During the Second Intifada, a time of intense violence between Palestinians and Israelis, two Vineyarders decided to move to Jerusalem. On Sunday, Elizabeth Langer and Richard Chused of West Tisbury spoke to a group of approximately 20 at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center about their experiences.
The two spoke of missteps at the supermarket and distinguishing fireworks from bombs during their six months abroad.
In 2004, Mr. Chused received a Fulbright Grant to teach law at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. For many years, he taught at Georgetown University, but the two needed a new environment. “We left a comfortable life in Washington, D.C. for an unknown place and an uncertain routine in a new country,” Ms. Langer said. “It was time to uproot ourselves and try something very different.”
On the couple’s day of departure, August 31, 2004, two bombs exploded on public transportation in Israel. “I was nervous,” Ms. Langer said, although she admitted she was also nervous in the U.S. “We didn’t feel particularly safe in Washington,” following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
Three connecting flights later, the couple landed in Tel Aviv, where “The sun was intense, the air was tropical, we were exhausted, and Tel Aviv was lively,” Ms. Langer said.
While the climate differed from Martha’s Vineyard, Ms. Langer said “the beauty of both places is similar.” Just as each town has a very different, distinct character, so do the different towns in Israel.
Ms. Langer and Mr. Chused lived in French Hill, a settlement in northeast Jerusalem. “There are a number of Arab neighborhoods nearby,” Mr. Chused said. “This area, after all, was totally Arab prior to 1967.”
The couple described the city as a mix of modern convenience and orthodox traditions with an underlying hint of political unrest. While walking around the city, satellite dishes and solar panels sat atop stone walls, in certain neighborhoods signs requested visitors don modest clothing, and armed members of the military stood guard outside restaurants.
Everyday tasks such as grocery shopping proved difficult at first. All the food was labeled in Hebrew, the weights were in kilograms, and the prices were in shekels. Though they had studied Hebrew prior to their arrival, it was no help in the supermarket. “The prayerbook Hebrew we had diligently studied at home was of no use,” Ms. Langer said with a chuckle. “Why hadn’t they taught us the word for yogurt?”
Living in a land that loves fireworks, the two grew accustom to loud bangs outside their window. Less than a month after they settled in their apartment, Ms. Langer heard a loud boom outside her window, followed quickly by the sound of sirens. Three blocks from their apartment, a young woman had detonated a bomb, killing two soldiers.
After a few worried calls from Israeli friends and emails from the U.S., the issue was not discussed again. “When we finally asked neighbors why no one had mentioned the incident, we were told that it was part of life here,” said Ms. Langer, adding that it is “a risk one takes in living here.”
While the couple predominately spent their time living in Jerusalem, the two enjoyed taking the 45-minute trip to Tel Aviv.
“Tel Aviv is a place where we sought refuge whenever the Orthodox mood of Jerusalem overcame us,” Ms. Langer said. “A place where sleek highrises are interspersed with Art Deco architecture. Black hats were a rare sight in Tel Aviv. Bikinis were far more common.”
Regardless of the degree of orthodoxy, Ms. Langer said religion shaped daily life in Israel. On the Sabbath, most restaurants are closed, buses do not run, and mail is not delivered. Saturdays in Israel reminded the couple of Sundays during their childhoods in the U.S.
After six months in the holy land, the couple headed back to the United States. While the two own a home in West Tisbury, Ms. Langer said that Israel is now their second home — a home the couple will visit for their sixth time starting this Sunday.