July 2, 2009
Day One: Very Loud, Very Silent
Jewish Journal columnist David Suissa is in Israel for 10 days, studying at the esteemed Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. While there, he’s blogging about his trip and what he’s learning.
Israel hits me in so many ways. The first and obvious way is the noise.
After the “Screaming Babies” flight, it was the airport noise. I got my luggage and wanted to get to Jerusalem with the least amount of hassle. Passengers seemed to be going every which way. Before I could figure out where to go, I met a Syrian-Jewish-Israeli “cab” driver who I quickly figured out was roaming the exits hoping to find a sucker American tourist who wouldn’t mind paying a higher fare.
I decided to be that happy sucker.
Ami, the driver, is a freelance operator who tries to make a buck with his own car, which, incidentally, was parked in the airport garage. But hey, I’m sure he fought in a couple of wars for the motherland, so I’ll give him some of my sucker money.
Plus, I knew that these kind of drivers love going the extra mile.
This came in handy about 30 minutes later, when we were negotiating the winding streets of the Rehavia neighborhood towards my hotel.
To our right, we saw an Asian-looking woman running on the sidewalk screaming hysterically.
Two other women, who looked Israeli, were tending to a frail-looking older woman who was crouching against a short wall. Traffic was slow, so Ami and I had a good view of the scene.
“I think she dead”, he said.
It was hot and muggy. My mind flashed back to those horrible news reports a few summers ago from France when so many old people perished in a heat wave.
Ami’s premonition didn’t stop him from driving his car right up on the sidewalk, grabbing a bottle of water from his trunk and running towards the old woman, with me running just behind him.
He gave the bottle to one of the Israeli women, who raised the limp face of the old woman and tried to put water in her mouth. It didn’t help. Meanwhile, the Asian woman (she was a Phillipino caretaker—there are many of them in Israel) was in hysterics, screaming for the ambulance that hadn’t yet arrived and trying to revive the old woman whom she had obviously become very close to.
The way she was screaming, it could have been her mother.
Ami, however, didn’t like the screaming. He kept telling the woman to calm down, but she would have none of it.
A few minutes later, we heard the siren of an ambulance. But strangely, even though the siren sound felt very close, I couldn’t see an ambulance.
The sound was coming from a little motorcycle!
Because the traffic in Jerusalem can get very dense, and many of the roads are ancient and narrow, I learned that emergency paramedics from Magen David Adom often fly by in motorcycles to get there quicker.
The paramedic stopped his bike and removed his helmet with the cool flair of James Bond and rushed with his equipment to the old woman. By now, a little circle of onlookers had gathered, with the Philipino caretaker still in hysterics, the Israeli women still trying to get the old woman to drink, Ami still trying to calm the caretaker down, and me, observing the whole scene, feeling guilty about thinking other thoughts than the welfare of the old woman (Should I take a picture of the scene with my i-phone? Should I interview the Philipino woman? Will I blog this?).
It must be that all the noise—the screaming siren, the wailing caretaker, the human commotion—plus the tight squeeze of the blood pressure belt administered by the paramedic, had an awakening effect on the old woman.
We all watched as her face slowly rose and her eyes opened.
As she started looking around at the commotion she caused, the main ambulance arrived, and a paramedic brought out a stretcher. The sight of the stretcher really excited the old woman.
“I want to go home!” she said in Hebrew.
I think Ami also wanted to go, because he started nudging me with a little “yala”, the Israeli way of saying “let’s get outta here.”
The old woman, stretcher or no stretcher, was now in good hands. The Philipino caretaker had calmed down, the Israeli women started to walk away (one of them with a limp), and Ami and I made our way to the Inbal hotel (which is close to the Hartman Institute, where I begin my studies on Thursday.)
But more noise awaited me.
Late at night, as I tried to catch up on some sleep, I heard live music from my hotel window. A rasta singer with five musicians were belting out hip hop, rock and jazz fusion tunes (including a rock version of “These are a few of my favorite things” from “The Sound of Music”), in an outdoor theater with maybe a hundred or so people in the audience.
I was exhausted, but the music and the scene were too good to pass up, so I went out into the night, figuring that I could sleep when I get back to LA.
From the crazy flight to the clandestine driver to the sidewalk drama to the late night music, it’s been a noisy start to my trip.
But in the morning, as I walked towards the elevator with only the thought of Turkish coffee on my mind, another scene hit me.
This scene made no noise whatsoever.
It was the sight of mezuzahs, one after another, posted on every door.
In America, I always take special note of mezuzahs (“Hey, another Jew, cool!”).
Here in the Holy Land, mezuzahs are everywhere, and they scream Jewish and Israel—along with everybody else.