And pray.
I couldn’t do it, and I felt worn down. Beaten. That tenacious determination slowly draining ounce by painful ounce out of my fingertips, my mouth, my heart as I canceled our field trip with a sigh of resignation, deep disappointment, sadness. This is how it is.
“What are we doing today, Mom?” they chirped in anticipation. Big eyes, bright voices, adventurous spirits.
I lifted my chin. Took a breath. Inflated my heart.
We did not go to the fields today – but I am determined, before we return to California in August, to pick melafefonim. With my children. In Israel.