By: Joan Gross
Returning from the mokolet* I spotted a bird. I paused in mid-step. This was not your ordinary, every day bird but an insanely bizarre bird. Regally perched on his head sat a cocky headdress, much more regal than a cardinal’s. His colors were subtle like a morning dove – halfway down his body that is, then a stark transformation to black and white circular stripes. Was this a joke? Did someone put him together with scraps from several bird-making kits? Was he squeezing out one more bird from his pile of rejects no matter how ridiculous it looked? The bird flew away and I suddenly remembered that there were three hungry children waiting for their breakfast.
This was the last day of Eliav (age 11), Eviatar (age 9) and Batli’s (age 7) visit with Mick and me. Since they had moved back to Israel two years ago, I had only seen them once last year, for a brief weekend and the year before for three short visits. I had lived with them for close to two years in Brooklyn and helped them learn English and become “American”.
The three children immersed themselves in Hebrew after their family split in two and their half, those three with their mother, moved back to Israel. Their father, with his new wife, and their two older brothers livi in New York City. In the two years that Eliav, Eviatar and Batli have been back in Israel they totally forgot their English. After just a few days with us, Eliav’s English has miraculously been mostly restored although Eviatar and Batli could only manage to say a few words. Eviatar rejoiced in correcting our Hebrew in a very methodical, syllable-by-sylable manner. I smiled at his new skill while at the same time feeling the loss of the wonderful conversations I used to have with him.
That morning the children decided that they all wanted eggs and shokel. Mick had awakened and was at his computer and I burst in, laden with eggs and shokel, and without even a” good morning honey”, asked him about the bird I had just seen. It is the national bird, the hoopoe, he informed me. I said, “Wow – I thought it would have been the kipah bird.” I do not know the name of this brown bird with the black “skull cap” on its head that I referred to, but I thought it appropriate that it bear a name indicating that it covers its head in the sight of God—hence the kipah bird.
After breakfast, I rounded up the children to go for a walk on the beach to collect shells, ocean-rounded pebbles and water-polished glass and to walk to the moshav next door.
Eliav said that he did not want to get his feet wet, but suddenly we were all in the water watching the ripples tickle our feet and enjoying the coolness of the waves. The air above was hot, heavy and humid. Each step I took felt like I was dragging twenty extra pounds with it.
Here in Naharyia the sea looks different every day. Today there were stripes of blues, aqua, cobalt, and sapphire, interrupted only by rippling white foam. The children live inland, and my pleasure of watching the sea was heightened as I tried watching it through their eyes.
We walked further, past a canal that meandered through the moshav, past the beaches with their large umbrellas and cabanas that one must pay to gain entry to a cove where the more subtle waves were more suited for our non-immersion style of refreshment.
Batli stepped onto a slippery rock and suddenly it wasn’t only her feet in the water but her entire lower body.
As we headed back, the children discovered that there were stones by the canal. As they splashed the stones, I thought again about the “jumbled” bird. We Jews are also a jumble—we settled here from Morocco, Iraq, France, China, India and Ethiopia. We began with no common language or customs, some of us are religiously observant, some secular, some atheist but all melded together to build up this land that G-d gave us. Anyone seeing our faces, black, brown, white, yellow and red, and listening to us speak Indi, Arabic, Pharsi, French, and on and on, would definitely find us as bizarre as the bird.
A passerby expressed her disapproval of the children throwing stones and I coaxed them back on the path to home.
Batli, despite still being wet from her accidental immersion, was wilting until we came across a drinking fountain close to where the bandstand is set up on the beach. The fountain had five spigots, each spigot sprayed water in several directions at one time. Hardly any of the water reached their gaping mouths but splashed onto their bodies. The children shouted and ran back and forth to the fountain as they took turns maneuvering the water so that they were able to spray each other. Their rush to get back to our apartment was forgotten.
The boardwalk had a raised walk-out and the children stood there, gazing at the waves, three little specks against the broad spectrum of the sea and sky, hugging every breeze that embraced them. For a while they made dog and rabbit shadows on the sand below and questioned me about what looked like an abandoned fishing rod propped upright on the beach. I pointed at the owner. He was sitting beneath the walk out, drinking a beer, talking on the phone, and casually watching the rod for any signs of success.
With their pockets full of sea shells and their minds full of today’s memories we walked back to the apartment. We were our own version of the jumble bird. Three children who had lost half of their family, and me, their only non-related constant in their life for the past seven years.
*small grocery store