by Oren Shafir
I strolled the streets of Tel Aviv taking in the smell of fried falafel mixed with the salty ocean breeze. I watched people hurrying, lunging for bus doors before drivers pulled away. Then I realized that if I didnt get to my grandmothers in ten minutes, Id be late an offense that could provoke the dreaded silent treatment. I ran from the beach to her apartment on Bet-Lechem street and flew up the stairs two at a time, jumping over the Arab lady who sat scrubbing the floor. I arrived at the fifth story apartment breathless, wondering how the old lady climbed the stairs carrying five kilos of fruits and vegetables in each hand. She opened the door and squeezed me hard reminding me how she managed the stairs. She offered a wrinkled, rubbery cheek to kiss and then immediately ushered me to my place at the table, assuring me that lunch was all ready.
I sat down and skimmed through her copy of the Post, vowing not to let her sucker me into a political discussion. She returned with the first course.
"I made a chicken soup with canadelach special for you," she said.
"Grandma, next time write me a list, and Ill go shopping for you."
She snorted, "You know how to pick vegetables."
"Then, Ill just carry the bags," I offered.
"Darling, when I cant take care of myself, Ill write a big Shalom on the wall," she made a sweeping gesture indicating the whole dining room wall, "and thats this: Ill take all my pills."
Then on her feet again, she plunged out of the room with her gray head down. A minute later, she returned with a full tray of salad, tehina, fresh bread, schnitzel, peas, beer and apple compot. The schnitzel itself left little room on my plate for other food.
"I also made blintzes for you special, darling because I know you love them," she said.
As I sat, she told me stories Id heard before. She told me how when she was a girl in Poland, they hadnt had cars yet. They rode in horse and carriage. And when she came to Israel, the men stopped and stared at her. She told me for the nine-hundredth time that it was her father who had built the building we were sitting in. He had gone back with his oldest son to liquidate the business in Poland, and theyd never made it back across Nazi lines. She remembered getting letters from both of them as they made parallel paths across Russia, each unaware of the others locale. "Then the letters stopped," she said sadly.
"What happened to the letters?" I asked.
But instead of answering me, she started talking about how brilliant her husband had been. "And your father, hes a genius, too," she said, "but I wanted him to be a doctor."
I told her Id already heard the one about how shed taught herself English when my parents moved to America, so shed be able to speak to her grandchildren.
She said, "Really? I told this before? Then, she continued to relate the story word for word as Id heard it so many times before. "And to this day, I read only English," she concluded triumphantly, looking down at her English-language newspaper.
"You know, theres an article in the paper today which you must read," she said.
Here comes the politics, I thought, shaking my head in protest.
"But darling, you should only read it. You dont have to discuss it with me, although Im a very educated person."
"Grandma, this paper is slanted. Its not objective," I said and immediately regretted.
"What! This is one of the best newspapers. You should read what it says about your friend, Mr. Peres, the Prime Minister," she said with disgust.
"At least Peres is trying to do something for peace."
"Darling, I should be the happiest person in the world if there will be peace, and then I wouldnt have to worry when my grandchildren are in the army. But first, we must take Peres and shoot him."
"You shouldnt laugh at Grandma," she said, "because I know politics perfect, and this peace Mr. Peres wants to make will be the end of Israel. If we didnt bumb this, this thing, how you call it, in Iraq..."
"Its called a nuclear reactor, and we didnt bumb it, we bombed it."
"Yes, if we didnt bumb it," she continued, "they would use this to destroy us. But we have the bumb, too, and if they try to use this to destroy us it will be not for us and not for them." She pounded the table.
"Oh, thats great," I said, stabbing the schnitzel, "What gives us the right to destroy the world."
"Because were the chosen people."
"Oh bullshit." I stood up and stomped away to the bathroom. I poured cold water on my face. Were the chosen people, so we can use the A-bomb. What a thing to say. Why did I talk politics to her? I knew wed argue.
The doorbell rang. It was the Arab woman whod been cleaning the floor when I had run up the stairs earlier. She introduced herself. I'd thought she was a cleaning lady. But, she and her husband, who had a vegetable stand in the nearby marketplace, had rented the empty apartment downstairs, she told me in perfect Hebrew. Shed come to borrow some butter. My grandmother came to the door wagging her finger and pointing at the mop the woman still held in her hands.
"You bad girl," she said in Hebrew to the woman. "I told you not to work so hard anymore. Come and sit and eat," she led her to the table.
"Why shouldnt she work?" I asked.
"Because shes pregnant," the neighbor and my grandmother exchanged a warm smile.
I looked at the woman for the first time. She looked plump, but I wouldnt have guessed that she was pregnant. She smiled. Her straight, white teeth contrasted her dark skin. She was pretty. My grandmother gave her my compot.
"You will eat the blintzes," she told me, "and youll come tomorrow for lunch, yes? Ill make a gefilte fish, and we can have a political discussion, but you shouldnt get angry."
I laughed. The neighbor lady, Fatimah, looked at me questioningly, and I explained, "My grandmother and I had a little argument just before."
"You shouldnt argue with her," she reprimanded. "Shes a good woman. Show her respect."
I nodded in agreement. Shes right, I thought. Never mix schnitzel and politics.
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