When my aunt sent me a beautiful blog post from The Times of Israel written by a woman named Alli Magidsohn, who, after 93 months in Israel, is returning to Los Angeles, I was struck by something she wrote. Called “The little things I’ll miss about Israel”, the writer lists things, both tangible and intangible, that she will miss once she returns home. Some made me smile like funky menu translations and the sweet labor of getting to the heart of a pomelo fruit, which, if you’ve ever attempted to eat one, is so true. But one item she listed leapt out at me: the ferocity of celebration. My blog post for the week was already partially written but the fact that Ms. Magidsohn acknowledged the same thing as me affirms my observations and makes me realize that the festive culture is neither limited to the Anglo population nor to Raanana. In Israel, everything is cause for celebration: a birthday, a bar and bat mitzvah, a departure for the army, a wedding anniversary. And Philippe and I are partaking; as of the first week of summer, we were invited to three parties within seven days.
The first was last Thursday night, the unofficial start of a typical weekend for most people who work a Sunday-Thursday week. It was for a male friend’s 50th, the theme was Aloha/Hawaiian and the evite said to bring a bathing suit to swim in their pool. Since neither of us had any Hawaiian shirts or accessories and even though the sun had set, we went in beachwear with board shorts and our swim suits. As soon as we walked in the door, I knew we were under dressed and could easily be targeted as party poopers. People take dress up and themed parties very seriously here, and everyone, especially the Brits and the Aussies it seemed, had something authentically Hawaiian: a lei, a hula skirt, a colorful and flimsy shirt or sundress with themes of flip flops, sunglasses and straw hats. Streamers were hung all over the house and garden and tiki torches dotted the perimeter of the pool.
When I asked the birthday boy if it was indeed his special day, I learned that it is not for another month but since they will be away—in Hawaii—and since they had wanted to throw a party in the summer, they moved up his birthday to celebrate. For the next few hours, we swam and ate and danced and mingled until close to midnight, enjoying our Raanana social life, knowing we would be doing almost the same thing the next day only at a different venue.
Friday afternoon, we were invited to the beach in Herziliya for a male friend’s 42nd birthday. A beach bum of sorts, his family invited a number of other families to the seashore where they were renting a dozen chairs and umbrellas by the water and setting up tables with bagels and spreads. We were to BYOD as in Bring Your Own Drinks to stay hydrated in the height of the heat and be ready for a sandcastle competition.
Kid-less, Philippe and I left for the beach at 1:30 equipped with our sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, towels and liters of water. The meeting place, the green umbrellas below the Dan Accadia Hotel just before the marina, was easy to find and slowly the group grew in numbers. For the most part, it was the same faces as the party the previous night but I also managed to meet two new families. Every time I think I have met all the Anglos of Raanana, someone new appears.
For two and half hours, the most intense time of the day when dermatologists tell fair-skinned me to never be outside, I sat in the shade under a green umbrella and talked with whomever approached or sat next to me. Philippe and a friend played matkot, the popular paddle game, until they had to take cover. Some of the kids brought their sand toys to dig while others flew kites. At some point, everyone, including me, went in the water to cool off.
In less than a week, next Thursday night, we’re invited to a July 4th party one day late, which comes out on Thursday night so that people can sleep in the next morning. It’s at an American family’s house and the invite clearly states that we are to come in our party dress and dancing shoes ready to “drink and dance into oblivia***”.
Two parties down, one to go and who knows how many more might take place. People thrive on last-minute planning and spontaneous invitations here. In an effort to adapt to my surroundings, I have stopped carrying my Filofax in my purse.
After I’ve finished reading Ms. Magidsohn’s list of things she’ll miss here, I return to the top. My aunt has asked me to translate some of the Hebrew, so I make a feeble attempt. I tell her that a limonana barad is a lemon ice with mint and that aharei hahagim means after the month-long holidays, an expression everyone uses starting late August/early September to mean that schoolwork and extra-curriculars and the like will start after the fact. As I am re-reading the post, I stop at one I missed first time around because it resonates so deeply: The romantic, yet lonely, feeling of being thousands of miles from home – and realizing what a powerful concept “home” is. And I wonder to myself if I were to leave now, or in another 83 months from now, if I would miss that too. Because I know I would miss the peeling of pomelos and the feeble attempt to translate menus along with the ferocity of celebrations.