What Really Goes on at the Gilad Shalit Tent

As you may have seen from my Facebook status, I volunteered at the Gilad Shalit tent yesterday for the second time. If you haven’t seen it, the protest/awareness tent has been set up outside the Prime Minister’s office for….how long? At least a year, yes? There are volunteers there from morning till night, seven days a week, manning a table while collecting signatures on a petition with the number of days Gilad has been in captivity displayed above.

The tent is located at the beginning of Aza Street which leads from King George St to the heart of Rechavia. If you live in the neighborhood or if you’ve walked to Rechavia from downtown 47,000 times like I have, you’ve passed it. And if you’re like most people, you probably signed your name once and then proceeded to walk right by every successive time. Which I guess is ok because what else can you do?

Well, a couple of months ago, when walking by, I was compelled to grab a piece of paper with an email address to contact to sign up for a shift. I’ve never been someone who particularly enjoyed volunteering but I have the time and flexibility and it felt like a meaningful and pretty easy way to take part in an important cause.

So yesterday I show up again after somebody brings to my attention that, in light of recent news, this might be my last time there. Wow. So much for weekly volunteering.

Photo credit: NRG, or whatever Maariv calls their online version. Dumbest name ever. If anyone steals my pictures, you are to credit me as PYT.
  • I arrive at the table and meet Nilly, the same woman I sat with a month ago. What are the odds? She’s 70 and has been coming all the way from the Tel Aviv area for over two years. I say “Tel Aviv area” because I have no idea what her region is called. The Sharon? Gush Dan? Jimmy Crackcorn and I don’t care?  This woman cracks me up. She is vigilant about getting signatures, harassing people Middle East-style to sign their name even if they’ve done so before.”I already signed.”

    “It doesn’t matter! As many names as possible!”

  • Are we sure this woman wasn’t working in Palm Beach County during Election 2000? Ech omrim “hanging chad”?
  • The best part about volunteering is that I get to practice speaking Hebrew. With not a whole lot to do at the table, we chit-chat. (That’s not a “chet“.) Hey, guys! Didja know that being a foreigner is funny? She shares her memories of trips to America with stories about communication that sound oh-so familiar…  Like the time in 1974 when she tried to buy a Muppets lunchbox for thirty minutes. Why thirty minutes? Because the guy didn’t understand her accent.Minute 1: “Lahnch bohx.”
    Minute 5: “Lahnch bohx.”
    Minute 10: “Lahnch bohx.”
    Minute 15: “Lahnch bohx.”
    Minute 20: “Lahnch bohx.”
    Minute 25: “Lahnch bohx.”
    Minute 30? “Luuuuuunch baaaaaaaaaahx.”  Ohhhhhhhhhh, lunch box!
  • What about this one?  Years ago, after learning that “cheder” means room, she gets on a shuttle only to find that the driver has shut the doors behind her, leaving her husband on the street. She tells the guy to open the door at which point he tells her there is no room. “Room? I don’t need room, I hev hotel!”   Nilly, if you had come thirty years later, you’d have a blog selling hilarious Israel t-shirts, some of which are expensively priced beyond your control (I told you, dammit, I’ll take care of it…some of them are just fine….possible Chanukah present, Americans?)
    In all seriousness, I am the Shwarma Eating Champion.

  • As a huge group of kids wait for their after-school bus, several of them walk up and try to take bumper stickers and yellow ribbons. Nilly stops them-not only are these kids barely housebroken but as she tells them, if one kid takes, they’ll aallllll want. I leave the hard Middle Eastern negotiating to her. Later on, a kid walks up and tries the stunt with me. I give him the line in Hebrew: “If I give you, I’ll have to give them all away.” His response? “Az maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa?” (So what?) Boy, they train them early here, don’t they? Nilly tells me, “You know waht eez schnorer? In Eezrael, every-bahdy schnorer!” I smell a new national slogan. Get the Foreign Ministry on the phone.
  • Aleph, she offers me some of her vegetables, and bet, she gets off the phone to help tie a little boy’s shoe. Only in Israel.
  • Out of nowhere…Nilly: “Hachatichot lo ovrot” (The babes aren’t walking by.)
    Me: (laughing) “Ah whatever, all the girls in Israel are beautiful.”
    Nilly: “They are more beautiful in Brazil.”
    Me: “Yeah but they’re not Jewish!”
    Nilly: “So what?”
    (pause)
    Benji: “Wait, what do you care? For me?”
    Nilly: “Why not? You know waht eez metch-may-kehr?”  No clue. Can anyone tell me? (10 minutes later) Ahhhhhhh, MATCH-maker!

A few passersby, a lot of media, and just being present, keeping him in the collective awareness. That’s pretty much how it went down. Two hours later, I was home feeling good about my experience. While I hope to sit there for another shift, I also hope I don’t. You know what I mean. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

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