Posted by: Liza Rosenberg | September 18, 2007

Just a moment?

Living in Israel for sixteen years means that I don’t often pay attention to those “only in Israel” moments anymore, and events that may strike a new immigrant as unusual are no longer something out of the ordinary. The times when I’d wake up and go through my days being conscious of the fact that I was in a “foreign” country are long gone, and while I still mutter and mumble about some of the more maddening aspects of life here, it is more often than not with the full agreement of my native Israeli friends and acquaintances – in other words, I’m grumbling about life, and not about “life in Israel” (though admittedly, sometimes I become a bit more focused in my grumbling…). During my time here, I’ve gradually undergone a metamorphosis, changing from the wide-eyed, easily-excitable immigrant into a jaded, cynical Israeli (though the foundations for my jaded cynicism had, quite obviously, been laid far before I’d ever set foot in this country, so it really wasn’t much of a stretch).

Yesterday, however, I had a rare “only in Israel” moment. While sitting at my home computer playing around on Facebook trying to get some work done, I was repeatedly distracted by a truck going through the neighborhood with a megaphone. From my seat in front of the computer, I couldn’t see the truck, nor did I try very hard to hear what was being said. Ordinarily, these megaphone masters are trying to sell something, whether it be fruits and vegetables or household items, and frankly, I wasn’t interested. I had to hand it to them this time around, though. He was nothing if not persistent, and I finally stepped outside to hear the message, which was clearly being broadcast by an individual who had honed his craft by watching reruns of old Peanuts episodes and emulating Charlie Brown’s teacher. Well, I’ll be damned! Nobody was trying to sell me anything. Quite the opposite, in fact. They’d come to collect something. They’d come to collect our gas masks. That’s right, you heard me. These guys were here on official government business, asking citizens to please come outside with all gas mask kits in order to return them.

They’d left a notice in our stairwell last week, but I’d forgotten. We’d had them since the second Gulf war. I’d even opened mine to check things out, as per the instructions of the Home Front Command at the onset of the war. I carried it to work with me one day, following those same Home Front Command instructions. The Husband laughed at me and my gas mask kit, and once I reached the office, I understood why. The only other colleagues who had followed instructions were immigrants. The natives were blasé, and in my desire to “go native” (not to mention the desire to get the Husband to stop laughing), I immediately left my mask at home too. After all, I was determined to assimilate, and certainly wasn’t going to let a small detail like the threat of chemical warheads get in my way…

The war came and went (at least the bits that were considered dangerous for Israel), and our gas masks were once again relegated to their spot at the back of the top shelf, left to gather dust until the next threat of war would require us to take them down again. As luck would have it, we did have another war, but fortunately, the missiles being fired in our direction weren’t chemical-tipped, so instead of grabbing my gas mask (which was still at the top of the guestroom closet) as I ran to our safety room when the sirens went off (an infrequent occurrence in our area), I grabbed a glass of white wine, and found it to be equally, if not more effective than my gas mask.
I didn’t give our masks another thought until yesterday, when the guy from Manpower (yep, you heard correctly – the government outsourced the gas mask collection) snapped me out of my reverie and sent me scurrying for a ladder, as no chair in the house would have allowed me to reach the top shelf in our closet. As sounds of the megaphone drew closer, I dug around, dodging falling playing cards and ankle weights as I perched on the ladder’s top rung, plucking two dusty gas mask kits from the murky depths.

After returning the ladder to the porch (with the Little One so engrossed in “Dora the Explorer” that he hadn’t even noticed when I’d walked past him with it the first time), I left my little couch-potato-in-training and scampered off with the kits, finding the collector downstairs dealing with one set of neighbors as a motley assortment of others made their way over with identical boxes. As we each patiently waited for our turn, we exchanged stories about the lengths we’d gone to in order to find our masks. Houses torn apart seemed to be a recurring theme, and one neighbor mentioned how relieved she’d been to have a child in the house small enough to fit into the attic crawl space and retrieve the family’s masks.

As I ran back up the stairs, my mind replayed the afternoon’s main event, and I couldn’t imagine it happening anywhere else but here. After sixteen years spent honing my jaded cynicism and trying to become more native than the natives, I was having an “only in Israel” moment. Good grief. If I start peppering my English with Hebrew words spoken with an American accent more than I pepper my Hebrew with English words spoken with an Israeli accent, then we’ll know that I’m truly “een da sheet”.



  1. Ha! Ireland gave us little iodine-y pills in case the nuclear reactors in England blow up but now that I think about it, I seem to have mislaid them (probably in the trash). I wonder which department I should call about my potentially life saving pills?!

  2. Now that’s a good Manpower temp job! Never offered in these parts…
    “used gas mask collector”-get to talk through megaphone that completely masks any resemblance your voice may have to being human or speaking in complete sentences!
    Nope, haven’t seen that one advertized…

  3. I know what you mean- I’ve been here about 13 years and the “wow, I live in a foreign country!” has mostly worn off. But once in a while something will happen to make me a wide-eyed immigrant again, just for a minute!

    This reminds me, I’ve been meaning to turn in our gas masks. They’ve been collecting dust for way too many years!

  4. hmm.. the kick of ths story should have been today headlines about Syria partnering with Iran in development of bio-checmical weapons of mass destruction…

    Only in Israel…

    And one last comment from someone who has been here long enough to know. You could have kept them in the top shelf. Next time they will deal them it would not be considered against you if you did not return/found/created the old ones… 🙂

  5. funny! Here we don’t have gas masks. We have defensive driving classes where they teach us how to avoid reindeer herds. No joke!

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