OBSERVATIONS: Hobby – Ice making

‘What are your hobbies?” a cousin asks a few weeks ago when I am on a trip to the States.

“Huh?” I reply, surprised by the question.

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“You know, hobbies. What do you like to do in your free time?” she persists, trying to get a bead on the life I have carved out in Israel.

I hate questions about hobbies, mostly because I really don’t have any. With a wife, four kids, a grandchild and a demanding job, who has time for origami?

The Wife – who, despite it all, has managed to burrow out a life beyond husband, kids and an equally demanding job – often urges me to develop other diversions.

“Do something besides work and kvetch,” she entreats from time to time. “Take up photography.”

“Yeh, sure, photography,” I say. “I’m now going to take a photography course? What am I, 16?”

At 16 I did have hobbies: tennis, basketball, golf. I also collected mint-edition back issues of Mad magazine.

But then I got married, moved here, had kids, and lost both the time and desire for hobbies. Acculturating in this country was hobby enough.

So the first thing that popped into my mind when my cousin asked about hobbies was to give a reply my father typically gives whenever people ask him what he does in retirement.

“I have a collection of seashells spread across beaches around the world that I like to visit from time to time,” he always says, straight-faced and deadly earnest.

He’s kidding, obviously, but gets a real hoot when people take him seriously. “Well, that sounds really interesting,” some folks respond, to his delight.

Unsure whether my cousin would appreciate that sarcasm, I play her hobbies question straight.

“I like to make ice,” I reply.

“Really?” she says. “Ice sculptures? Like swans and doves and hearts and stuff? That’s different; how did you get into that? Isn’t it hot where you live?”

“No, not ice sculptures,” I correct her. “Ice cubes. The kind you put in your cup to make the drinks cold.”

And I was only half kidding.

I spend so much time making ice – and am so concerned with making sure there is always enough frozen water in the house – that I guess you could call it a hobby.

A hobby, or an obsession – though the line between the two is often very thin.

THIS HOBBY began when I was a young boy, since my father invested upon me the responsibility of making sure people had ice at the dinner table. My older sister set the table, cleaned the table, and rinsed the dishes for the dishwasher. My job was to get the ice.

Lest you think that division of labor was unequal, you must understand that at our table ice was very important. Extremely important. My father loved ice, and my job was to keep it supplied.

This was before the automatic ice makers in refrigerators, back in the day when we had to make ice the old-fashioned way: in ice trays. I spent much of my youth perfecting the art of carrying stacked trays from sink to refrigerator without spilling the water.

THEN I came to Israel in the early ’80s, and ice became my fixation.

Israel has changed enormously over the last 35 years. You no longer wait years to get a phone, you don’t have to stand in line at the bank to pay an electric bill, and you don’t have to drink lukewarm Sprite – because now there is usually ice to be had.

But that was not always the case. Back in the 1980s, who knew from ice? If you walked into a restaurant and asked for ice, the waitress would look at you as though you had just asked for kosher caviar.

Those were the days when no one had screens on their windows, or air conditioners in their homes, or more than one phone in the house. It was a vastly different land.

While I couldn’t afford screens or an air conditioner, and I didn’t have the connections to land a second phone, I could produce ice, and on trips to the States would always bring back trays.

And with those plastic trays I constantly made ice, determined that our home would always be well stocked with the cubes, an oasis of cold drinks in a desert of warm soda.

My culture shock was great when I first moved here – no language, vastly different mentality, no family. Ice became for me what afternoon tea is for the Brits: a touch of civility in an otherwise brutish day. It was – and still is – my comfort object.

Today Israelis are more accustomed to ice. Ask for a cup of ice now at Aroma and the counter- person won’t look at you like you fell from the moon.

Change was glacial, but it came as Israelis slowly began to grasp the benefits of ice. It started in the army, where isolated outposts were equipped with industrial-sized ice makers (one of the few benefits of traipsing off to reserve duty); it picked up steam as more and more people traveled abroad, tasted the wonders of a Coke over ice and wanted that delight back at home; and it peaked as newfangled refrigerators equipped with automatic ice makers came onto the market.

Me, I don’t go for those newfangled refrigerators, and continue to make my ice by hand for two reasons: First, because we would have to completely reconfigure our kitchen to accommodate a space big enough for a refrigerator with an automatic ice maker.

And, second, because an ice maker would end my hobby; it would be like emptying the pool for a swimmer, or killing off all the yellow-browed warblers for a bird-watcher.

Modernity has changed everything: it has slain the beepers, destroyed the bookstores, and is threatening my very profession. I’ll be darned if it’s going to take away my hobby.

Besides, I’m really good at it.