At 1:00 PM the sun streaming into our room woke us from our slumber. Israeli sunlight is bright, sharp and focus- enhancing. We awoke with a view of a lush tropical paradise. The patio outside our window was awash with light. The white tiles contrasted with the lush green tropical plants. even in the midst of the urban sprawl of Tel Aviv, we felt like we were on a carribean vacation. It was the light and the heat and the distant smell of the sea.
LATER THAT NIGHT. Benny and Naomi’s apartment is a 2-story duplex on the roof of a small apartment house on Rothschild Boulevard, We are in the heart of the high-rent district of Tel Aviv, and that is the rub. The beautiful tree-lind park in the middle of the wide boulevard, normally a shaded promenade, is the site of a tent-city. Young, well-dressed college kids have occupied all 15 blocks of the park. They have placed nylon pup tents on the grassy median. At the ends of each block and in the middle are congregating areas. Covered with straw mats, cushions and even couches, these areas came alive last night. Each became the staging area for a mini concert.
Area one, just outside our window started at 8 PM with a continuous drum beat — low and deep. It penetrated the walls, … the windows, … through the shutters, louvers and curtains. At 9:00 PM, one drum joined another, and soon there was a chorus of drums. A while later the Yemenites started their howl … high guttural outbursts followed by frantic drumming. When I ventured on the street, I saw a mixed crowd. In the center an Israeli hippie in long tallit, a shaggy beard down to his navel, and long flowing hair topped with a keepa. Surrounding him was a crowd of chanting Israeli youth, some in sundresses, others in short shorts, and muscle-mend with bronzed skin and six-pack abs. Even the passing Israeli business man in their uniform of khaki pants and short-sleeve button-down Oxfords.
Just up the street was a DJ, blasting a variety of protest songs in mixed languages. Some I recognized the tune. Imagine Woody Guthrie songs sung in Hebrew. As we sat down for a late dinner of omelettes with eggplant salad, avocados and tomatoes, a familiar tun struck my ears. It rose over the drum beat and Yemenite howls. It started in Hebrew, accompanied by the wailing violins and soon a full orchestration. I knew the tune; was it Hatikva? Hava Nagila? I was puzzled; the tune haunted me. Even the kids perked up their ears.
After the endless Yemenite drums and howling chants, this tune peaked our attention. And then we heard some worked in English; we noted the familiar lyrics rising above the tents. “If I were a rich man … ” How fitting as we sat in our luxury penthouse duplex above the crowded tent city sipping ice cold Coke and eating from the fruit of the land. Ah … “If I were a rich man, daidle deedle daidle deedle daidle deedle deedle dum, …”