Monday, May 25, 2009

My Refuge

Whenever I get too depressed or cynical about the sad state of affairs here, I go to my one secret refuge.

It’s a small room,130 degrees Fahrenheit, dry as the desert, and religious garb must be left at the door.

Its my hideout from hatred, a temporary relief when this conflict is getting the best of me.

It’s a sauna. And it sucks that I can only stay in there for 20 minutes at a time.

I would live there if I could.

My hideout is in a Kibbutz called Maale Hachamisha.

Every week or so, or after a war, I leave my apartment with my small, red gym bag, jump in my 1996 Opel Corsa, and head for the hills.

I drive with the windows down and breathe like it is often impossible to breathe in Jerusalem.

I drive through the lovely Arab village of Abu Gosh, cursing the speed bumps as I pass by my favorite hummus joint.

I hang a right at the top of the hill, avoiding the Crusader fortress, and drive through the Maale Hachamisha forest.

I make a left into the Kibbutz, arrive at a guard gate, tell the guard im heading for the spa, and he lets me in.

I park my car, walk past another security guard reading the newspaper, then past the pictures and diagrams depicting strategic positions in the 1948 war, down the stairs, show a kibbutznik my pass to the gym, receive two fresh towels, and into a locker room replete with men of varying degrees of nakedness.

I quickly change into my swim suit and head for the sauna.

In this sauna on this day, I was joined by an Arab Muslim from Abu Gosh, an orthodox Jew (based on his side locks), and a holocaust survivor.

The Arab and the Jew were on the bottom row talking in Hebrew about anything besides politics. I prefer the hotter, top row and provided an audience for an old man muttering out complaints in Yiddish.

The most I could make out is that he didn’t like Israeli sauna culture where people were going in and out every 2 minutes with their sandals on. “This is not hygiene", he said, or “No Kultura,” he complained.

He then showed all of us the faded numbers tattooed on his sweaty, wrinkled left arm. "Auschwitz," he said.

We all began to silently reflect on what this meant to us.

Suddenly, and too soon, the pink sand in the hour glass had reached the bottom. My twenty minutes were up. I shook his hand and left the sauna.

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