Travels with my aunt
1. I take pictures nonstop, and even though I have no talent for photography, sometimes the camera catches the inner essence of my subjects. At a family dinner beneath a vine-covered pavilion on the kibbutz where I grew up, I took a picture of my aunt and uncle. They are sitting on plastic chairs whose white backs are visible behind them, and their elbows are propped up on the table, which is covered with a plastic tablecloth. My uncle is gazing at me with a look full of experience, reflective, his narrow face exuding irony. My aunt's mature brown eyes are looking in a different direction, at something that is not in the picture, her face expressing an acceptance of fate. Enlarging the details of the photograph in the digital camera, I see how closely I resemble my aunt and how much the lines at the base of her nose are like mine.
2. On the morning after the family dinner, I accepted an invitation from Ruthie Shadmon, from Beit Uri and Rami Nehushtan, a modest museum on Kibbutz Ashdot Yaakov Meuhad, to come for a visit. I took along my daughter and two of my sister's children. In the small space of the museum, Shadmon has put together an exhibition of Rosh Hashanah cards that show Israel Defense Forces' parades of the 1950s; she is also screening Honi Hameagel's film "European Manners." According to the program notes, the film is an adaptation of "Arbeit Macht Frei vom Toitland Europa," a production put on at the 1991 fringe theater festival in Acre. In the film, the actress Smadar Yaaron plays a Holocaust survivor, who guides a tour through Kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot (The Ghetto Fighters).
3. I don't know if the kids should see the film. My nephew is nine and is clutching his skateboard close to his body and to his symmetrical white face; his beautiful sister, who is 12, is gripping the small ornamented bag that she took with her especially for the trip to the kibbutz and is not saying a word. But I know there is no reason to protect them from art, and in the meantime Shadmon is already taking us to the back room, which is a storeroom, office and kitchen, and is serving me and the children tea made from geranium leaves.
4. The children, usually so talkative and bouncy, drink the tea quietly, wide-eyed, not daring to breathe. I know that this is a childhood memory they will carry with them, but I can't control its content. Maybe they will think of it like this: how, when they were little, they drank tea in the private back room of a quiet museum on a kibbutz, and how the gray-eyed lady decided to screen something special for their auntie, so she stopped the movie in which a woman with a hairdo and a purse was explaining something about trains, and instead put a different movie into the DVD, and how they then saw in black and white people dancing in circles in a field and also a man riding a horse, and the man was bald and had a huge nose, but his body stood out in the light, and how their auntie then suddenly started to laugh and said, "Unbelievable, unbelievable - it's really him," and hugged the woman.
5. On the way back, the two clever children walk side by side, closer together than usual. Did you have an interesting time with your auntie, I ask. They reply that the tea was quite tasty. "People say you had a relationship with a volunteer," Shadmon said before showing me the movie in which he is seen riding a horse. Afterward, in my aunt's house, I look at the picture I took of her and decide that I will keep it on file, for now.
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