January 7, 2007

Mornings In Israel: A High-Wire Act

I recently found another entry that was written right after our arrival. And, yep, we are still racing the clock each and every morning,six days a week, just like every other Israeli.

Israel. This is a beautiful, wonderful, miraculous country. We love living here. But being from Canada, I sense a different energy here. Life is frantic, high-wire, fast. People are charged, electric, extreme. Why so?

Is it because this is a hot country? Having traveled to many warm countries including places in the Caribbean, South East Asia and South America, I am a bit confused. I’ve seen men in Thailand squatting on their hind legs for hours, smoking and watching the world go by. I’ve seen boys sauntering across rice paddies atop water buffaloes in Sulawesi. So where does Israel’s wild pace come from?

My four-year-old daughter Talya goes to gan. The doors open around 7:30 a.m each morning, six days a week. This is very early for a Canadian who is used to school starting around 9:00 five days a week. So I generally get my three older children off to school first and then slowly wake up my youngest daughter who is always tired in the morning. I hate the morning rush and like her to enjoy one-on-one time with me. She dresses, picks a snack for the walk and we head off at a leisurely pace. She loves to pick flowers for me as we stroll. Holding hands, we talk about the street cats that we see, the tree where we once spied a beautiful woodpecker, about her new friends at gan.

When we arrive at gan, the children are usually busy playing. Sometimes she sleeps late (till 8:00 am) and when we get there, the ‘program’ has started. The ganenet is stern. She is angry. She insists we be there for 8 o’clock.

For what? My Talya understands very little Hebrew. She is in a new country and spends the whole day at gan. She has no down time. She is not studying for bagrut. And she is only four!

Now I see that this frantic pace is ingrained at an early age. I watch parents madly dashing around in their cars each morning, speeding recklessly on the roads, trying to get their kids to gan so they can grab a highly caffeinated coffee and head off to work - and then only to sit in maddening traffic jams as they commute to Tel Aviv.

I also watch parents madly dashing to pick up their kids every afternoon, double parking on the roads, pulling up onto sidewalks, regardless of who is in their way. They then all send their children to chugim; swimming, soccer, tennis, piano, karate. Kids go to bed late. They wake up early. And this starts at the age of three.

I am happy to be a part of a nation of go getters and of high achievers. I just crave a quiet moment, a day of sleeping in, of seeing my kids lounge around in their pjs, or having nothing to do but jigsaw puzzles. I long for people to slow down and let me into a lane of traffic, and to have them respect a line in the bank instead of butting in.

But this is Israel and that was Canada. We are now all cramped into a country so tiny, the cities practically blend into each other: Tel Aviv, Hod HaSharon, Ramat HaSharon, Raanana, Kfar Saba, Herzliya, Netanya. Sometimes it just feels like one big traffic jam.

And although people may be rude to one other, deep down people do care about each other. Maybe people here want to move forward and achieve so much, they just can’t sit still.

I may want my water buffalo, but when it comes down to it, I guess I’ll trade it in for another hit of coffee each morning. As for that woodpecker, I haven’t seen it in a while; were too busy running so Talya could be there on time.

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