This I Believe
I believe in the power of the playground. Around the world playgrounds have their own language, the language of laughter, a language that only children understand and communicate in.
Even in the most tumultuous situations, the power of the playground unites children, including those surrounded by war, disaster, and misfortune. I learned this firsthand in 1974, when I was six-years old. Following her divorce, my Jewish mother took my brother and I on a 747 Boeing jet plane bound for Jerusalem. She wanted to make a new life on a kibbutz.
Three months later, my brother and I were playing King of the Mountain with a half-dozen other foreign kids, on a slab of slanted concrete in front of our apartments. The slab was a bomb shelter but no one was afraid. Instead we laughed as we tried to push each other down the so-called mountain. The last one to remain on top was unofficially crowned the king.
The other kids were from many different nations and spoke various languages. Italian. Polish. German. Greek. Russian. Spanish. French. They had arrived at the kibbutz for the same reason we did – to find the promised homeland, to connect with our Jewish roots, and for some, it was an escape from a hard life in another land.
But none of this made any sense to those of us who spent long afternoons on that slab of cement, pushing ourselves up and down, hooting and hollering in our respective languages. None of us understood what the others were saying, but somehow, through the international language of play, we giggled and grabbed hands, understanding each other, nonetheless.
That bomb shelter wasn’t always such a friendly place to hang out. Although it was only 1974, six days after the Six Day War, to the Israelis, the war seemed like yesterday. In our neighborhood, late at night, the local officials conducted practice air-raid drills. Frequently at night, loud sirens wailed throughout the dark, signaling that it was time to cover all the windows in our apartment with a special, heavy black piece of material. We lit candles and turned off our lights and sat in the darkness. In a real situation our bright apartment lights could guide enemy planes to our neighborhood and we’d all possibly die. Or we’d have to huddle inside the cold and clammy cement bomb shelter which the neighborhood kids knew so well.
The air raids terrified me. Soldiers in Israeli Army jeeps zoomed around below in the dark, using bullhorns to yell at apartments with light shining through. They took place at night, so we couldn’t go back to playing, ‘King of the Mountain,” until the next day, the air raids forgotten. Even if our playground was a bomb shelter, to us it was everything. What would the world be like if it had more playgrounds for children of all races and languages? Perhaps there would be more peace. This I believe.
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