Tuesday, August 15, 2006

First quiet day in Haifa

Ahead of the cease-fire, Haifa's air-raid sirens went off 15 -- count 'em, 15 -- times on Sunday. But yesterday the (useless, ridiculous, embarrassing, suicidal) cease-fire took effect, and by the time I arrived in Haifa last night, all was quiet.

I knew that the Israeli IDP's (Internally Displaced Persons - a term I learned from a reader) were starting to head back north when I saw the line for my bus. Since when is a 7:30 pm bus from Jerusalem to Haifa, on a Monday night, full of families? I sat across the aisle from two little girls, about 7 years old, who spent the 2-hour ride talking about Katyushas. When I disembarked, I saw that half the people on the bus were hauling huge suitcases from the cargo space below the bus. Yup - returning residents.

I spent the night at the home of Yael and Moshe S., a nice couple who made aliyah from the US, who are friends of a friend. I'd stayed with them once before, back when I went to Haifa for my old friend's wedding.

Oh! by the way, this was a crazy story:
From the bus station to my hosts' place, I took a taxi. On the way, the driver was asking me about my aliyah, and as many taxi drivers do, he asked whether I have family here. Nope. Just good friends, who have become like family. In particular is my friend since kindergarten, who made aliyah four years before I did.

"Speaking of very old friends," the driver said, "I once had a passenger who was going to a wedding at Kibbutz Hachotrim. She said that it was the wedding of an old friend, someone she hadn't seen for many years, and . . . "

. . . and the driver proceeds to tell me my own story! He was talking about me! It was the same driver I had on my way to Jenn's wedding!

I feel like there is a lesson in there, some sort of sign, but I can't figure out what it is! Maybe just that Haifa is not as big a town as I thought?

Anyhow, Yael and Moshe brought up a point that gave me pause.

One of the things I love about Haifa -- that a lot of people love about Haifa -- is that it is so "laid back." It doesn't have the deep intensity of Jerusalem or the rushed pace of Tel Aviv. It's probably the most "normal" place in Israel.

Moshe wondered whether, after several weeks of bombardment, and residents who had to flee, the city will be as relaxed as before. Will it go back to normal, or will the scars from this war remain?

I hope the former, because I've always thought of Haifa as the place I'll move to if I ever get tired of breathing the holy, tense, exhausting air of Jerusalem.

Today I spent three hours interviewing a family in Haifa, for the Westchester Jewish Chronicle. I've been doing a monthly feature for the Chronicle, the "Aliyah Diaries," profiling singles/couples/families who moved to Israel from Westchester. Unlike the previous profiles, this one will not be a "rah, hey, Aliyah, yay!" sort of story. The family in question has had a very difficult time financially, and said if they'd known three years ago what they know now, they would have organized their plans very differently. And of course the war took its toll as well. This month's installment of the "Aliyah Diaries" will be more gritty than previous ones. I'm glad in a way, because it's important to keep things real.

On the way home there were two religious Muslim women on my bus. Why is it that I always see Muslims in the Haifa bus station, taking buses to Jerusalem, but I never see them in the Jerusalem station, taking buses to Haifa? Things that make you go hm.

(Crossposted to Israelity)

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