Drawing a line in the sand over Israeli ice cream

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

The sun glints off the bright blue Mediterranean. The air is hot and sticky, and we kick off our flip-flops and gallop awkwardly through the burning sand of the Herzliya beach. The couple hundred feet to the beckoning shade of the umbrellas near the shoreline morph into a million miles.

By the time we get there, my feet are on fire and so are my thoughts. The beach bag is heavy, someone is whining, and yesterday’s sunburn prickles angrily all over. SPF 70. Apply liberally, and often!

I keep my eyes on the waves. In a few minutes our overheated bodies will be bobbing delightedly in the sea. We are not in Northern California anymore, where the vast Pacific is beautiful but freezing year-round.

Israel’s shimmering Mediterranean is perfectly temperate in summer, and its waves are just the right amount of wild. Even my 6-year-old can hold his own in this sea, although the red flags and the lifeguard’s repeated yells keep us all from venturing too far. Between the wind, the tumbling surf and his megaphone, nobody really understands what the lifeguard is saying beyond the ubiquitous “Yeled!” (boy), but that’s enough to keep most swimmers in check.

The sweat trickles down my back. I can’t wait to hit the waves with my kids.

“Mo-om, can we get ice-cream?”

“Ice cream? I want ice cream! Can we have ice cream, Mom?”

My head is stuck halfway between my T-shirt and my elbow. I am hot and irritable, and they ate breakfast less than a half-hour ago.

“Please,” I whisper to the wilted fabric of my shirt, “please tell me they didn’t ask for ice cream.” The crumpled T-shirt is limp and silent in my fist.

Why is it that the foods we enjoy all year in the Bay Area taste way better on the beach in the hot Israeli summer? Ketchup-soaked french fries with the salty tang of the Med sea air; sweet, cold watermelon; and, of course, ice cream. Glidah in Hebrew.

I would argue that glidah is Israel’s national food, certainly in summer and definitely among the under-15 crowd.

“Can I have glidah?” is the most-asked question on every beach in Israel, from Tel Aviv up to Haifa, down in Eilat, and on the shores of Lake Kinneret. And after a salty soak in the Dead Sea, what could be better than a shower and glidah? (Nothing. I promise.)

Israeli ice cream is delicious. It is creamy and more naturally flavored than any I’ve ever tasted, and there is no threat of brain freeze because your brain is already too hot. The trick is to eat it quickly, before it melts down your hand and into a gooey puddle in the sand.

“Guys,” I sigh. “Let’s swim first. Please? We just got to the beach. Let’s swim, maybe have lunch, and after that we can see about ice cream.”

My words hover hot and heavy in the air between us. I hope that the call of the dazzling Mediterranean before us will drown out the yells of the tenacious ice cream seller. He cannot refill his portable freezer fast enough.

Four pairs of eyes look at me with confusion.

“Mom?” The  little one elects himself the spokesperson. “What does ‘we’ll see’ mean? You always say that and I don’t understand. Is it a yes or a no?”

I look down at his small, quizzical face. He’s right. I don’t want to have this ice cream conversation over and over again, so I hide in evasive words like “maybe” and “we’ll see” hoping they’ll forget they asked, and that their desire for ice cream will wash away with the waves.

His young logic is perfectly clear and I realize I’m not communicating clearly at all. There are only two possible answers to the question “Can we have ice cream?” Yes. Or no. Talk about a brain freeze!

A rare whisper of cool wind suddenly clears the hot air between us.

“No ice cream,” I say with a smile. I turn around to put my sunglasses away and before I even turn back, the four of them have hit the waves.

Nicki Gilbert

Nicki Gilbert is a writer, Alcatraz swimmer and country music lover who lives in Piedmont with her husband, four kids and dachshund puppy. Her blog is RedBoots.me.