License to Camp

by Brian on May 11, 2006

in Living Through Terror,Only in Israel

Every year come May we’re amazed. One day it’s cold and rainy and the next, summer is upon us with temperatures in the mid-80s Fahrenheit. Sweaters get packed away, shorts and sandals come out.

May also signifies the start of camping season. Which got me thinking about our last camping experience in Israel.

“We’re going with another couple of families out to the President’s Forest,” our friend Rafi said, referring to the woods just west of Bet Shemesh. “Would you be interested in joining us?”

I conferred with my wife Jody and the kids. They were into it.

“One thing I need to tell you, though,” Rafi added. “No one has a gun. I don’t think it should be a problem, but I felt you should know.”

A gun? If someone had told me growing up, when all we had to do was roll out our sleeping bags under some magnificent Redwood tree that, 30 years later, we’d be talking about whether it was responsible to go camping without a gun…well, I would have shot the guy.

Welcome to Camping in Israel.

In our two previous camping experiences in the country (OK…we’re not big campers, so shoot me…well, er, you know what I mean…), we have gone to formal campsites surrounded by a fence with an armed patrol car making the rounds at regular intervals. Both have been crowded and noisy.

For those people who prefer to get away from the teeming masses, usually someone is packing heat…and planning to spend the night awake doing guard duty.

The families Rafi had assembled for our evening under the trees, by contrast, were a ragtag group of gunless, vegetarian, sensitive new age Anglos.

All I wanted to do was give my family a positive outdoors experience. But I couldn’t help but recall my conversation with Michael, the armed guard at our son Aviv’s school. When I told him what we were planning to do, he practically yelled at me.

“Are you crazy! You can’t go anywhere without a gun these days.” Then he added, “You should get a gun.”

“Who do you think you’re talking to?” I joked. I still couldn’t believe I was having this conversation.

“Seriously. Unless you’ve got some social or mental problem, anyone can get one,” Michael said. He gave me one of those sardonic Israeli winks. I was not comforted.

“I haven’t even been in the army,” I countered.

“Never mind. It’s easy. Just go in and apply for a license.”

“I’d be too afraid of shooting myself or one of the kids,” I said in my best broken Hebrew as images of Dick Cheney flashed in front of me.

“Don’t worry so much,” Michael assured me. “It’s all instinct. You’ll do fine.”

Needless to say, the conversation did not put my mind at ease. So when we finally headed out, it was with not a small amount of trepidation.

As we got to the clearing Rafi had picked out, though, tents were being set up, the barbeque was already in motion and the kids were collecting wood for the fire. Everything looked perfectly normal. Just like I remembered from so many years ago.

I sat down on a bench and started up a conversation with Rafi’s 17-year-old daughter Tani. We talked about a number of mostly non-inflammatory subjects: schools and music.

Inevitably, though, the conversation turned to my topic du jour. Tani had no problem with the concept of unarmed camping

“I’d feel more at risk going to the mall,” Tani said, biting into a vegetarian frank.

“Who’s going to be looking for us out here, anyway?” Rafi piped in. “Pass the onions please.”

“You’ve got to live your life,” Tani added.

As the sun went down, we gathered around the campfire to sing old Israeli songs and a few American classics from the 60s. The adults passed around a bottle of wine. From time to time, I stifled a desire to yell out “Stop that singing. Drench the campfire. If we stay very quiet, we’ll be OK.”

Just then, my daughter Merav came up to me. “Abba, I need to go to the bathroom. Come with me.”

“You know where the bathroom is,” I said, not wanting to leave the song-fest. “Take my flashlight.”

“I’m scared.”

And I thought: oh no…she’s picked up on my fears. She’ll never have the kind of carefree camping experience I had as a kid. I’ve scarred her for life.

“What are you scared of, honey?” I asked, dreading the answer.

“Wild animals,” she said. “I don’t like all the sounds. What if there’s a fox?”

I breathed a sigh of relief. “Or a moose,” I suggested in a faux-Bullwinkle voice.

Merav looked at me with her patented brand of withering glance (at least I thought she did, it was dark, after all…)  and I promptly got up and accompanied her to the out house on the other side of the clearing. But as I did, I smiled to myself.

I may not know how to handle a gun, but at least now I’ve got a license to camp.

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