September Song

September in Tel Aviv is never easy. The heat competes with the humidity, and even with air-conditioning, it feels as if the weather is closing in on us. But in 2001 it wasn’t only the weather that was hard to cope with. A torrent of terror attacks all over the country contributed to the distressed and heavy atmosphere, and made it even harder to breathe.

By the hour, the whole country would tune in to the radio, to keep up with the latest events. A routine of twenty-four daily news broadcasts, on every possible wavelength. Being the computer geeks that we were, we usually topped it up with frequent glances at on-line newspapers, just in case some disaster had happened while we weren’t listening. And sadly, tragedies did happen more often than anyone had wished for.

September’s melancholy was a major reason why Erez and I decided to take a break from everything and set off to Barcelona. Sort of “when the going gets tough, the tough are going away” strategy. We booked tickets for September 13th.

Early afternoon at work, everyone in my design consultancy was busy as usual when someone shouted something about crazy happenings in New York and that we should turn on the T.V. It was hard to believe what we saw. Here’s a plane crashing into a tower. And another one. And the first tower thunders down, and then the second. And things changed forever.

The next two days saw me glued to the internet, with the T.V. as a backup, watching the harsh pictures over and over again – the plane-crashes, the collapsing towers, the falling people, the dust over the city, and the ashes in people’s eyes. And the words. Endless piles of words. Coming from the mouths of million experts who tried to explain what has happened, and why. I’ve learned a whole new vocabulary of terms and names in those days. Words I still wish I hadn’t known.

Meanwhile, all the flights were cancelled. We didn’t know if we’ll be able to leave on our vacation. It sounds cold and selfish, I know, but in a way, the horrible events in America just made it more urgent to get away from everything. To relieve the stress that until that moment was local, and from this point onward became global.

Two days later, at the airport, I wasn’t so sure about getting on the plane. It felt spooky, it felt dangerous, not the getaway I had in mind. Security measures, which are always strict at TLV, seemed more meticulous than ever. Endless queues stretched at the check-in counters due to delayed and cancelled flights, and confused passengers were everywhere. And inside, a sense of guilt was gnawing, eating away the excitement of the journey. Is it ok to indulge on a sunny beach while others are suffering in ashen cities? Am I immoral? And if I wouldn’t go, would it change anything in the worldly order? Maybe not, but it might have changed my life, as Erez proposed to me in Barcelona.

This year, on 9/11 we will be landing in Israel, on a short family visit before relocating from gloomy London, where we lived in the past year, to sunny California, which will be our next home, at least for a while. In Heathrow, each of us will be restricted to carrying only one small hand bag to the plane, and I will have to taste the milk I’m carrying for my baby, to prove it is not a liquid explosive.

When we’ll arrive, I don’t expect the weather in Israel to be any different than it was five years ago. Sadly, I also realize that nothing much has changed in the political climate either. We will drive away from the airport and into the city, while outside the car, the heat will continue to compete with the humidity, and though the air-conditioning will be turned on, we will still feel the weather closing in on us.