My Israeli Boy in the US of A
I am visiting my parents in Baltimore for two weeks.
My favorite parts of coming back to the Old Country? Hanging out with my beloved parents and siblings and their families. The Charedi men who smile and wish me a friendly “Good Shabbos!” when they pass me and my kids on the sidewalk. The smell of freshly-mowed grass. The bright green expanses of sky-high trees and bushy undergrowth. Sweet corn smothered with butter and sprinkled with salt. The absolute calm of being across the ocean from my real life.
And after 20 years in Israel, there are also the parts of coming back here that feel downright mystifying. The new self-checkout line at the grocery store and the “Complimentary Sanitary Handwipes” by the entrance. The two-page release form written in microscopic legal-ese that I needed to sign for my daughter’s day-long camp excursion. Navigating my toddler into his car seat and through the flotilla of minivans that swarm my son’s camp parking lot when camp lets out at 4 PM.
And here’s a story about something that happened this trip that made me smile…
My parents signed up my 7-year-old Yoel for a boys’ day camp. I was a bit concerned since Yoel’s English isn’t so great. And he’s also a big soccer player– who considers a day to be good or awful based on soccer games won or lost during recess. But in America, I was warned, the game boys play is baseball, not soccer
And my concerns turned out to be well-founded.
“I hate this kaytana!” Yoel cried when I picked him up on the first day, “I don’t know any of the games, and the one game I did know, they changed the rules!”
“I also hate the parsha class in the morning! The rabbi talks like this ‘Moishe deeber/ Moishe spoke/ El Bnei Yisroel/ to the Jewish people/ Byom hahu/ on that day.’ It is so irritating!”
As the hours passed, Yoel had more tales to tell from the camp he hated.
It was right before July 4th, so I had explained to my kids that July 4th is like Israeli Independence Day for Americans.
Yoel told me that his counselor had asked the boys to write something about what July 4th meant to them. Yoel, remembering I had said that July 4th was like Yom Haatsmaut, wrote something in Hebrew about the Jewish people and their profound connection with the Land of Israel and Rachel’s tomb.
Yoel’s just too Israeli for this American camp, I thought. This isn’t gonna work out.
I thought Yoel wouldn’t want to go to camp the next day, so I told him how incredibly boring it would be for him to stay home with me and saba and savta, and he reluctantly agreed to go.
When I picked Yoel up that day at 4 PM, I asked him how it went and braced myself for his response.
He pulled his blue popsicle out of his mouth for long enough to answer “Fun!”
“What did you do today?”
“Today I learned how to play the games, and my team won!”
The next day (and every day since) Yoel has been dressed in his camp shirt by 6 AM and has literally counted the minutes until camp opens at 9 AM.
Yesterday, Yoel came home from camp singing a Hebrew song the boys had learned from their rabbi.
But then I noticed that his Hebrew sounded very different than it usually does.
“Wait,” I figured it out, “Yoel, are you singing like an American?”
My Israeli boy just flashed me a big smile and kept on singing his new song:)