It’s occurred to me that my writing for ZEEK often sounds the same note—albeit at a different pitch—over and over again.
It’s a familiar tune to both Israelis and those who have spent a significant amount of time in the country: I’m cynical, I’m worried and, at times, I’m scared.
So why do I stay?
The biggest reason, perhaps, is pomegranate juice.
Rushing out the door not long ago, late for an appointment, I skipped breakfast. I stopped, instead, at a humble juice stand on Lewinsky Street.
There are many juice and shake stands in Tel Aviv. Some are pretentious, north Tel Aviv-style, charging as much as 20 shekels per cup. My favorite place to get the pecan-tamar-milk-banana-shake I love so much is next to one such spot.
The neighboring stand, considered by many the place to get juice and shakes in Tel Aviv, charges more than 20. My shake guy charges 10. And because I remind my shake guy that his is the best in the city and that I have walked a couple of kilometers to arrive, forgoing other stands on the way, he throws in extra candied pecans.
The juice stand on Lewinsky Street is wholly South Tel Aviv. Good price, no frills, questionable sanitation. It’s orange juice year-round, but when the season comes, the kippah-wearing-proprietor also offers pomegranates.
There are other seasonal changes. On hot summer days, he dozes in the stall. Sitting on a stool, his elbows firm on the counter, his head nods, his kippah slides, his mouth lolls open. I wait until he awakes, wondering how many sales he’s missed on such days.
On this autumn morning, the Lewinsky juice stand man’s kippah was firmly in place and he was stocked with pomegranates and oranges.
I ordered a cup of meetz rimon (pomegranate juice). Because I’d skipped breakfast, I made it a large.
He took a clear plastic cup off the stack. And then he paused. “Have you eaten today?” he asked me.
“Then you shouldn’t take the large. Pomegranate juice is hard on the stomach. Or if you take the large, drink very, very slowly. In sips.”
I took the large. And as I hurried down Lewinsky, I didn’t sip.
A man, watching me gulp and go, stopped me.
“Have you eaten today?” he asked.
Straw still in mouth, I shook my head no.
“Tizahari, tizahari motek! You will get a stomachache.”
I nodded and moved on, only to stopped and warned again by an ancient grandmother, pulling a red plaid buggy behind her.
When I first arrived in Israel, I lived down here in South Tel Aviv. My street was full of Mizrahim, Bucharim (Bukharan Jews), lemon and orange trees and a lone rooster. A block away, there was a small chanut (convenience store), a butcher, and a bakery. Because what else do you really need?
On Fridays, after my neighbors cleaned their apartment in preparation for Shabbat, they left their door open. If they heard a slam on my side, they craned their necks to see who was leaving, who was coming, and who there was to greet.
“Have you eaten today?”
Of course, not all of Tel Aviv is like this. The central part of the city, where I live now, certainly isn’t. It’s the bubble in the bubble, post-modernity at it’s finest: cell phones and iPods and Facebook and meaningless chatter over cups of trendy, overpriced juice.
But when I need a shot that will give me some staying power, I take a long walk and go for a tamar-banana-halav-pecan. Or I take a longer walk and visit South Tel Aviv and grab a meetz rimon or tapoozim (orange juice). Depending on the season. And, depending on whether or not my Lewinsky stand guy is awake.
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