As a day of rest the Sabbath is a family day in Israel for the religious and the secular alike. For the latter segment of the population, in summertime, Saturday is a day when people take trips, spend the day in country clubs or on the beach. These activities are not different from what people do in some other parts of the world. But not too many big cities are located on the sea shore like Tel Aviv is. Here, the beach’s sand and the city’s old ports are dotted with cafes and restaurants that are busy with diners from morning till the small hours of the night. Many of these patrons are couples, others are groups of friends. Loneliness does not appear to exist there.
Until he left for New York last Thursday, my husband and I were one of those couples who enjoyed eating breakfast in the open air in those restaurants on our way back to our hotel from the daily walks we took by the sea shore.
I always stay behind after my husband leaves, relishing my days by myself in Tel Aviv, seeing childhood friends and more of my family, and enjoying the theatre in my native tongue which he doesn’t speak. Alone, I end my daily morning walks by the sea shore drinking an ice coffee in one of those restaurants facing the Mediterranean Sea. Unlike a regular weekday, it is hard to find an empty table on Saturday in any of them.
This past Saturday I was lucky to find a bar-seat facing the water. On my right a young couple was giggling while having breakfast, on my left a young man was reading a book while drinking freshly squeezed orange juice. He could have been lonely, but not bored. Alone, I was enjoying the sweetness and the chill of my iced coffee, breathing the scent of summer and delighting in the clear turquoise water in front of me. Suddenly I felt a pang. Not because I was alone or lonely, but because the moment brought back to my days of widowhood, when I spent my Saturdays alone on the beach. Sometimes I stopped for a bite in a restaurant on my way home late in the afternoon, other times I ate at home the food I had cooked for me the previous day.
I could have spent those Saturdays with family and friends. But I preferred going to the beach by myself, enjoying my privacy and my sense of independence. I enjoyed even more the sweet telephone calls I received on those Sabbath afternoons from my famous married lover, who wanted to find how my beach days were, or whether I had eaten. Sometimes he would whisper on the telephone, instructing me to call his home, and he would pretend he had an emergency and come over to see me. Those were the things one did for forbidden love, which I escaped when I left my country more than four decades ago.
Yesterday afternoon I visited my fallen husband’s grave in a military cemetery near Tel Aviv. There was no one around; only I and the hundreds, and hundreds of graves. Alone in the cemetery, there too I cherished my solitude. This time, however, the quiet was roaring.