Sunday, December 15, 2002

Scenes from a Weekend

1. Dr. Mosquito
Historic old Rosh Pina is situated just 20 minutes down the hill from the city of Tsfat where we spent the latter part of our Hanukah vacation. The neighborhood, part of the larger town of Rosh Pina, consists of two main streets dating back over 100 years and lined with historic buildings that have been turned into boutiques, galleries and restaurants. The old synagogue still functions, and the lovely tree-shaded cobblestone streets are a pleasure to stroll, even in the heat of day.

The predominant culinary option, for some reason, is Italian, and the tempting smells wafting from the numerous café kitchens, especially when set against the mellow canvas of gently rolling hills, combine to create a sublime sensory cocktail that transported us, however briefly, to some forgotten village in Tuscany (or so we imagined, having never actually visited the place).

The educational highlight of our visit was a stop at the restored office of Dr. Gideon Mer, known also as “King of the Mosquitoes.” A pioneer in developing treatment against malaria (particularly important here so close to the Hula Valley swamps that the early pioneers painstakingly drained), Dr. Mer apparently chose to infect not only himself, but his wife and children in a prolonged effort to find a cure.

A plaque by his desk reads, in all seriousness, that his enthusiasm was “infectious.”

2. Israeli Showers
What is it about Israeli showers anyway?

For our weekend in the north, we stayed on the campus of Livnot U’Lehibanot, the work/study program for English-speakers that served as my introduction to Israel nearly 19 years ago.

The accommodations at Livnot have always been spartan – one big room housing a half dozen students or, in our case, a family of five. We never minded – we were there for spiritual enlightenment not for goose-feather comforters with Toblerone miniatures under every pillow.

Still, in recent years, the accommodations have been upgraded considerably. Heat has been put in, and private bathrooms were installed in every room, each with tasteful ceramic tiles on the floors and walls.

But then there’s the shower…if you can call it that. It’s basically a nozzle, a drain, and a curtain that comes three-quarters of the way down. With no separation from the rest of the bathroom, the water sprays all over everything, splashing the toothpaste and mirror (if there was one) and forcing one to roll up one’s pants and wade through a veritable brook bubbling with shampoo and soap just to use the toilet.

Merav entered in socks the first time and let out a shriek that must have been heard all the way to Afula. At the conclusion of a shower, you must squeegee the excess water towards the drain.

The thing is, it’s not like this was a circa-1950s shower. It was almost brand-new. Now tell me, would it have been so difficult to put in a lip – a small ledge to keep the water in its place?

Mind you, this is not the only place I’ve seen this. Other low-cost accommodations such as field schools and even Kibbutz Guest Houses employ the spray and squeegee method. This clearly seems to be by design. Is it part of the Zionist manifesto, to deny basic comforts in order to build sabra character?

Now here’s an idea: why not craft a snap-on rail that you can take with you when you know your accommodations will be under five-stars. It could be sold direct to consumers or to the guesthouses and hostels themselves.

You can just call me King of the Squeegee Busters.

3. Hiking in an Age of Uncertainty
One of the highlights of our weekend in the North was a lovely hike we took with two other families along the banks of the Jordan River. Before going, we debated whether it was safe in this day and age to go without “neshek” – a gun or rifle. We were 18 hikers in all, including 12 children between us, and none of was packing heat.

We decided to go anyway.

As we descended towards the riverbank, we passed a van parked suspiciously in the midst of clump of weeds and bushes. It appeared to be recently abandoned.

Chaim, the leader of our group, examined it carefully. The doors were locked and there was a card with a prayer in Hebrew on the dashboard. A new-ish sweater rested over the passenger backseat. It certainly all looked Israeli, but maybe the van had been stolen and there were terrorists just beyond the clearing. I wondered: do terrorists lock the doors before they set out on a murderous expedition?

Chaim pronounced the van OK. I was still nervous but didn’t want to spoil the fun. Jody had already gone ahead and wasn’t part of the deliberations. Were we being ridiculously foolish, or is this what you have to do in order to live your life in times of inane uncertainty?

As we passed the river, we spotted the van’s owners: a couple of merry-makers firing up a barbeque in the woods. As I breathed in the overcooked puffs of their holiday kebab, I breathed out a silent sigh of relief.

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