Letter from Israel: Bimba Juke

Letter from Israel: Bimba Juke

A bimba juke at an Israeli toy store. (Abigail Klein Leichman)
A bimba juke at an Israeli toy store. (Abigail Klein Leichman)

Our youngest granddaughter, Avital, turned 2 this summer. After asking her parents for a gift idea, I hopped on a bus to their town on a Friday morning — when most of us begin our weekend here, but older kids are in school till noon — and buckled her into her stroller for a walk to the toy store.

The friendly proprietor is the husband of the ganenet — preschool teacher — of one of our other granddaughters and we like to patronize his shop when we buy presents for our four munchkins.

On this Friday morning, I found the store had been left in the capable hands of the owner’s 8-year-old son. Why this child wasn’t in school I cannot say; he seemed hale and hearty.

“My abba had to step out to run some errands,” the boy said genially, coming outside to greet me. “How can I help you?”

“Well,” I explained in Hebrew, “I am looking for a doll stroller and a bimba.”

“Bimba” is one of many fun Israeli slang words (mostly borrowed from Arabic) that I never knew before we moved here 11 years ago. The first time I heard it, I thought it must be a variation of “bimbo,” but actually an Israeli bimbo is a “fraykha.” A bimba, it turns out, is any kind of riding toy propelled by foot.

There are bimbas shaped like little cars or little motorcycles and there are bimbas with a handle so an adult can push them. And then there are bimba jukes.

Bimba jukes have no bells and whistles but they’re super sturdy, with a low center of gravity. This is the bimba of choice — the Cadillac of bimbas, if you will — for the 3-and-under set.

“Juke” is slang for “cockroach” so I was a little taken aback when my daughter-in-law specifically requested a bimba juke for Avital, but that’s what this super-popular riding toy is nicknamed, probably because its shape is somewhat bug-like.

Standing outside with me, where many of the toys were displayed because the shop is pretty small, Shopkeeper Jr. asked what sort of bimba I was seeking: a regular or a bimba juke? Bimba juke, I answered confidently.

“We have a red one right here if you like that color,” he said, pulling a box off a shelf just inside the door.

Seeing that Avital had fallen asleep, I had to make the decision on my own. “Perfect,” I said. “I’ll take it.”

Then, surely sizing me up as a rich American sort of grandmother based on my accent, he inquired whether I preferred a “standard” doll stroller or a “high-quality” model. This was to be a gift from my mother — Avital’s great-grandmother, far away in New York — so I pointed to a luxurious-looking double doll stroller with a pink sunshade. Shopkeeper Jr. smiled and yanked it off the outdoor display hook.

Just then his abba returned.

“Your son is so helpful!” I complimented Shopkeeper Sr. “He knew exactly where to find what I wanted.”

The proud father beamed. “Yes, my boy is a champ!” he agreed.

As he started carrying my purchases to the cash register in the back of the store, I pondered what to do. The jam-packed, narrow aisles were barely wide enough to accommodate Avital in her stroller.

I turned to Shopkeeper Jr. “Would you watch her outside while I pay?” I asked.

Clearly pleased to be entrusted with a new responsibility now that his shop-keeping stint had ended, the child nodded and expertly set the brake on the stroller, keeping a protective hold on the handle.

When I came out, I tried to give him a 2-shekel coin (worth about 50 cents). “This is for helping me so well,” I said.

“Oh no,” the child responded uneasily. “I can’t take your money. I didn’t do anything.”

“Yes, you did,” I insisted. “Listen, if you don’t want to keep the money for yourself you can give it to charity.”

The smile returned to his face, he pocketed the coin, and I set off for home pushing both the stroller and the doll stroller, the large bag containing the boxed-up bimba juke dangling heavily from one wrist. My granddaughter woke up as we reached her house. She was utterly delighted to see the stroller and ran to get a doll.

A few minutes later, her older siblings bounded in from school and immediately spotted the box with the bimba sitting in the hallway.

“Cool, a new bimba!” Yehuda (Hudi for short) shouted.

“Yes, it’s our birthday present for Avital, but I don’t know how to assemble it,” I said.

“Never fear, Hudi is here!” our 9½-year-old bilingual wonder replied. “I’ll get it set up in two seconds.”

And he did, to the great joy of Avital, who promptly parked the stroller in the playroom and climbed aboard the bimba for a trial run. A broad grin appeared under her honey curls as she rode out the front door into the garden.

“Shalom!” she called out sweetly and waved bye-bye before reaching the gate and turning around to zoom back toward the house.

Meanwhile, her older sisters enthusiastically placed two dolls into the double stroller and put the sunshade in place. Maybe a bit too enthusiastically. Within minutes, the sunshade had a rip in it. So much for the “high-quality” model. But the bimba juke? It’s in perfect condition after three months of heavy use. A true champ, just like the little boy who clinched the sale.

Abigail Klein Leichman, one of the Jewish Standard’s stalwart reporters, made aliyah from Teaneck 11 years ago and frequently reports on her experiences in Israel.

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