I arrived in Tel-Aviv a few days ago, was picked up by my sister, and we drove up to her home in Jerusalem.
No one said: “Should we call mom?” No hurrying to her apartment to say hi, no creating a schedule for more visits. The lapses point squarely to her absence, thus making her very present.
Instead, we sat and watched Argentina beat the daylights out of Croatia in the semi-finals of the World Cup. I can’t stream the games back home, but I love watching them here. Soccer played on this level is riveting. I can’t believe Lionel Messi’s ball control, the speed of the players and the precision of their kicks and passes. Half their movements are up in the air, not on the ground, and they seem to have 360-degree eyesight.
Four years ago, the surprising Croatians made it to the Finals. My mother had the games on in her home and I’d get right into bed next to her and watch the games with her. This year the three of us sat around the small TV and watched as Croatia, a land of some 4 million residents, along with Morocco beat one soccer giant after another. I’m not a partisan fan, which lets me cheer for the underdog every time. By underdog I mean almost any country that’s not West European, including this year teams that represent Arab or Muslim countries.
After watching the Moroccans lose to the French, we went to the Sinai Peninsula for solace. My brother, sister, and I flew from Tel-Aviv to Eilat in the south, took a bus to the border with Egypt, went through Israeli and Egyptian border controls, and then took a taxi to a hotel with the Sinai mountains in back and the Red Sea in front.
Hotels in the Sinai, under Egyptian ownership, are way cheaper than their Israeli counterparts in Eilat or the Dead Sea. At night I can see lights from Neom, Saudi Arabia’s new city-in-construction and future big tourist attraction, across the Red Sea. We’re here for three days.
“Is Sinai in Asia or Africa?” my brother asks. We all know that Israel is considered part of Asia and Egypt part of Africa, but what about the peninsula that connects them?
I look up Wiki and Britannica, and they agree that geographically, Sinai is part of Asia. Politically, however, the Egyptian government likes to say it’s part of Africa.
I can’t get my head around the fact that here I am, in an area that connects the two continents. Was it really here that God gave the Torah to the Israelites? Did it happen in Saudi Arabia instead, as many archeologists believe? I prefer to trust the evidence under my feet, to walk the desert, make my way around the mountains and Bedouin encampments. The earth will give me an answer.
But not now. We’re in a hotel to rest and relax, eat, take photos, read, and mostly talk. Share our lives. Compare stories. Laugh. Sleep. The sun is warm, permitting shorts and T-shirts, but sets early. We walk at twilight, the mountains getting purple, then black, stars twinkling everywhere.
I am happy to have my siblings with me. It took us many years, but finally we learned to listen to one another, respect, forgive, and love one another. We’ve grown older—73, 68, 62—and all the closeness we didn’t have as children and adults we have now, along with deep reserves of trust, tenderness, and resilience. We worked hard on this, it didn’t come easy, but it paid off. When I think of companionship in vacation, it doesn’t get better than this.
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