It’s good to be taken down a few notches every once in a while. When I was in high school, I was told to apply for some award or another for languages, since I was studying Spanish, French, and Hebrew, and was born in Puerto Rico. But even if it looked [pretty] good on paper, I was bested by a girl who spoke all those and had been a refugee from Castro’s Cuba. Granted, her family was wealthier than most of the rest of us combined, but…refugee trumps all, usually.
I been spending some time volunteering in the Old Age Home in Tzfat. In Hebrew, an assisted living facilities/old age home/ nursing home is called בית אבות, which literally (literally) means “house of the fathers (parents)”. I love that. Seniors and babies are treated very well here in Israel, with great love. This Beit Avot in Tzfat is not fancy, but it’s spotless.
When I went into the building, the organizers asked me what languages I speak. I felt like I was transported back to high school. I could add that I know how to smile and shake my head appropriately in Yiddish also, and that I know 4 words or so in Russian. I didn’t bother telling them that I know how to say cauliflower and some other foods in German, having spent a summer in Frankfurt. I didn’t see how cauliflower would get me very far here.
There were so many people who were visiting who could speak all of those languages. I felt very embarrassed and challenged. I spent some time with a woman who had spent 40 years in Ecuador, but then 40 years here in Israel, and preferred speaking Hebrew, not really getting why they wanted her to speak Spanish. That suited me fine. She was painting a pre-formatted canvas of a table covered with a checkered tablecloth and some pomegranates. The spaces were marked with the paints that she was to use. She had finished doing the yellow and brown squares, and was up to the blue. She tried painting with the blue acrylic paint that she was given, but the paint was dried up. The color she was given after that was not the same. She was not upset. She used what she had and she made the best of it.
“Did you take painting lessons? Have you painted a lot before this?”
No. She’s done 2 before this and has never taken a lesson. She finished the blue squares and went to her physical therapy session.
The next woman I went to seek out was playing solitaire on the computer. “Can I talk to you for a bit?”, I asked in Hebrew. “No, I don’t speak Hebrew.”
Okay, now I found someone who wanted to speak in Spanish. I told her I was happy to practice my Spanish with her. Another young woman who was also volunteering there joined us. Our new friend then went into great detail about her life in Israel. She told us how she had left Argentina just 17 years ago, so she still doesn’t feel comfortable in Hebrew. They lived on a kibbutz and she only had to work 2 hours a day. The kibbutz is close to Tzfat, but even a higher elevation, so the air is extremely clean and fresh, even more than Tzfat. But…
Something happened. There were 64 days that they didn’t hear anything from him. Can you imagine, not knowing what happened, for that long? Finally, on Monday afternoon at 6 pm, they heard.
And then we went back to talking about her son who lives in Acco (Acre) and works in the port, so she’s very worried about his safety with the rocket attacks, since he’s always in the open.
Finally it was lunch time and she was getting ready to leave. Her smile was probably going to make her cheeks hurt later on that evening, and she hoped we would see her again soon. After she left, my young comrade said to me, “I’m so glad you were here with me, so you could fill in the blanks of what I didn’t understand!”
“Oh, I was hoping the exact same thing from you!”
Simultaneously, we both said, “what was the bit about the 64 days? Who was missing and what happened to him????”
And we laughed, knowing it didn’t matter. We were listening now.
Today, I went in to meet up with my new friends. I was eager to find a way to figure out what really happened. But she did not want to speak today. The war is hard on her mind. She would rather stay playing solitaire on the computer. So I honored her and went to find some other friends.
I heard so much pain and so much experience from my friends. I hope to always be able to listen and learn.