Into the Depths

It's so hot in Tiberias that it's hard to breathe. We immediately drop the idea of getting the kids out of the pool and back into the air-conditioned room. We know very well that only an explicit order issued by an authority figure wearing a lifeguard's uniform, or preferably, by the hotel manager, could persuade them to get out of the water. And rightly so: We have promised them a holiday and a pool since the beginning of the summer vacation, and now there is nothing we can say.

Tiberias is as hot in the morning as it is scorching before sunset, and we had no choice but to squirm around in the water with the children, covered in thick layers of sunscreen, and look for a bit of shade under a net that had been spread over the shallow end.

My head is about to explode. I managed to sleep maybe two hours the night before the drive from Jerusalem to Tiberias. I could have followed my wife's suggestion and gone up to the room to rest, but I had to stay awake until night. It's been more than a week since I got back from the West Coast of the U.S. and I still haven't gotten over this terrible exhaustion. The last few nights were a nightmare. There were moments when I tossed and turned in bed in the wee hours, certain that I was losing my mind. I have to fight this, I decided, I can't allow myself another sleepless night that will evoke memories I had thought were consigned to oblivion and awful thoughts that are hidden by the light of day. If the holiday in Tiberias won't get me back to Israel, then nothing will help.

"What about the children?" my wife repeated her permanent question and ducked her head into the water to cool off.

"I think they'll be okay," I replied when her head bobbed up, and then immersed myself.

"They are drinking enough water, they'll be fine, I hope."

"No, I don't mean the heat," she said, "I'm talking about Ramadan."

"What about it?" I replied and nodded my head gently left and right, smiling all the while, making sure no one had heard her mention the month of fasting. "And could you speak a little more softly, please?"

"Why? How am I talking?" she asked.

"You probably have water in your ears, so you don't realize that you're screaming."

"Oh, really?" She shook her head, hit her ears softly with the palm of her hand and only then continued to ask about Ramadan. "Doesn't it bother you that they don't even know what it is?" Now she was whispering.

"Of course they know. We informed them when it started. Well, it was a day late, but we let them know."

"That's not what I mean," she said. "It's that they don't have the feeling, you see, the way we used to when we were their age. There isn't the atmosphere, the tradition. I don't know, I sometimes feel sorry for them."

I watched her two pitiable children swimming in the pool of the five-star hotel we'd taken, swimming like kibbutz children, after two years of lessons at the Zionist Youth Village in Jerusalem. The little one does a fantastic crawl, I thought to myself, and smiled at the idea that I had succeeded in turning my children into Arabs who could swim at such an early age. In fact, one of the Jewish mothers who was holding her floats-encumbered child close to her, pointed to my son - mine - and said, "Look how beautifully that boy swims."

"You understand," my wife continued aloud, and I put a finger to my lips to signal that she was yelling again.

"Oy, sorry," she said, and went on. "Remember how we had fun in Tira at Ramadan when we were little?"

There, she said "Ramadan" again, leaving me no choice but to do another lap of the pool back and forth as a means of obfuscation. Anyone who had heard the R-word would now see me swimming with calculated strokes that I had learned from experts. It was so hard to finish the first 25 meters, and now I had to overcome the heavy breathing and the pounding headache and swim back to my wife at the shallow end. She doesn't know how to swim. She even misses Ramadan.

There was a time when I could stay underwater for 25 meters with no problem, kick the side of the pool and continue back, still below the surface. At my peak I could do 50. Should I give it a try? I didn't have time to think, and I was already close to the bottom, like when I was a small boy in Tira. Here I am, waiting with Grandmother outside for the voice of the muezzin to give the signal for the end of that day's fast, singing with my brothers the special songs that all the children sang, which encouraged the muezzin to give the signal early and rescue the starving. I make broad movements with my arms, slowly and gently releasing air bubbles from my nose, and I can see us sitting, the whole family, around a colorful Ramadan table, waiting for the signal so we could attack the meal Mother had prepared, even though I was far from sure how many in the family had actually fasted.

But that wasn't it at all - the fast itself was not important. Afterward we drank tea and watched the quiz show that was broadcast on the Jordanian channel. Dad always knew the answers, and we were sorry we didn't have a station of our own with quiz programs of our own on which Dad could win a color TV set like the Jordanians. I move forward a little with the dive. My air is running out fast but I will push a few more times with my hands and do one circular push with my legs and move toward the wall. My mother brings kataif - there's one kind with cheese and another with nuts - and I eat three, only with the nuts, I never liked the cheese ones. Soon we will have tea and go for a stroll to digest the meal. Soon I will reach the end of the pool, I won't give up now, only a little more and I'm there. I emerge from the water close to my wife and tell her that no, it wasn't fun in Tira during Ramadan when we were little and that no, she has nothing to worry about, our children lack for nothing, look how wonderful they are.