Welcoming the unpredictable

Welcoming the unpredictable

Staying playful, even after you can keep your shoes on

On erev Pesach, just before the sun set over Israel, Tzivia Bieler stands with three of her granddaughters, Tselya, Estair, and Hadar Kwalbrun.
On erev Pesach, just before the sun set over Israel, Tzivia Bieler stands with three of her granddaughters, Tselya, Estair, and Hadar Kwalbrun.

“You don’t have to take your shoes off, ma’am,” said the TSA officer examining my passport at Newark Airport when I flew to Israel last Passover. “Well, that’s a first,” I remarked, but thinking what that represented in terms of my age, I added, “So is that a good thing or a bad thing?” “Definitely good,” she remarked, with unusual pleasantness that is not a common behavior for TSA officers in general. “And God bless you!”

Our lives, of course, hopefully are filled with the fun of life’s unpredictable moments. But when you reach the senior-citizen stage of life, as I have, the world in general tends to view you as an older person whose life lacks most unpredictable fun events. Nonsense.

“Seasoned citizen” works better for me than “senior citizen.” George Bernard Shaw wrote: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” Setting aside the physical issues that inevitably accompany the aging process and over which we have no control, perhaps that is the key to feeling young, no matter how old you are. Never stop playing.

While I was in Israel, I enjoyed another unpredictable first. I was sitting at the holiday table surrounded by some of my children, my grandchildren, my great nephew, and his family. My granddaughters were having a girlish discussion about nose rings and third and fourth ear piercings. They joked a bit that Boubie, of course, would have no interest in a nose ring (I agreed, with a resounding “That is correct!”), but they wondered out loud if I would do a second piercing in one ear. No one thought it was an option, not even a remote one.

<img class=”wp-image-1255444 size-full” src=”https://static.timesofisrael.com/jewishstanddev/uploads/2023/06/Screen-Shot-2023-06-01-at-11.27.54-AM.png” alt=”” width=”830″ height=”972″ /> Years ago, on one of their many trips to Israel, high up on a windy mountain, Tzivia Bieler stood with her four children, Lara, Shmuel, Debra, and Dena.

What annoyed me about the discussion was that all of them thought they knew me so well, that I was so predictable to them, that another piercing could not be in their grandmother’s vocabulary. With a smile that resembled that of the mischievous and unpredictable Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland, I informed them all that I would absolutely do another piercing in my ear.

Priceless is the word I would use to describe the looks of surprise around the table.

When the chag was over, I wondered if they thought I would renege on my ear decision. To avoid that possibility, my oldest granddaughter hugged me and said: “Ok, Boubie. Change your clothes and let’s drive to the Malcha shopping mall and get your ear pierced!” With the advantage of being in Israel, where malls open after a chag rather than close their doors in the evening, we changed our clothes and I climbed into the car with four of my granddaughters. I share a small additional first here: the granddaughter driving had her license for all of two months and this was my maiden voyage with her at the helm. Is it bad to admit I sometimes had to close my eyes, not because she was a bad driver but more because I was a very bad, holding-onto-the-front-seat passenger?

Once in the mall, we attended to the issue at hand. We picked which earring I would purchase, the saleswoman instructed me in Hebrew on post-piercing care, she marked the spot for the post and we all agreed it was perfect, she leaned over the counter (“What? I said quietly in English to one of my granddaughters, “she’s not even going to come out from behind the counter?”), we giggled a lot, the girls videoed the exciting event, and boom, the deed was done. I actually think my granddaughters were more excited than I was!

<img class=”size-full wp-image-1255443″ src=”https://static.timesofisrael.com/jewishstanddev/uploads/2023/06/Screen-Shot-2023-06-01-at-11.27.59-AM.png” alt=”” width=”842″ height=”1018″ /> Again many years ago, again in Israel, Bruno Bieler stood with 8-year-old Dena.

We hugged and kissed and laughed and what then? Of course we headed to the food court and shared wings and fries. (Aahhh, the wonders of a food court where everything is kosher!) And with this fun little unpredictable moment, this playing, as George Bernard Shaw would have called it, I felt young, happy, and delightfully unpredictable.

Toward the end of my Israel trip, one of my daughters and I spent one night in the Cramim Resort and Spa, high on a hill on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The place is beautiful, the rooms are lovely, the facials and massages we enjoyed were remarkably relaxing. And the food? There are no words. When we registered into the hotel, we were handed a sheet titled “Things You Should Know.” One particular entry caught my eye next to the listed times when dinner and breakfast would be served in the Shiraz restaurant. (The region has many sprawling vineyards, and so the restaurant is named for a particular dark-skinned grape variety grown throughout the world.) The notation? “Please dress appropriately. Entry will not be permitted to those in a robe or swimsuit.”

<img class=”size-full wp-image-1255442″ src=”https://static.timesofisrael.com/jewishstanddev/uploads/2023/06/Screen-Shot-2023-06-01-at-11.28.04-AM.png” alt=”” width=”768″ height=”1016″ /> Just a few weeks ago, Ms. Bieler and some of her family went to an Israeli spa.

I laughed out loud. “Can you just picture someone coming to a beautiful dining room dressed that way?” I said to my daughter. But I chuckled even more, remembering a long ago unexpected funny experience in Israel. Different people. Different hotel.

In 1987, my husband, Bruno, was working for an Israeli company and suggested that we rent an apartment in Israel for six weeks. It would be an opportunity for our four children to enjoy time in the Holy Land while he would split his days working and playing. We rented an apartment in Talpiot, made some wonderful friends with whom I remain friends today, and savored the touring and simply living in Israel. As it happened, good friends from Teaneck also were spending some weeks in Israel with their three children. We decided to hire a tour guide with a van large enough to accommodate all 11 of us and we spent a few days driving down to Eilat, stopping and touring along the way.

While packing for the trip, my husband casually asked me if he needed to pack a pair of pants. “Pants?” I responded. “It’s Eilat in August!!! You definitely do not need pants.” He agreed. Bags packed, hats on our heads, sunglasses protecting our eyes, off we went.

When we ultimately arrived in Eilat, we checked into the Sonesta Beach Resort Taba, which at that time still was part of Israel. (A little less than two years later, in February 1989, Israel and Egypt ended a seven-year dispute by signing an agreement where the seaside resort of Taba was returned to Egyptian control.) I remember it being hot. Very very hot. (No surprise there; it IS summer in Israel). And I remember the hotel was very beautiful – amazing rooms, elegant lobby and lounges, a bar in the middle of a huge inviting pool, guests from all over the world. We spent a good amount of time enjoying the pool. Back in our rooms, we showered, dressed, and were beyond excited as we headed for dinner. Waiting in line to be seated, we admired the elegant dining room and a brief, tempting peek at the delectable buffet waiting for us.

“I’m sorry,” said the maître d’ as we approached the finish line. “Men must be wearing pants.”

<img class=”size-full wp-image-1255441″ src=”https://static.timesofisrael.com/jewishstanddev/uploads/2023/06/Screen-Shot-2023-06-01-at-11.28.10-AM.png” alt=”” width=”1296″ height=”956″ /> This is a view of Eilat, where Ms. Bieler and her family spent some time recently.

My husband turned to me in shocking dismay. “Tziv!” he said. “You told me I didn’t need pants!” His dream of endless baked veal, roasts, kugels, kishka, incomparable salads, breads, and desserts was very quickly slipping away.

My beloved friend, however, was not deterred. She had this wonderful way about her – a particular charm that is difficult to describe. From my perspective, she possessed a unique attractiveness: blonde, tanned, her clothing always strikingly colorful, with just the slightest hoarseness in her voice that somehow drew you in when she spoke to you. And she had this perfect delivery when saying something funny or charming or interesting or complimentary. And I remind you that we were 36 years younger than I am now, with youth and chutzpah on our side.

My friend took the maître d’ aside and bargained. Nothing was going to prevent our two families from sharing this smorgasbord of fine dining. “Look,” she began. “He wanted to pack pants but his wife advised him there was no need. He is a diabetic. He needs to eat. If he quietly sits down at the table and we promise we will all bring him the food from the buffet so that he absolutely never gets up from the table and no one will see that he is wearing shorts, do you think you could make an exception this one time?”

I don’t recall what else she said to the man, but the whole package worked. All 10 of us surrounded Bruno as we walked into the dining room; he sat down and never got up again as we kept bringing him food from the buffet. And when our bellies were full, our appetites satiated, all of our culinary wishes fulfilled, then and only then did all of us slowly and carefully surround the “man in the shorts” and make our way out of the restaurant.

I still think about that story whenever I eat in a nice restaurant in New York City and smile at how casual it is. I recently read a piece noting there are actually some restaurants in Manhattan that still require a jacket: The Four Seasons (where you can borrow a loaner if need be), the 21 Club, Les Trois Chevaux, and Per Se (where it was suggested that a tie should accompany the jacket). To my knowledge, there are no kosher restaurants in this category; perhaps even when it comes to our dining out, we go with the philosophy from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers): “Al tistakel b’kankan, elah b’mah she-yesh bo.” Loosely explained, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

I wonder if there are dress codes for women, who perhaps are less unpredictable and more dependable when dressing for dinner. Personally, I like to dress casually but nicely, thus leaving “unpredictable” at home while I play.

I laugh when I think of the 1997 romantic comedy “As Good As It Gets,” where the very rich character Jack Nicholson plays takes Helen Hunt’s waitress character out to dinner. He is furious that the restaurant makes him wear a jacket. Once seated, he complains to Helen Hunt about the place and remarks: “They make me wear a jacket and allow you in wearing a housedress!” Forever tactless, she almost walked out on him; the restaurant owners had far more common sense.

Should you be wondering, I still love my extra earring. Comments from friends ranged from “Are you crazy?” or “What were you thinking?” to “Look at you!!! Aren’t you the rebel! You go girl!” Someday I may shock everyone and add yet another earring. No way to predict. And that’s the fun of it.

There is one certainty in my story: when I fly again, I know I won’t have to take off my shoes. Still, I would love to think it’s not because I am that 75+ senior, but simply because I am a bit like the under 12 years-of-age group: young, happy, still playing, and still sometimes unpredictable.

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