It was a week ago today that I traveled by train through the central part of Israel.
Young men, boys really, are asleep while white-winged snakes watch over them from shoulder lapels.
Olive green duffel bags with red ribbons tied on to ward off evil eyes. Berets are neatly tucked in, under buttoned lapels. Gargantuan backpacks that ought to be used for travel rather than a holding vessel for yet more clothes in a solid shade of olive green. Before leaving home, they were washed, crisply ironed, buttoned and folded. With love.
The dreaded phrase is Tzav shmoneh. Military call-up under emergency circumstances. Nothing to do but pack and leave. Perhaps throw in an appointment with the barber and a night out with the boys – just in case.
The rifle brigade is at it again.
I see a young woman, a teenager really, in rusty-red colored boots. We’re not in Oz. This is a man’s world, made up of elite paratroopers; females, an anomaly in their midst.
In the next row, the only word I hear in a phone conversation is raketot. Rockets. Are they still raining down from the other side? He says one fell in front of him. He hasn’t slept all night. Now he’s en route to the frontlines.
A young couple enters the carriage, the cleanly-shaven guy decked out in full military regalia, his girlfriend dolled up in tank top, short shorts, brand-name purse, flip-flops and pedicure. She laughs and teases him, as if she’s sending him off to school instead of into a tank.
The businessman, long retired from military duty, ties up his spiffy electric bike to the railing, crosses one knee over the other and pulls a paper out of his buttery brown leather briefcase. He buries his nose into the stock market pages.
Before the train pulls out of the station, a young girl walks to the front of the carriage. She faces the wall, closes her eyes, opens the book and her whole body wobbles forward and backward in a post that exaggerates her prayer. When she returns to her seat, she remains standing, remains in prayer pose; but her shaking is so agitated, that perhaps her intention is to jiggle the region into peace and quiet.
The doors close and the train heads towards the sea.
The little boy down the line turns to his father and asks, what happens if we hear a siren? His father is on the phone talking about raketot.
How does the grass still grow green, the fields grow wheat, the cows yield dairy, when a country is at war?
The name of this train station is Hagana. The Hebrew for defense. It’s a hub, a gateway to all points south. Today, it’s also a sea of olive green, khaki and beige. Especially on Platform #3.
As I read about my recent train journey, it suddenly feels so impossibly distant – not just because I’m now in another part of the world…