Sunday, October 01, 2006

“Habaita!”: How Israelis help Hashem answer the plea, “Al tashlichénu l’ét ziknah, Do not cast us off in old age”

I’ve been lucky. Only once in my life have I ever been called a “dirty Jew.” And rumor had it that the young punk who called me that (in high school) was actually a juvenile delinquent who’d dyed his blond hair black to evade the police.

My parents were not so fortunate. Born in the 1920’s, they suffered the usual personal insults and financial injuries common in the days before the advent of political correctness and the passage of laws barring discrimination. So the first time they went to Israel, they were so thrilled to find a place where they could feel totally accepted as Jews that they retired early and made aliyah while they were still young enough to enjoy it. And enjoy it they did. My father was an officer in AACI, the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel. My mother was a founder of a chug (club) for hard-of-hearing English-speakers.

But that was then—they made aliyah over 20 years ago—and this is now. They’re both in their eighties. My husband, son and I visited them in August 2005 because my father is rapidly losing his memory, and my brother (who made aliyah almost 30 years ago) advised me not to delay lest Dad not remember me by the time I got there. Now, to add literal injury to the insults of other age-induced health problems, both of my parents have managed to break a few bones (my mother a few vertebra, my father a few ribs) in falls within the past few months.

So my mother goes trundling off to the local makolet (grocery story, or, as we often say in New York, deli). It’s a large, nicely-stocked store with a fruit stand out front, owned and operated by a family. They treat her very nicely, she says, letting her know which fruits and vegetables are the freshest and which ones she shouldn’t buy. (She tells me that she knows “grocery-store Hebrew”—she can probably name every fruit or vegetable that exists, and that’s just about all the Hebrew that she’s learned.) She collects her purchases, takes them to the check-out counter, and says to the cashier, in her best fractured Hebrew, “Baal choleh (husband is sick).”

Habaita! [Go] home!,” says the cashier, before even ringing up the merchandise. So home Mom goes. The groceries are delivered along with the bill.

Can you think of any place you could go in the U.S. where the cashier would send you home before your purchases had even been rung up just because you said that your spouse was home ill?


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