My favorite swim is at 6:30 AM. The drive from my home in Efrat to the pool in Gush Etzion is often under a veil of soft fog, even in the summer. Even when the pool is filled, there is a quiet, and on the laps back the sun from the east is always a little blinding, through the large windows.
And being the coffee addict I am, a mandatory stop is at the gas station coffee shop, near another multi-ethnic enterprise — Rami Levi — to get a cafe ‘hafuch’ (latte). I was finishing my order when a guy in a knitted kipa (skullcap) and gingy (redhead) Sefira beard (grown during this post-Passover time period, in mourning for the death of the students of Rabbi Akiva, who didn’t love each other enough), walked in after me. He asked the nice young Arab counter man (probably from one of the local villages), whose name was clearly displayed on his name tag, how much “coffee and a ‘ma’afeh’ (danish)” costs.
He told him the special price listed there was only for soldiers. He tried to bargain with him. “But I do reserve duty. Doesn’t that count?” “Nope, sorry,” said the counter man, “only regular soldiers.” The gingy pursued it (in good spirits), trying to convince him that he works hard when on reserve duty. The counter man laughed and called over the manager. They had a quick conversation in Arabic and he told him again, “No, sorry, only [regular] soldiers.”
The gingy also asked him about the kashruth certificate and the counter man explained which they had and pointed them out to him.
As I walked out, I said to the gingy, “Boy, you’ve given me some fun material for a blog, ‘al haboker’ (in the morning).” Okay, it’s a chain shop with rules, but even so.
For almost thirty years I’ve been among a cadre of people in Efrat invited to host visitors to our community — Jews (of all political and religious hues), politicians, academicians, college students, Bible belt Christians and everyone else under the sun. I’ve participated in settler-Palestinian dialogue and am one of the veteran members of Gesher (intra-religious dialogue). My message has always been the same: Peace and understanding will come only from everyday interaction as regular people.
For example, there is Fatima. I haven’t seen Fatima, from one of the local villages, for years. I didn’t discuss the poetry of Emily Dickinson (or politics) with her, like I did with Ayman, one of my Palestinian dialogue-mates, but when we were both young mothers, she would come by selling figs or grapes or whatever was in season in her local orchard.
I remember a last week in August, a long time ago, when there was a brutal heat wave. She came by with large bunches of grapes. I was flat out on the couch (no air conditioning) with the children playing nearby, hot and noisy. I invited her in for a glass of cold water, she lowered her grapes to the floor, observed my heat stroke and the noisy kids, probably thinking about her own, and held up three fingers, indicating, “Only three more days till they all go back to school.” We laughed hysterically and ate grapes.
And during the second bloody intifada, about a year into the millennial, after one particularly horrific attack, she came by and knocked on the door. I invited her in and we sat there and cried together.