January 23, 2013

Of Beaches And Ballot Boxes

Election day here feels like a national holiday. Schools are out, offices are closed and many stores are shut. People are out on the town, tanning on the beaches, and playing in the parks. For me, it felt like one of those Sundays I so relished when I lived in Canada.

So what do Israelis do when they have a completely free day, especially when it is warm and sunny? Firstly, they vote. Yesterday, some 67% of the population came out to the polls and for Israel, this is a very high number.

Israelis turn voting into a festivity of sorts.  They stroll to the polls with the whole family, chat with their friends, and when they wait in line to cast their ballot, they are not uptight or pushy. Everyone we saw was friendly and hopeful. Is it because they did not have to rush off somewhere? Were they excited about the prospect of a new, improved Israel? In fact, there was such a sense of ease and happiness, it felt like a holiday and we wanted to wish each other “chag sameach.” 

We voted and headed out to the fields on our bikes. There, crowding our normally empty dirt path, were cars. And ahead, our usually tranquil, quiet fields were teeming with people, babies and toddlers. What were they doing? Where were they going?

Everyone was out on election day...even the poppies.
We cycled on and realized they were looking at flowers! Wild red poppies, the calaniot, were in bloom, tingeing the green fields with pockets of red. These cars had actually gone off road across bumpy paths and muddied potholes just to get a glimpse of wild flowers.

We came home and were so excited by the warmth of the spring day, we hopped into the car with kids and dog and headed to the beach in Tel Aviv. We envisioned a leisurely walk along the boardwalk beside the sparkling Mediterranean Sea, the soft  salty breeze on our faces.

Arriving in the port area of Tel Aviv, we tried to park. There were no free spots, nor would there be a spot. Ever. In fact, cars had parked where there were no spots, so we found nothing but aggravation. We searched every lot from north Tel Aviv southbound, crawling along the coast until we finally ended up in south Tel Aviv.

When we finally walked onto the beach, it was just an hour before sunset. I immediately realized that all the parking lots were filled with cars because all the people were at the beach. It looked like the entire country was here as there was barely a free speck of sand. All we could hear was the click-clack of those maktot balls against paddles as people jumped and flew across the sand. Other beach goers were swimming, surfing, paddling, sunbathing, picnicking. Teens sat in circles playing guitars and singing. We saw a tightrope walker who was balancing on a rope and juggling balls. Babies crawled on blankets and dogs ran in circles.

The sun set, slowly dipping into the sea. We returned to our cars, as did every Israeli in
the country who was also at the beach. We sat in traffic and then our car crawled home.

Despite the crowds, it was a fun, free day and a time for Israelis to put their “worries on
their doorstep” and simply be.

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