The Cap’n and I had some shopping to do in Jerusalem today, so we packed up Bill, a few baby supplies (roughly equivalent to the volume of Bill himself) and drove off to the Big City. In the course of the morning, we had four interactions centering around our newborn that are both universal and uniquely Israeli.
We had browsed for about twenty minutes in a lighting store, and by the time we left, the heat of all the lights was starting to get to Bill and me. (I felt as though I had a roasting turkey strapped to my front.) We were both relieved to get out into the fresh air on this pleasant, not-so-wintry (mid-50s Fahrenheit) day. It took all of 30 seconds for an Israeli woman to approach me with a solicitous look on her face. “Do you speak Hebrew?” she asked. I answered yes. She asked, “Don’t you think he needs a hat on his head? It’s so cold out…” (People often catalog this among a handful of quintessential Israeli conversations.)
Trolling down the frozen food aisle, an elderly woman came up to the Cap’n (who had assumed his turn carrying the turkey) and said, “I’m sorry, it’s just too much.” Prepared for another tongue-lashing for dressing my newborn inappropriately, I asked, “What is just too much?” She beamed, reached out, and gently grasped Bill’s hand. She asked how old he is, if we were Jews (so she could wish us mazal tov), and told us she has great-grandchildren. She wished us a long life of nachas from him. (We don’t ordinarily like to encourage strangers to touch our baby’s hands without washing theirs first, but she got to him first.)
Waiting in line, there was a young man who asked how old Bill was. Once we had corrected him on Bill’s sex (like most people, he took Bill’s supposedly gender-neutral purple fleece and his sisters’ hand-me-down hot pink hat as evidence of Bill’s femininity), we went through the usual baby conversation. He told us he has a five-month-old, asked where we’d given birth, was interested to hear Bill had been born at home, etc. etc.
Also waiting in line were a half dozen Arab women, one of whom was holding a baby perhaps six months old. Smiles were exchanged, I nodded approvingly to their very cute boy and said, “HE has a hat!” They cooed and murmured in Arabic, indicating Bill. It drove home the point that I often sense living here: that on an individual basis, most people co-exist fairly amicably here, with Jews and Arabs working and shopping in the same places. It’s just the big picture that gets troublesome. I looked at these two little boys, only a couple of months apart in age, and the thought occurred to me that they could someday end up on opposite ends of a battlefield. (One of my first thoughts when Bill was born was, “We have a soldier.”)
But for now, at least, we can ooh and aah over them, and relish the small things like standing in line together at the grocery store.