Parkour and the Metaphysics of Strangers

by Brian on January 23, 2009

in Only in Israel

Ten-year-old Aviv has been trying to learn parkour, that incredibly dangerous street sport where you take running jumps off of walls like you’re urban surfing…but without the board. Well, at least he was until yesterday.

Aviv and my wife Jody were in the park when apparently, while trying to fling himself off a picnic table, he tripped and slammed his leg onto the attached concrete bench. He fell to the ground with a wail of pain that roused not an insignificant number of concerned neighbors who peered down from their 4th and 5th floor windows.

Jody called me on my cell phone. “It’s an emergency,” she said, explaining the situation as calmly as she could amidst the cries in the background.

I jumped in the car and pulled up to the closest entrance to the park. I could see Aviv and Jody near the jungle gym.

Aviv was in too much pain to walk. It took two of us to carry Aviv to the car and hoist him into the back seat where he lay down whimpering. There was no doubt in my mind that he’d broken his leg. Jody was less sure. Clearly he needed an X-ray.

Fortunately, there’s a Terem facility in the neighborhood, a quick 5-minute drive away. Terem is the alternative urgent care medical center organization set up by the late Dr. David Appelbaum who was killed along with his just-to-be-married daughter five years ago in the horrible suicide bombing at Café Hillel on Emek Refaim, a few blocks from our house. Terem has become an invaluable part of the Jerusalem medical infrastructure and takes a lot of the load off our understaffed and overworked hospitals. An X-ray of a potentially broken leg is their sweet spot.

The Talpiot Terem offices are so pleasant you’d think you were in another country. Switzerland maybe. Or Finland. Wide open areas, fresh paint, bathrooms with toilet paper.

We grabbed a wheelchair and rolled Aviv in.

The facility was mostly empty when we arrived. Paperwork was minimal – a couple of questions and a swipe of Aviv’s HMO card. We were immediately ushered into the X-ray room and told to wait while Aviv got his picture taken.

While Jody and I sat outside discussing the potential ramifications of Aviv’s injury, a man sitting in the plastic chair next to us picked up on our English. He was dressed in a sweat suit, had short cropped black hair and a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

“Why did you come here? To Israel, I mean,” he asked without a trace of embarrassment as he barged into a conversation with perfect strangers. That’s the Israeli way of course. Everyone’s business is your own.

I braced myself for the inevitable discussion. It always went the same way. Isn’t America the new Promised Land that Israelis are clambering to get to? Why would anyone be so crazy as to want to leave such a wonderful, genteel and polite place, with a handsome new President to boot, in order to join a bunch of uncouth, opinionated Jews in a small strip of land under constant threat of nuclear annihilation?

But that wasn’t the way it unfolded at all.

“I think it’s just great that you’re here. Israel needs more immigrants. This is where the Jewish people can take charge of our own destiny,” he said.

We relaxed, smiled, nodded our heads. We told our stories about how we got here, how we fell in love and decided to stay. We explained the value that Israel has brought to our lives, how living here has added meaning to even the most mundane activities, and how we feel like we’re a part of making history as the first sovereign Jewish nation in nearly two millennium. The man seemed moved.

The door from the examination room opened and the technician beckoned for us to wheel Aviv out into the waiting area. When we returned, the man was gone. The doctor must have called him in for his appointment. But was he even really there? OK, no time for metaphysics. I must be watching too much of “Lost” these days.

The doctor came over to the three of us 10 minutes later. Good news. There was no break. Just a nasty bruise. “It should be better in a few days,” he said. We all sighed. Aviv seemed to immediately perk up and, while not flinging himself off tables just yet, was able to walk himself quite proficiently back to the car.

As we were walking out, I called the doctor over. “I just want to tell you,” I said, “what a lovely experience we had here.” The doctor looked at me quizzically. My intention was to give an affirmation to the quality of care we’d received, but as I said it I realized there was something more.

Israel is a place of ingratiating, often exhilarating contrasts. One moment you’re jostling for a spot in the supermarket, staring down a surly line cutter, and the next you’re sharing your life story with a curious stranger in a medical center waiting room.

Of course I would never wish a broken leg on anyone. But sometimes, it takes an emergency to get one out of that bubble of work and friends and familiarity and into contact with other Israelis where a casual conversation can encompass 2,000 years of yearning for Jerusalem.

That’s the magic of this place. You never know whom you’ll encounter. But if you’re open to the experience, you nearly always come away enriched.

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