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Burka, June 30, 2022

Yes, first time at the beach

At some point during the morning, one of the veteran volunteers and organizers of the Beach Days said to me – ‘You’re laughing the whole time…’ It’s true. I did come to volunteer and watch over the children in the water, but as soon as the children and mothers came to the beach I couldn’t help being constantly thrilled, laughing and smiling wholeheartedly.

I realized that even if I came to volunteer watching over the children in the water, I was actually witnessing and participating in the realization of a dream that up to that moment had been an unreachable dream, and when they arrive, are totally excited, tear off their clothes, put on bathing suits and run into the water, I get excited with them, and experience the initial and formative feelings of children and their mothers who have never seen the sea. They have never set foot inside the waves. Never stepped on the white beach sand. For the first time they smear on sunscreen. Play Frisbee in the water, present inside a colorful float. For the first time ever, they dunk their head in the water, splash, go wild with excitement. For the first time, every child calls out to his/her mother to see him/her jump into the water. From that moment on, I couldn’t stop smiling. One’s heart goes out to their mothers who fear the sea and the water and only let the water lick their bare feet. Bit by bit, the volunteers convince them to enter, and accompany them into the water. I approach one of the mothers, a young woman wearing long clothes, head covered like the rest of the women. For her too, it’s a first. She is fearful, her legs shake, she gives me her hand and I encourage her to take some more steps from the sand into the water. Without speaking her language and without her speaking mine, we communicated in that universal heart-language. She wouldn’t let go of my hand which she held tightly. I show her I can stand a few steps further on, and she agrees. Then, surprise! She agrees to put on a colorful life-saving tube around her hips. After a short while, when I ask her, she tries to pick up one foot after another, incredulous that she has done it. I push her into the tube-ring and float her back and forth. She breaks out laughing like a little girl. She is excited, eyes shining, calling out to her friends to see her, and encouraging them to cross the fear threshold and try coming in. When I see that she feels safe, I encourage her to really let go and let her head lean back on the ring – seeing her transform. A new woman was born. Smiling to life, present in her own life at that moment. Enabling herself to enjoy the moment. Looking into my eyes with her shining eyes, I feel and hear miles of deep gratitude, awakening in me some deep and distant primal feeling, an innocence, goodwill. My new friend raises her head and waves to her children, so they can see their mother in the water in a colorful life-saving tube ring, lifting her legs and rowing herself with her hands. I look at her children, proud of their super-woman mom as they run to her, they too in colorful life-saving rings, and feel again like a witness to a new life experience of unadulterated joy.

No right, no left – just people. Children. Mothers. And the sea contains and accepts us all.

Everyone, the children and their mothers, will forever remember this day on which they traveled from the West Bank village of Burqa to the Tel Aviv beach, in this Beach Days project organized by a group of devoted volunteers bringing mothers and children from the Occupied Territories every summer for a fun day in Tel Aviv.

Written by: Asafa Peled

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