When I was a child, I had very little control over my own life. I spent the first 10 years of my life traveling back and forth between Philadelphia and Tel Aviv as my parents struggled with the question of where to settle permanently. Though they loved me and treated me well, they never consulted me before our moves. I was repeatedly torn from familiar surroundings and friends and thrust into new situations where I had to start from scratch yet again.
Since I never stayed anywhere long enough to make many friends, I got to know the cities where I lived better than most children. It’s hard to imagine two places more different than Philadelphia and Tel Aviv, though each had its own charms and beauty. Philadelphia had four seasons: a hot, muggy summer whose nights were filled with the dance of fireflies and the song of crickets, and then a yellow, green, orange, and red fall that smelled like fallen leaves. Eventually, the nights would get colder until it was winter, with bare trees, a cold bite in the air, and the crunch of snow and ice beneath my feet. Then in the spring, the brown and grey landscape miraculously transformed into a riot of purple, red, pink, orange, yellow, and green as trees grew new leaves, and butterflies fluttered through the blossoms.
Israel’s Mediterranean climate was quite different. Snow was more or less unheard of, and rain mostly fell in the winter. I took a city bus to school, and walked to the beach in the afternoons and on weekends. I loved battling with the sea’s powerful waves; to this day, I don’t enjoy swimming in the ocean as much if it’s not trying to drag me under. I also miss Tel Aviv beach sand, which is white and incredibly soft—though it was occasionally marred by lumps of tar that floated in from oil tankers in the Mediterranean sea.
My memories of Israel are defined by the smells of ocean, sand, and beigalach (a kind of bagel) for sale in little stands along Nordau Boulevard. And if I concentrate, I can almost hear the ice cream vendors promoting their wares—“Arctic! Kartiv!” —as they carried their coolers on their shoulders and tramped along the beach. Junk dealers would drive by my grandparent’s home in their horse-drawn carts, calling out “alte zachen” (old things) to try to drum up business. Israel also had oddly oversized creatures – huge cockroaches, humongous rats the size of small cats, and cats the size of medium dogs.