Or: when there’s no lap lane in an Israeli swimming pool.
Things are flying in every direction: precocious tweens in bikinis are diving into the deep end, parents are tossing toddlers up in the air, beach balls are lobbed over the wire holding the sign “Shallow water” and a few intrepid souls like myself are trying to get some exercise, banging into the above every few feet.
There might be a war going on in the North and South of Israel, but here in Jerusalem, it’s business as usual. Sort of.
See, the lifeguard won’t put up a rope to divide off a lap lane because he feels bad. “There are 300 kids here, what am I supposed to do?” He shrugs and blows his whistle in the air at no one in particular as he walks off to the throne of his lifeguard chair.
He’s a shvitzer, a proud man. exaggerating a little, as Israelis are wont to do. There are probably 50 or 60 people in the hotel swimming pool, but still, I won’t force the issue—as Americans are wont to do—because I know what he means.
Many of the people here at the Crowne Plaza hotel are here from the North, and even though this kind of revelry might usually call for more control, no one has the heart to stop these victims of war.
“We welcome our visitors from the North,” a sign in the hotel lobby reads.
Even though tourism to Israel has virtually disappeared, it’s hard to tell here in the untouched regions—Jerusalem, Tel Aviv—because Northerners have come to stay.
For how long, no one knows.
My girlfriends in Jerusalem hosted a guest from Akko, until she got a free room for her family at a hotel, which some are kind enough to offer.
My former editor is hosting a family, his daughter’s best friend and her parents, for the duration. “The education minister says school will start on September 1, as usual,” the mother tells me, but she looks doubtful.
On Hof Nitzanim, a beautiful beach near Tel Aviv TK, two huge camps of tents are set up by the shore. Giant white tents, like a circus, are peppered on the sparkling sand, a soundstage is set in the middle. Kids play at pool tables and ping pong tables and adults watch a belly dancer perform. It seems like a regular Israeli festival—one of those rock or rave or craft fairs that last for days—but it’s actually a refugee camp for about 6,000 Northerners, many who have been here for weeks.
“I’ve had enough already,” says Yulia itomirson, a tenth-grader from Karmiel. She’d been here for two weeks, and it was fun, hanging out with her friends, meeting new people—there are about 600 kids under 18 here—but the bathrooms, the showers, the food, the crowding, it’s time to go. Not home, not yet, but to relatives in the center of the country.
Israel, someone once told me, is the type of place where someone might push you to get on the bus and break your leg, but he’ll spend all night in the emergency room with you.
The North is being bombed, but everyone is welcoming its residents.
That’s the way it is, in Israel.