Monday, November 26, 2012

Round Robbin

<<Ma sei giovanissima!>> But you are just so young.

I got that line at least once a day when I was living in Italy, teaching English in two public schools. I was twenty-two, so yes, I was young. But considering my accomplishments--graduating high school, graduating college, having a job, living in my own apartment--I was hardly considered so young for American standards. Life in Italy definitely had a different rhythm, and age meant something different. Life was done in different stages. High school years extended to age 19 and beyond. College trailed on sometime after that, if you went. Children didn't move out of their parents' houses for years to come.

In Italy, American notions of age-appropriateness, even with clothing, went out the window. But life here in Israel is something different, age is something different. Israelis can be simultaneously extremely mature and immature. High school is over at 18, and then it is time for mandatory army service, though some choose to do an additional year of public service before serving. And then it is traveling time, time to see the world and breath and not be on military time (as documented in the charming television series, Katmandu):


And then working, then maybe getting a college degree and another degree (Israelis are among the world's most educated) and maybe working several full time jobs all at the same time.

Time during Operation Pillar of Defense had its own feeling, each moment another rocket fell and another code red warning interrupted a song on the radio. Yet, we are past it. It seems ages away. It is over for now but for me the next bad front seems looming somewhere in the near to distant future. Hard for an American, where we are still processing 9/11 as a people. The work week speeds by, but so does the weekend (Friday and Saturday). The normal days are very dense and frantic, but then there are two relaxing weeks of vacation during Sukkot and Passover. Things slow down on the chaggim themselves, and life freezes on Yom Kippur: stores are closed, no one can drive, making you feel a lot like an actor on a stage. So time both runs very fast and very slow, and to crown it off are the seasonal items, time markers: crembos (like mallomars), pomegranates and their fresh-squeezed juice at corner stores, persimmons.

Often I walk around and feel like I am in a magical realism novel. How else could you explain Jerusalem, captured in a defensive war, a holy city full of contradictions? How can we explain any of it? The desert blooming, the desert of Tel Aviv becoming a stunning metropolis city, the way my neighborhood Nahlaot can look entirely blue, gold or red depending on the sky...

Life here has its own pace and its own logic. A lot of temporal folds, if I dare say.

At a bar where the entrance age is 25, with a friend on my 25th birthday next to the sign declaring you must be 25 to enter. While the drinking age in Israel is 18, many bars have a minimum age of 24 to keep a less mature clientele (presumably the post-army-service-traveling crowd) out. Yes, I have been carded, though never denied entry even at 23.

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  1. Your insights are wonderful and so well articulated. Israeli culture has a many windows and you seem to capture them all.