THE JUMBLE BIRD
Returning from the grocery store, I spotted a bird. I paused in mid-step. This was not your ordinary, everyday 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 that Eliav (11), Eviatar (9) and Batli (7) were visiting 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 had immersed themselves in Hebrew after their family had split in two, and their half (those three with their mother) had moved back to Israel. Their father, with his new wife and their two older brothers live in New York City. In the two years that Eliav, Eviatar and Batli have been back in Israel they have totally forgotten their English. After just a few days with us, Eliav’s English has miraculously been largely 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-syllable 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 chocolate milk. Mick had awakened and was at his computer, and I 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 kippah bird.” I did not know the name of this brown bird with the black “skullcap” 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 kippah 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 20 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 in 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 where the more subtle waves better suited 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. They splashed the stones and I thought again about the “jumble” bird: just like Israeli Jews who 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 Hindi, Arabic Farsi, and 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 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 to spray each other. Their rush to get back to our apartment was forgotten.
The boardwalk had a raised lookout 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 lookout, drinking a beer, talking on the phone and casually watching the rod for any sign of success.
With their pockets full of seashells 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 myself, the only non-related constant in their life for the past seven years.